Brazil neglecting culture in quest for power?

One of Brazil's greatest assets is its culture and people, and they'll be there no matter what happens to the economy or in international politics, writes guest blogger Rachel Glickhouse. 

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
In this photo taken on April 3, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff participates in a ceremony of announcement for new measures of the Plan 'Brasil Maior' and the installation of Sector Councils for competitiveness in Brazil.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.

With President Dilma Rousseff's Washington visit coming on Monday, everyone's talking about Brazil as a rising power with growing political and economic clout. Brazil has traditionally been a soft power country, given its history of diplomacy, a focus on non-intervention, and its role as a mediator. Now that it's a rising global power, some think it is neglecting cultural promotion, one of its greatest assets. But since Brazil is a champion of soft power, there's an important question: should Brazil work to expand its soft power, or focus on hard power?

BBC published a series of articles (in Portuguese) on the subject today, arguing that while Brazil already has a great deal of soft power, it could adopt a more coherent, streamlined approach to promoting culture abroad. It also posits that promoting Brazilian culture can help Brazil's economy. Tovar Nunes da Silva, the spokesperson for Itamaraty [Ministry of Foreign Affairs], said, "We consciously opted against militarization. We're one of few countries in the world where our national hero is a diplomat and not a general. We don't have a choice – our history is soft power." But singer Gilberto Gil, the former minister of culture, believes Brazil is neglecting culture (in Portuguese) as its international profile has grown. "Since Brazil is becoming more powerful and vocal, its soft power has to grow at the same proportion as hard power," he said.

With an eye on expanding the economy, trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council, and pushing for a greater say [in] international institutions, is it worth investing in music, literature, movies, fashion, and tourism? From my perspective, it is. First of all, Brazil's boom may not last; it wouldn't be the first time. Brazil's political power may hinge on its economic power, and though there's a lot of confidence that the country has finally reached a level of stability, it's also risky to depend on the commodity portion of its economic success. One of Brazil's greatest assets is its culture and people, and they'll be there no matter what happens to the economy or in international politics.

Controlling the promotion of culture is easier than the complex and gradual consolidation of hard power, and can be less dependent on government. Hard power is also dependent on external factors, whereas Brazil has much more control over promoting its culture abroad. Soft power can have an immediate impact, whereas hard power is built over time. The appetite for Brazilian culture, particularly music, is large and growing in the United States and Europe, but there's plenty of room for more promotion, tours, and exposure. Another plus to promoting Brazilian culture abroad is that it can have reverberations back in Brazil, since when something or someone from Brazil becomes popular outside of the country, they'll then get more love at home. (see: cachaça, Havaianas, etc.) Brazil still imports a lot of popular culture, particularly movies and music, and putting more value on homegrown artists would be a good thing.

Tourism is another factor in soft power, something that the government has put a lot of investment into in terms of PR, especially leading up to the World Cup and the Olympics. While it's important to bring foreigners to Brazil, it's just as important to bring Brazil to the world. One of the best ways to get people interested in traveling to Brazil is by having them fall in love with it before they even get there.

Finally, it's not just culture that can figure into soft power. Science without Borders, the Brazilian government's scholarship program to send 75,000 students abroad to study science, math, and engineering, is a fascinating mix of hard and soft power. On the one hand, it's an investment in Brazil's economic future, but on the other, a diplomatic program that sees people-to-people interactions as vital to Brazil's international role.

–  Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog


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