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The Bones of the Baron

External politics is today a reason for heated and serious discussion

“With the death of the Baron / we had two Carnivals / How good, how delicious / If the marshal were to die” (in this case it was the President, marshal Hermes da Fonseca), said a Carnival tune of 1912. In that year the death of the Baron of Rio Branco, during Carnival, forced the authorities to cancel the festival and change it to the month of April. Without success, since the people, without paying much attention to the passing of “the father of Brazilian diplomacy” took advantage of the situation and enjoyed themselves during both months. In spite of their important notoriety, national foreign relations, with rare exceptions, are not intrinsic to the popular reality. Curiously enough, over the last few years, and especially for this last election, the theme started to be debated with enthusiasm, placing the “House of Rio Branco” namely Itamarati ( the building that houses the Foreign Ministry), once again onto center stage. But the passion of the discussions do not always take into account the reality of diplomacy, very often confused with the internal policy of the government and judged in the same manner.

“External policy doesn’t necessarily place itself in the domain of historical rationality and doesn’t dry up its justification in the dichotomy of cause and effect. Very often, the policy that the State establishes externally has as its finality the breaking and overcoming of internal structures”, evaluates Amado Luiz Cervo, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia (UnB), editor of the magazine Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (RBPI) [Brazilian Magazine of International Politics] and author of História da política exterior do Brasil [The history of Brazil’s foreign affairs politics]. In his opinion, Brazilian diplomacy has moved itself along four paradigms: Liberal-Conservative, which extended from Independence until 1930; the Developmental era, between 1930 and 1989; the Neo-Liberal (era) or the Normal State, related to the Latin American experiences of the 1990’s decade, and, finally, the most recent, which is the logistic.

“The same components that describe a given paradigm lead to an understanding of its decline, mutation and substitution.” At the same time, the present situation of the country is explained to a considerable extent by its diplomatic past. The success of conservative liberalism, which had recommended that Brazil kept itself as a primary society, an agro-exporter, not taking on capitalist modernization with a manufacturing market, initiated with the process of Independence recognition (and a condition imposed by England so that Independence could occur), continued to be valid, after a timid debate during the Second Reign. “No other country in the Americas was so willing to cede as Brazil, the same way no other was so firm in not ceding in anything at all as the United States”, observes professor Amado Cervo.

For him, this process maintained the country in “social infancy”, a society that did not take advantage of modernization through the expansion of industrial activity, an error maintained and deepened with the coming of the Republic, which confounded the interests of the ruling elite, linked to the coffee exporting sector, with its national external policy. Hence the close approximation with the United States, our major consuming market and our “big brother”, that started during the Empire but became solid during the Republican period. Curiously enough, the grand articulators of this union would be two ferocious Monarchists who kept themselves in power, in spite of the change in the regime: Baron Rio Branco and Joaquim Nabuco (out first ambassador to Washington). Feeding off a deep displeasure with our “Hispanic brothers”, the Baron and the slave abolisher perceived, with acute realism, the emergence of the USA as the center of power. “Rio Branco had been apprehensive about European aggressiveness, and that made him value the defensive character of the Monroe Doctrine and understand it as applicable to the questions of limits between Latin American nations and the powerful Europeans, who still had colonies on the continent”, evaluated Clodoaldo Bueno, a history professor at the University of Sao Paulo (USP).

Baron Rio Branco viewed with optimistic eyes the ideal of “America for the Americans”, even when incorporated with the appendix of Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick policy, and not believing in the possibility of establishing a cooperative block with the Hispanic countries (even though he had rehearsed the so-called ABC, which united Argentina, Brazil and Chile), led our external policy into the strong and protective arms of North America, without restrictions or fears. An admirer of the “big brother”, Baron Rio Branco wanted that Brazil had, in South America, the same preponderant role, dominant and interventionalist (“in case of problems with our small, unstable and chaotic neighbors”), the focus of “civilization in the middle of barbarism”. For the Baron, the diplomat and the soldier were “partners” and the vision of Brazilian international policy would be a synonym, for decades, of a supposed “international prestige”. He died deceived by the Yankee partner. Modernism came to the forefront in the country.

