Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Blouin Beat: World: Rousseff’s U.S. visit postponement savvy move

Rousseff's U.S.visit postponement savvy move
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin Beat: World
September 18, 2013
Originally published:

The NSA revelations continue to roil global affairs. News that the agency had carried out espionage operations against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (as well as her aides and Brazil’s biggest company, energy giant Petrobras) has prompted the South American head of state to announce that she will postpone her visit to Washington, originally scheduled for October 23.
As much the event may resemble an act of petulance or retribution, it is not — and it does not mean that the U.S. and Brazil are now on the outs for good. Postponing the trip to Washington was the best option in a bad scenario. Had the Brazilian leader travelled to the U.S. capital, met with President Obama and attended the planned state dinner, the NSA program would have been a massive elephant in the room. She would have faced lacerating public scrutiny when she returned if she had met with the U.S. leader and not raised (and protested) the NSA issue, as she would not have been able to do with any effectiveness unless she had gone to D.C. and thrown the oil deals and arms sales the visit was expected to center on back in Obama’s face — an impossibility.
Rousseff cannot, at now of all times, afford to look weak or to be perceived as not having defended Brazilian sovereignty sufficiently. She faces challenges on several fronts. In June, protests broke out across major cities in Brazil, fueled by popular rage over a spike in public transportation prices as well as massive expenditures for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics — all of which helped ignite a simmering and widespread discontent about Brazil’s limping economy. Meanwhile, Rousseff’s cabinet was hit by the resignation in late August of Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Patriota, after a bizarre incident involving a Bolivian senator who escaped to Brazil to avoid prosecution in La Paz with the aid of Brazilian diplomatic personnel.
All grim news for Rousseff as Brazil is facing general elections scheduled for October 2014, elections in which she will be running for a new presidential term. Now, it’s true that her approval ratings have started to recover from the dive they took after the protests started. A recent pollreported that 38% of Brazilians consider her tenure either “excellent” or “good,” up from 31% in July, when the protests were still ongoing. A September 12 analysis from Brazil’s Estadao showcases the hardening consensus among the nation’s political observers that this climb-back in popularity gives Rousseff a solid(ish) footing with which to face the elections — but also that it’s unlikely for her ever to recapture her previous levels of support. Hence every opportunity to look strong on behalf of her aggrieved constituents counts, and her now-kiboshed trip looks to have been an ideal opportunity there.
But, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Brazil and the U.S. countries had bilateral trade flows of $103 billion in 2011; as of 2012, the export of U.S. goods to Brazil totaled $43.7 billion and the import of goods from Brazil totaled $32.1 billion. Unsurprisingly, products of particular interest that were imported from Brazil to the U.S. were mineral fuels and crude oil. Data from Brazil’s Ministry of Development, Industry and External Commerce for the January-August 2013 period also shows a year-on-year increase in trade. Neither Rousseff, whose country needs all the trade revenue it can muster, nor Obama, stinging from the international rejection of his proposed Syria strike and doubtless looking for some good global-harmony news, will make a serious move to jeopardize that trade. Which likely makes the recent speculation on whether, as a way to “punish” the U.S. for the espionage operation, Brazil might chose not to purchase  36 type F-18 fighter jets from Boeing — reportedly worth $4 billion — just that: speculation. (Although it is important to stress here that other companies are competing for the coveted contract, like France’s Dassault Aviation and Sweden’s Saab.) Rousseff’s statement that she wants Brazilian internet access to be less dependent on U.S. servers — bold but murky in its technical specifics and expensive if implemented — is another gesture on her part aimed at helping her approval numbers in their incremental climb. As Mauricio Cantoro, a Brazilian professor of international affairs, tweeted on September 17, “Interesting decision by Dilma to postpone (but not cancel). It gives time for the crisis to calm down and leaves a door open for dialogue.” That “dialogue” will, it seems hard to deny, focus on energy deals and F-18s. So look for the realities of the marketplace to prevail here.

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