THE US AND BRAZIL: allies increasingly at odds
Rio de Janeiro
When President Reagan paid his first visit to South America three years ago, expectations were high here for a new era of diplomacy in the Americas. But in his opening speech to businessmen in Sao Paulo, he clearly began on the wrong foot. ``It's a pleasure to be in Bolivia,'' he said to an auditorium packed with Brazilians.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For a head of state, it was a serious gaffe. But the next morning, a Sao Paulo newspaper published a good-humored riposte in a half-page ad: ``The people of Bolivia welcome the President of Canada.''
Today, the good news is that the Reagan administration has since boned up on its atlas. The bad news is that relations between the two giant American nations seem to have lost their sense of humor.
In recent years, a series of disputes involving debt, trade, and foreign policy have set Washington and Bras'ilia increasingly at odds.
The two powers have voted on opposing sides at the UN, swapped accusations of erecting unreasonable trade barriers, and locked horns over what to do about third-world debt. At times, the rhetoric has almost developed into something more serious.
The United States has threatened Brazil with punitive trade sanctions for what it considers highly protectionist policies. Brazil, which announced a temporary suspension of debt payments in February, has warned that failure to reach the right kind of agreement with international banks could push it into a default.
Meanwhile, the US Congress is considering trade legislation that could force strong administration action. And members of a newly elected Brazilian Congress say the country would reject any agreement that meant paying the debt with ``the hunger of the people'' or with increased unemployment.
But with the rising heat of bilateral relations, there is also some light. Top US officials have recently come to the aid of Brazil.
Treasury Secretary James Baker III lobbied other nations to reach an agreement refinancing Brazil's debts to Western governments, waiving the role of the International Monetary Fund. And Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker is said to have worked behind the scenes to prevent banks from retaliating for the temporary suspension of payments. Scarlet letter
Back in the 1950s and '60s, the Brazilians used to delight in telling a wry old joke on themselves. ``Brazil,'' it went, ``is the country of the future, and it always will be.'' Told for years in a dozen variations, that joke seemed to brand an image indelibly on this country like some national scarlet letter.
Brazil was the great underachiever, the slumbering giant, a player that seemed destined to remain cast as the perennial understudy in the New World drama. It was almost as if not even the Brazilians took this vast country seriously.
But the good-humored nay-saying belied another view of things - a Brazil of vitality and backbone, rooted in decades of work, growing wealth, and solid, if understated, achievement. ``Brazil on the move,'' an astonished John dos Passos called this country during a visit the American writer made in the late '50s.
Brazil has since harnessed that vitality and hoisted itself up from the status of a virtually one-crop exporter to a world-class industrial power.
The country that used to be known abroad for coffee and Carmen Miranda is now the eighth largest free-market economy and the 18th biggest exporter on the planet. It sells more steel than Britain. Its Gross National Product is larger than all other South and Central American nations combined. Its leading television network, TV Globo, is the fourth-ranked commercial station in the world. Since the return to civilian rule in 1985, it has become the third-largest democracy, behind India and the US.