And with it the popular desire, and that of the elites, to break with the agro-exporter cycle, which would be substituted, through the Revolution of 1930, by the developmentalist nationalism. It was with President Vargas that the country learned to use external policy as support for internal economic growth, a strategic instrument (in order) to obtain the necessary industrialization. At the same time, more and more, diplomacy moved to become e a component in the formation of nationality. “Brazil’s one of the few countries in history whose origin lies in an act of pure diplomacy, the Treaty of Tordesilhas”, remembered the diplomat Sérgio Danese, the author of Diplomacia presidencial [Presidential diplomacy]. “Diplomacy is, by defect, an activity of the State (towards excellence). Its development doesn’t just help to guarantee and promote external interests, but to strengthen the State mechanism within the country itself. Hence the new role of external policy, which went on to assume the condition of being an instrument of national development.” The two great protagonists of this about turn were Oswaldo Aranha and João Neves da Fontoura, the chancellors to President Vargas in his two mandates.

In both cases the spirit of Americanist of Rio Branco prevailed, now clothed as a more pragmatic character, in which there is space for the use of the policy of good neighborliness as bargaining for the entrance of consumer materials and technology, necessary to carry out industrialization. However, during his second presidency, president Vargas would experiment with a highly unsuccessful attempt at multilateralism and would make “anti-imperialist” attacks on the USA. The problem was that, in the post war era, it was difficult to find partnerships with Europe and Japan was still recovering. But the little dictator would shoot off his needles: “Imperialism is the lack of investment of the rich countries in the poor countries, impeding development”, he stated in a speech in 1953, running contrary to the Concept of Imperialism by Lenin and showing that nationalism was not hostile to foreign capital, but to the lack of it. “The precocious attempt to promote diplomacy that was not subordinately in line with Washington had supported itself in objective factors, and not just simply on the political will of a populist leader. Nationalism played a fundamental role as a factor of mobilization and internal political cohesion, necessary in the establishing of a developmentalist project. This marked a new phase in national external relations, whose maturing gave way to the independent external policy (IEP)”, analyzed the historian from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Paulo Fagundes Vizentini.

The researcher observed that the IEP is proof “that a linear relationship between external and internal policy doesn’t exist”, since it was implemented by the president Jânio Quadros government, having as its chancellor the Afonso Arinos, from the conservative party UDN. The new diplomacy defended exports to all countries, including the socialists, defended the principal of self-determination of peoples and supported de-colonization. The daringness in the JQ government limited itself to discourse, but in the Goulart government, with San Tiago Dantas as the minister of External Relations, the IEP got off the ground: diplomatic relations were re-established with the URSS and there was a rigid defense of American non-intervention in Cuba. For the first time since Baron Rio Branco, an alternative to Americanism had been put forward. The partnership with the USA is not the only exit and other possible alliances must be put on the agenda more for imperatives of national interest and less for political-priori strategy alignments. Going onto the Brazilian external agenda was multilateralism and, based on the thinking of Cepal, the discourse was prepared for the construction of an economic identity among the Latin American countries, unifying them in their national specifics and differentiating them from the developed countries.

What previously had pushed Brazil away from its neighbors now reunited the underdeveloped countries, which went on to articulate in order to inflict their vision of national situation, supporting one other and promoting bipolarity, the so-called “competitive co-existence”. Dantas envisioned a common market between Brazil and Argentina as the nucleus of a future regional market, to which would be added the other Latin American countries. Mercosul is not a recent invention. Minister Dantas’ successor, namely minister Araújo Castro, went on to professionalize Itamaraty, which, theoretically, would bring relative autonomy of external policy from the internal variations. With his speech on the three “Ds” (development, decolonization, and dearmament), made at the UN General Assembly, Castro managed, noted historian Vizentini, to depoliticize the IEP, concentrating on the economic questions. This bureaucratization would have a paradoxically positive character. That of Baron Rio Branco would later serve as the “last bulwark” of the defense of national interest defense, re-uniting a group of critical diplomats to the extreme encampment of Neo-Liberalism during the decade of the 1990’s. At the historical moment of the end of the Jango government and the military takeover, this hierarchy of the institution would be a good shield against the influence of the military, who looked upon the diplomats with the respect of “partners”, as in the times of Baron Rio Branco.

