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The Changing World: Brazilian Values in International Politics

In Rajiv Gopie on February 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

The world is changing, fundamental structures of power that supported the international system are being challenged. The emergence of the BRIC countries has been viewed with fear and apprehension by some, but for the billions in the developing world these emerging powers represent a beacon of hope. The economic and military implications of the rise of the BRIC countries have been written and theorised ad nauseum but what has for the most part been ignored are the socio-cultural ramifications that will ensue from the rise of these great power. Perhaps most interestingly Brazil may be poised to exert a bigger influence in the social sphere than the other BRIC powers.

Brazil has a long and colourful history too complex to engage in here but suffice it to say that the Brazil of the past decade shines as an example of a socially conscious society. Brazilian politics offer a nuanced approach to socialism and capitalism preferring to use a Latin American model of free markets but with state intervention on the behalf of the people. The “left-wing” politics of Brazil looks much different from the evil communist narrative espoused in America; it resembles more closely European models but with more sensibility and a more robust economy. What is interesting is Brazil’s record on human rights, humanitarian intervention, gay rights, green policy and personal liberty.

The ideas of the “liberal west” meet with the traditions of Catholic Brazil to produce a compassionate society that embraces the new and the different but has a toehold in the institutions of home, family, community etc. This model of old and new ideas interacting may in my humble opinion be the course that the rest of the world should embrace. Following the financial crisis our world did a little soul searching and many were the musings of the “fairer” past when people cared about each other. This nostalgia for the past may be selective but it is accurate to say that past generations were more family and socially oriented. This was sacrificed on the altar of the economy and for personal gain. Brazil, however, in its transition is managing for the moment to hold on to its culture whilst at the same time growing and developing at a dizzying rate.

Despite its many social problems and the stark poverty still present in the favelas, Brazil is community oriented and tilted towards a more humanistic society. The sponsoring of sexual minority protection initiatives and green initiatives by Brazil in the UN are examples of the socially liberal and responsible nature of Brazil. As the country continues to rise in influence it may continue to spread its socially liberal humanistic identity across the globe. Whilst the other BRIC powers are all status quo powers with China and Russia concerned with self interest at the expense of international responsibility (Russian veto on Syria, China and human rights) and India is starting to struggle, Brazil is a transformative power and comes with many cultural and ideological principles. It will be interesting to watch how far Brazilian social ideology will spread.

(Author admits to a great love for Brazil and Latin America).

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  1. No doubt Brazil has increased its international projection thanks to its recent economic development and solid redemocratization process. However, I’d be reluctant to say some of the things mentioned on this post: first and most obvious, Brazil does not offer a nuanced approach to socialism, “with state intervention on the behalf of the people”. The country was able to achieve its economic development exactly at the expense of the people, specially until FHC’s terms. During the 90s, the Brazilian government did many privatizations which have favored a small minority, and not the people.

    This leads me to the second point I am concerned about when I read such kind of article: the myth of brazilian left wing. Even Former President Lula, who had an impressive popular support and worldwide recognition, was not much different from Right-wing FHC; in fact his policies were basically an extension of FHC, with perhaps some exceptions in Foreign Policy, but domestically it’s quite hard to say the country has changed when it comes to social policies. Brazil has a tradition of populism, like most south-american countries, and what we did see during Lula’s years and now Dilma’s mandate is an ongoing endless policy of populism. It is true poverty was reduced over the past years, but if one thinks poverty remains in the favelas, one must be blind or has never been to Brazil. In fact in many favelas people have a better chance of social ascension and quality of life than in the country side of Northeast, for example, and even so, I find hard to see any “community oriented” or “humanistic society”. Although Lula’s Brazil has achieved impressive economic growth, the fact that he kept FHC’s macroeconomic policies subordinated to the international financial market with its high rates of investment return next to a policy of high investment of public money for the creation of infrastructure that would enable and increase the profits of private companies – that is, once again it’s not the people who benefit from it! Even if more people have come from the lower class to medium class, if you look at the parameters of such classification and compare with the cost of living/education/health etc, you’ll realize that its significance is rather small.

    If you take a look at brazilian public schools and its health system (which despite great doctors always lack infra-structure, resources and do not respond to its demand), there’s nothing humane about it. It’s a country in which only those who can afford private education and private health plans can truly enjoy the benefits from Brazil’s growth. Furthermore, there are severe problems with the “bolsa” initiatives in terms of human rights – see Souza, Celina (2003). “Estado do campo” da pesquisa em políticas públicas no Brasil. In: Revista bra- sileira de ciências sociais, Vol. 18 No 51, p. 15-20; Yasbek, Maria Carmelita (2004). O Programa Fome Zero no Contexto das Políticas Sociais Brasilei- ras. In: Revista São Paulo em Perspectiva, 18 (2): 104-112; (FoodFirst Information and Action Network report byClóvis Roberto Zimmermann: “O Programa Bolsa Familia sobre a Otica de Direitos Humanos” .

    Third, Brazil’s initiatives of sexual minority protection are still limited to the major cities. Unfortunately, it is a big country with an extremely sexist society – in 2007 I was part of a research entitled “The Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights System and its Missions in Brazil: past, present and future”, focusing exactly on violence against women (you can find more information on this at OLIVEIRA, Silvia Menicucci. Os procedimentos especiais do sistema de direitos humanos das Nações Unidas. In: PERRONE-MOISÉS, Cláudia; ALMEIDA, Guilherme, Assis de. Direito Internacional dos direitos humanos: Instrumentos básicos. São Paulo: Atlas, 2002.). It was possible to understand what rapporteur Yakin Ertuk calls the dubious character of globalization: it empowers women when it comes to more representative aspects, but also increases crimes of “honor” and traditional practices of violence against women, like sexual and economic exploitation.

    Finally, since I obviously already wrote too much… Brazil and Human Rights/Humanitarianism have a way more complex and dubious relationship than it seems on this post. Don’t forget we’re the only country which remains an amnesty law of 1979 protecting the military dictatorship’s criminals (http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/new-in-english/2010-05-04/news-english-amnesty-law-1979-remains-unchanged); Brazilian society has no access to documents of the dictatorship (the government quite often say most was burned/lost/other excuses), that is, to our own history. And we fail to responde the requests of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (here is a nice example of how we are far from being that Human Rights engaged http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/litigation/brazil). Moreover, do not forget the tones of arguments against Brazilian Humanitarian intervention (especially in Haiti) like imperialistic policy and hidden interests of doing it in order to get a permanent seat at the UNSC (which has been an eternal goal of Brazil’s foreign policy since the league of nations).

  2. Ah, one last comment. Do you honestly think Brazil has that much influence? Maybe internationally thanks to its economy it is getting more worldwide attention (afterall China’s now its number one trade partner), but take a look at the south american dynamics. Think twice. There’s still a massive divise.

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