Brazil and Its Relations with the U.S.: The High Cost of Benign Neglect

President Dilma Rousseff’s cancellation of her planned state visit to the United States, which had been scheduled for October 23-24, constitutes one of the most painful moments in the current tensions between the two countries. While bilateral relations may not have been irreparably damaged between the two hemispheric leaders, present-day ties have been harmed, and mending them will require some diplomatic initiative from the United States.

The National Security Administration spying scandal, which included U.S. accessing of the phone records of high-ranking Brazilian officials, is at the core of the trouble, but there was plenty of harsh backlash generated from Washington’s reaction to Brasilia’s defense of Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Brazil in August in an attempt to smooth things over, but Kerry clearly failed in this effort.

Now Brazil is rethinking signing a pending $4 billion USD deal for the purchase of 36 Boeing F-18 fighter jets. Deteriorating relations could also complicate other commercial ties. Brazil is finding increasing advantage to trading with the European Union, China, and other Latin American states. A reorientation of Latin America trade is underway, with Venezuela recently signing $20 billion USD in contracts with China, and Peruvian and Chilean exports up sharply to Asia. These developments are a tough blow to United States economic interests.

Brazil now has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a prime mover in South American affairs, and so it is vital that Washington move decisively to repair relations with Brasilia at a fast tempo. To accomplish this, however, the Obama administration will need to offer much more than the feeble excuses and half-hearted apologies presented so far.

President Rousseff’s announcement is just the most recent setback for Washington’s already stumbling Latin American policy. Spying on Brazil’s leaders was a serious error of judgment. Repairing relations can only begin with the U.S. acknowledging this large mistake and the many other mistakes it has been making in relations with other American nations. The Obama administration will need to take inventory over how the White House is failing in its hemispheric policymaking and should endeavor to find a new and much wiser direction.

Council on Hemispheric Affairs Staff

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