The paradox inverted itself in the positive: during the military regime, in spite of the ideological test of the Castello Branco government (which assumed the discourse of the Superior School of War, of the National Security, and entered with delight into the spirit of the Cold War), “in the military regime the notion of a national development project survived, as well as the search for international autonomy”, in the words of historian Vizentini. If the IEP was personally rejected on the spot, in the name of “being servile” to the USA and the policy of Brazilian “sub-imperialism” concerned its neighbors, little by little Itamaraty, with a certain dose of liberty, went on to adopt an external policy very similar to that of Dantas. The diplomacy of prosperity came forward, from chancellor Magalhães Pinto, which defines Brazil as a Third World nation and not of the West, breaking the duality between the “free world” and the “iron curtain”, defended by Washington.

“Whilst the diplomatic discourse produced major friction with the USA, Brazil looked towards taking up technological-nuclear cooperation with other countries, as well as the deepening of commercial ties with the socialist countries”, Vizentini points out. And from the interregnum of “Powerful Brazil” of President Médici, there followed the responsible and ecumenical pragmatism of the president Geisel government, with the resumption of diplomatic relations with China and the nuclear agreement with Germany. The White House became irate.

“Pragmatism awakened the ferocious opposition of the USA, as well as the conservative segments of Brazilian politics”, analyzes Vizentini. But there was one exception. “Of ideology, the Third World only had the criticism that it made by to the traditional national conservative opinion. In fact, it was operational, because the North created barriers to the entrance of Brazilian manufactured goods, opened the markets of the South to these goods and favored our capacity of diplomatic negotiations in the multilateral forums and in bilateral initiatives”, notes Amado Cervo. The New Republic of President Sarney, with Olavo Setúbal as chancellor, put Itamaraty to the test. “The vision was that Brazil should maximize its individual opportunities, in cooperation with Washington, in order to attain First World status and the emphasis was on pushing away the Third World image. Itamaraty reacted to this new orientation that had resembled the diplomacy of President Castello Branco”, tells the researcher from the UFRGS. The development theory of nationalistic tones, even when painted with a new brush, had in the “House of Baron Rio Branco” a line of defense.

Normal State
In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. In 1990, president Fernando Collor took office. In 1991 the USSR disappeared. External policy did not pass unharmed. “Objectively, the faithfulness of the West, which could, in the context of the Cold War, be explained as a necessary political option for one of the two power centers, lost its justification. In theory, the new situation was an opportune moment for a new autonomy in the conduction of our external policy, but the dominant national thinking tended to lead the country to align itself with hegemonic power”, writes ambassador Luiz Souto Maior in Desafios de uma política externa assertive [Challenges of an assertive external policy]. “Internally, the role up to that point exercised by the State in the promotion of development began to be questioned. External policy lost its reference points without any others coming forward to substitute them.” In this context of globalization and neo-liberalism, Brazilian external policy went on to adopt, in a grain of sand, what the Argentineans baptized as the Normal State. “To be normal was to be subject to the standards of international economic insertion by the so called Washington Consensus. The transition of the developmentalist State to the normal one in the decade of the 1990’s, to the adoption of a modernization process conceived by the center in substitution of the Cepaline formula of local intelligence”, notes Amado Cervo, for whom the paradigm of the 1960’s had turned itself, for some, synonymous with backwardness and inadequacy.

Vizentini recalls that, during the president Collor government, Itamaraty began to be stripped of many of its attributes, since it was focus of resistance to the government’s project of unilateral commercial opening up without reciprocity on the part of the external partners. “The notion of sovereignty was also left to the one side, in the name of adhesion to globalization, accepted as inevitable and desirable.” The American high interest rates of the Reagan government rose considerably the Latin American debt during the decade of the 1980’s, converting the countries of the region, in the words of Amado Cervo, into “grand international beggars.” Together with galloping inflation, everything appeared to agree with the enthusiastic adoption of the entrance of Brazil into globalization. The president Itamar government would step on the brake, but this new reality was going to segment the president Cardoso’s government. “Foreign trade commerce, previously the instrument of acceleration of the internal activity, became a simple variable depending upon the stability of prices, requested by the illusion that by itself it would provoke an intensive flow of internal capital for the country”, believes the professor from the UnB. As well, in his opinion, one has to take into consideration that the shock of the opening up the economy would have awakened the entrepreneurs of the public and private sectors who were forced to modernize their plants and methods.

