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International Relations

For a More Effective Agenda

Analyses of US policies regarding South America show that they are more reactive than proactive

ilustração1GUILHERME KRAMERWhen liberalism sprung a leak in South America and center-left leaders took power in various countries, the “perception of risk” began to guide US policies in the region. In the case of Brazil, this pragmatism could be described as “benevolent interest” without, however, representing an effective political agenda. “US initiatives regarding the region have been more reactive than proactive, responding to specific circumstances, and have rarely been based on comprehensive analyses,” states Tullo Vigevani, of São Paulo State University (Unesp), coordinator of the National Institute of Science and Technology for Studies of the United States (INCT/Ineu).

Some commemorate the relative distancing of Washington, given the recent, strongly interventionist past. But the relative euphoria must be weighed against new risks. Including those involving regional misunderstandings. There is still a potential for increased rivalries between States—such as the conflict that set Colombia against Ecuador and Venezuela—or instability as in Bolivia.

Systematic monitoring of US policies may be revealing, given the central importance of the United States on a global scale, and especially in South America. Within INCT/Ineu, these analyses have resulted in eight PhD dissertations and 20 master’s theses, with more in progress, collections, many articles, countless daily and biweekly reports and, of course, various courses. In addition, the Institute has an electronic portal with a database on US domestic and foreign policy called the United States Policy Observatory (Observatório Político dos Estados Unidos – OPEU), which was visited 24,000 times in 2011 and had an average of 3,000 visitors/month at the start of 2012. With the intention of supplementing information published by the press, OPEU created a channel for disseminating information and analytic content on significant events. “Through this instrument of observation, we hope to disseminate information and knowledge about a country whose policies strongly impact us all,” explains Vigevani.

Created as a National Institute of Science and Technology (INCT) at the end of 2008, Ineu brings together eight Brazilian universities and the Center for Study of Contemporary Culture (Cedec), for a total of more than 50 researchers. As with other INCTs, Ineu is supported by the National Council on Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and FAPESP.

The idea of creating an institute to study the foreign relations of the United States came from the realization that, despite intense exposure of Brazilians to US products and culture, little was known about the United States. “The pieces of information available were not organized in a structured, significant manner. Most of the time, they were stereotyped, either positively or negatively,” justifies Vigevani, stressing the institute’s objectives. The lack of reflection is the result—only contradictory in appearance—of the sensation of familiarity or proximity caused by the overload of information about the United States. “Familiarity does not lead to surprise, and doubt, the seed of knowledge, does not sprout.” The document introducing the Ineu project describes the situation thusly: “We use the United States as a model to identify our own characteristics, measure our inadequacies and define the collective being into which we would like to transform ourselves.”

final2GUILHERME KRAMERAn asymmetric paradox arose on the other side: various US research centers study Latin American economies, politics, culture and society, but the public in general knows little about the Latin American reality. “They analyze this information with categories based on their culture and society, which creates a different kind of lack of understanding—but one no less serious,” states Vigevani.

The interest in the United States as a research topic began some years ago, with the publication of important research by Brazilian authors and the creation of research groups on different aspects of US politics and society. At the end of the 1990s, for example, professors from Unesp (including Vigevani), the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), the University of São Paulo (USP) and Cedec created a research group on US international relations, supported by FAPESP through a Thematic Project and coordinated by Sebastião Velasco e Cruz. The focus, in this case, was the export of liberal ideas to developing countries. The same group is now in INCT/Ineu, enlarged with researchers from the Federal Universities of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Uberlândia (UFU), Paraíba (UFPB) and Piauí (UFPI), and from the State University of Paraíba (UEPB). “We have already created graduate courses on the United States in graduate programs, especially in the San Tiago Dantas graduate program in International Relations (Unesp, Unicamp and PUC-SP),” Vigevani adds.

The institute has four principal thematic groups. One of them is integration and crisis in South America and the United States’ policy for the region. The goal is to examine the South American panorama in two ways: assess its interaction with United States foreign policy and the political and economic dynamic of the region’s countries. The research projects are guided by a single “general assumption”: the development of initiatives outside the United States’ influence has become easier due to the emergence of new poles of power in the global arena—China, India and Russia—and by the secondary role of South America on the United States’ international agenda. “Historically, South America’s political and economic autonomy has always increased during the periods in which the United States paid little attention to the region,” explains Vigevani.

The other areas studied are US security policies, international economic policies, and the role of the United States in the global governance framework. On this last subject, Vigevani endorses the analysis of Benjamin Cohen, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who participated in one of the seminars organized by INCT/Ineu in the city of Florianópolis. Cohen claims that US hegemony in the international arena is being “slowly corroded.” Alternatives are appearing. There are various currencies competing with the dollar, weakening its role. Despite the crisis, the euro is gaining ground. However, the dollar is still more important that the Chinese or Japanese currencies,” he qualifies. This process is not taking place just in the economic arena: corrosion of the United States’ hegemony, he says, is across the board. “Recently, José Graziano da Silva was elected to the position of Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and he was not the candidate favored by the United States. At the United Nations, the United States’ preferences are not always implemented, and the country’s power to propose changes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is also weaker.”

Even its military domination is decreasing due to the new type of war being waged. “Look at the military disasters in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he recalls. “They are situations in which the old forms of power can no longer impose themselves.” In the specific case of Afghanistan, studies have revealed a strong contradiction between the military and policy-makers. “The United States has not been able to establish definitive strategies, but the actions of President Barack Obama seem to lean toward withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the fact that part of US public opinion favors strong positions.”

It was during a crisis in “Americanism” abroad, the worst economic crisis since 1929, that Obama was elected President, highlights Reginaldo Moraes, of Unicamp, in the article Obama, Obamismo – Origens, Futuro, Limites (Obama, Obamism – Origins, Future, Limits) published on the INCT/Ineu website. Obama captured voters from segments of the population and groups that in his words had “apparently” taken refuge in social and community movements, “a multitude of young people” itching for change. The conservatives align against those who want change, “they fear that the changes will be beyond the possible, what they feel is desirable.” The key is in the “connection between the forces for internal change in the United States—which mostly gravitate around Obama, but not all—and the external forces of change, governments and social movements,” writes Moraes. With an eye on this balance, INCT/Ineu is following the start of the United States’ electoral campaign attentively.

National Institute of Science and Technology for Studies of the United States (nº 2008/57710-1) (2008-2014); Grant mechanism Thematic project; Coordinator Tullo Vigevani (Unesp); Investment R$ 1,125,321.05.

Scientific Article
COELHO, J. C. Trajetórias e interesses: os EUA e as finanças globalizadas num contexto de crise e transição. Revista de Economia Política. v. 31, n. 5, p. 771-93, 2011.