Brazilian Ambassador Denies U.S.-Latin Divide

Brazilian Ambassador Denies U.S.-Latin Divide

On Southern Californian trip, Ambassador Roberto Abdenur discusses trade, left-leaning Latin American governments, Brazil's Bolivian investment.

If you put Michelle Bachelet on one hand and Hugo Chavez on the other hand, those are very different things. [Bolivia's] Evo Morales is yet to show in which direction he will go.

Roberto Abdenur, the Brazilian ambassador to Washington, March 7 told a UCLA audience that U.S.-Brazilian ties were closer than generally depicted in both nations' media, and that Brazil's "mature" political institutions would certainly withstand the corruption scandal still vexing the government and the reelection prospects of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Abdenur's public talk, part of a visit to Southern California, was sponsored by the UCLA Latin American Center, the Anderson School of Management’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), and the Consulate General of Brazil in Los Angeles.

As Abdenur noted, the charismatic Lula has enjoyed a rebound in the polls as the scandal, involving alleged bribery of lawmakers and other officials and illegal campaign financing, has faded from the headlines. On the day of Abdenur's talk at UCLA, Lula arrived in the United Kingdom for a three-day visit to promote reform of world trade rules and development of renewable sources of energy, particularly biodiesel fuel and ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane.

During the question period following his talk at UCLA, Abdenur took up the intersection of the two issues, lamenting that "almost outrageous" U.S. tariffs on Brazilian ethanol put the technology in the context of economic competition rather than that of "a broader energy equation."

But in assessing relations between the two largest countries in the Americas—Brazil has a population of more than 180 million and a wealth of natural resources—Abdenur stressed that bilateral dialogue was candid, respectful, and even warm. He distributed and read from a joint statement that Presidents Bush and Lula made at their meeting at the White House in November 2005 to underscore the "remarkably good relationship between these two men with remarkably different political backgrounds."

The "blue-collar" Lula, he said, "never attended UCLA" but is extremely well-traveled and knowledgeable about the world. Abdenur said that Brazil under Lula would continue to pursue integration of South American nations and to seek a greater global role, including a permanent seat on a restructured United Nations Security Council.


No Southern 'Alternative' to US

Nevertheless, Abdenur suggested that too much had been made of "this so-called leftist trend in Latin America." Many commentators have seen regional forces, principally worsening conditions for the poor, at work in the election of opponents of aspects of U.S.-backed neoliberal trade policies in Brazil, Argentina, and other nations. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce opponent of the so-called Washington consensus, has survived an attempted coup and other attempts to remove him from power countenanced by the United States. More recently, Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales; Chile has elected as president a first woman, Michelle Bachelet, a victim of torture by the state following the Sept. 11, 1973, coup; and populist Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador seems poised to take the Mexican presidency in July.

Abdenur emphasized the diversity in the approaches of these leaders. For example, in her campaign President Bachelet assured business groups that Chile's neoliberal trade strategies would continue. Abdenur appeared to distance Brazil from Hugo Chavez's Venezuela in saying that his country does not harbor "any illusion that our neighbors would look at Brazil as an alternative to the U.S."

"If you put Michele Bachelet on one hand and Hugo Chavez on the other hand, those are very different things. [Bolivia's] Evo Morales is yet to show in which direction he will go."

Doing Business in Bolivia

Through Petrobrás, the state-controlled oil and gas company, Brazil is "by far" the largest foreign investor in Bolivia, Abdenur said. He said that "marginalized" indigenous Bolivians who charge that their country's natural gas resources have never been used to their benefit are essentially correct, and that Bolivians deserve "a bigger share of the pie of their natural wealth."

We say, this is something that ought to be conducted as a technical issue. Let us not politicize it unduly, and let us see to what extent we can accommodate a greater measure of Bolivian presence in the way Petrobras operates there—to give them satisfaction, while preserving minimum conditions of profitability that will enable us to continue there and even to expand our interest in Bolivia.

Having served, among many diplomatic posts, as ambassador to Equador from 1985 to 1988, Abdenur said he was sensitive to the near identity of "economic, social, political, and ethnic cleavages" in Andean countries.

Abdenur's trip included a meeting with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a lecture at UCSD's Institute of the Americas, and meetings with business and government groups in Los Angeles. Abdenur apologized that the trip to the U.S. region was his first: he had been forced to cancel a previous visit when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went to Brazil in March 2005.

Published: Thursday, March 09, 2006