The prerogatives of international commercial negotiations of Itamaraty statrted to be managed by the ministries of the Economy and Planning. It was established what would be known as “Presidential Diplomacy”, or that is, president Cardoso himself would go on to be the driving force in external relations, now seen in a “realist manner.” “The FHC government was characterized by moderate multilateralism, but which took on a tactical acceptance of the principal of the “more equal”, or that is to say, the existence of major powers and their role in the international system”, evaluates the social scientist and diplomat Paulo Roberto de Almeida, currently the special advisor to the Strategic Subjects Center of the Presidency of the Republic, and author of a well founded comparative study between the international policies of president Cardoso and the current ones of president Lula, whom he sees as a player more “interested in strong multilateralism, defending sovereignty and a equality of all countries with greater rhetorical emphasis than the previous administration.” Thus, for Almeida, if FHC dedicated himself to dialogue, but not to real coordination with the countries of the South, this is a priority for president Lula, evidenced by the G-3, with South Africa and India.

As to globalization, initially seen as a new Renaissance by president Cardoso, one needs to emphasize that, during his second term, discontent with the results of adhesion to international neo-liberalism, the ex-president went on to adopt a vision of “asymmetric globalization”, of a more critical and cautious approach. For president FHC, the assuming of any role for Brazil as a leader would need to be the result of the gradual pre-eminence of the country and in principle would be limited to the region. For president Lula, the spectrum would be greater and his external policy would not place structural limitations to the pretension of leadership by Brazil among the powerful nations. The present president also has special appreciation for the Mercosul project (1991), one of the Brazilian diplomatic priorities since the president Sarney government. For president Cardoso, it was a possible base for integration with the world. For president Lula, continues Almeida, it is a strong defense against the onslaught of the imperial giant, especially an alternative to FTAA, a proposal that did not receive any enthusiasm from the FHC administration and is abominated by the current presidency, which went on to bargain in an even more intense manner the Brazilian participation in this area of commerce.

“Conformism and voluntarism would perhaps be stronger expressions, and certainly too radical, but they express a posture of – accepting the world as it is”, in the case of FHC, and the other of “changing the world” as defended by Lula. FHC had stimulated the integration of Brazil into the globalized world, whilst the president, although not making objections to this, wants that everything occurs with the full preservation of national sovereignty”, completed the diplomat, who further noted that president Cardoso opted for traditional diplomacy, seeing external politics as having an accessorial role in the development process, contrary to president Lula, who sees it as having a substantial role in the conformation of a national project. “Everything is more in the line of continuity than of rupture”, evaluates Almeida. Even at that, some critics of the diplomacy of the president Lula’s government evaluate that his external policy will not be prepared to deal with the challenges of an international order in transition, the fruit of the 11th of September attacks that led the USA to adopt unilateral radicalization.. There are those as well who believe that the efforts of the government to obtain a seat on the UN Security Council were exaggerated, and (were) see (by them as) ideological similarities in the relationship of Brazil with countries such as Venezuela and, especially, leniency towards Bolivia.

“It wasn’t the current government that adopted the policy of energy subordination to countries of an unstable region and of which they had no knowledge. But one has to recognize that there was a plebiscite in Bolivia and 90% of the population was in favor of the process of nationalization. We don’t agree with the pyrotechnics of the process done by the Bolivian government, but the action corresponds to their national interest”, explains Marco Aurelio Garcia, ex-advisor on international relations to the Presidency of the Republic. “Our external policy is not subject to ideological criteria, as can be verified by our insertion into the G-20, which brings together the most different countries. We’re in favor of global insertion, but with safeguards. We quote the expression of chancellor Celso Amorim, ‘active, however elevated diplomacy.'” Is it still too early to evaluate results?

“President Lula, his collaborators at Itamaraty and his advisors at the Planalto Palace announced, right from the first moment, something radically different: the enthusiastic beginning of a new era. They proclaimed ground zero for Brazilian diplomacy”, wrote the ex-chancellor Celso Lafer in a recent article. “But in the conduction of an external policy one needs to avoid two opposing risks: to underestimate what one country represents for others and to overestimate its weight, as this comes out to be inconsequential and, at times, insensible.” For ex-chancellor Lafer, diplomatic management by the president Lula government has not produced, “referring to another expression of chancellor Amorim, “seismic events.”” The important thing is that today external politics is the motive of discussion, and not of Carnival tunes.