Sunday, December 05, 2010

Projecting Brazilian Political Power in the Middle East

For too long all things Latino/a in the United States, as in many other places, was cultivated as something inward looking and in its essence effectively self referential.  Stereotype assumed a cultural dimension with political effect--the only thing of interest to the Latino/a community and by extension their "home" states, were issues affecting Latino/as as a consequence of this or that action of powerful "others." There, is, of course, good reason for that stance.  Latin American states have been (and to some extent continue to be) the objects of actions (much of it detrimental) by others.  There is a sense that since colonization, Latin America has best served the world as the latifundia of more powerful states--Spain, the United States, the Soviet Union and now the People's Republic of China.  That hierarchical and exploitative pattern of relationship is reproduced in those places of outbound migration--principally the United States and Europe.

Brazil recognizes Palestine,, Dec. 5, 2010

It is thus, with great interest, that the Latino/a communities in the United States ought to consider the efforts of Latin American states to start to project their power outward. The efforts have been led by Brazil, which is seeking to be recognized as a major global player--not just a place within which latifundia are established but a power capable of turning others to serve its own interests.
Brazil says it has recognized the state of Palestine based on borders at the time of Israel's 1967 conquest of the West Bank.
The Foreign Ministry says the recognition is in response to a request made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Silva sent a letter to Abbas on Dec. 1, saying Brazil recognizes Palestine and hopes that the recognition will help lead to states of Israel and Palestine "that will coexist peacefully and in security."
The foreign ministry says that the recognition is "in line with Brazil's historic willingness to contribute to peace between Israel and Palestine." (Brazil recognizes Palestinian state,, Nov. 2010)
No longer merely the object of actions by more powerful players--the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union--Latin American states  appear poised to project their own interests abroad.  Indeed, the object of this effort is not so much to play the usual role of a Third World Block state, but to assume a role in the determination of issues of global concern.  That effort tends to be overlooked by a global media eager to continue to place "second order" states in their place within the global hierarchy, and thus placed, to use them  as pieces in their own construction of global affairs.  Ironically, it is al Jazeera that has recognized this objective most explicitly.  It reported that:
In a parallel statement, the Brazilian government assured relations with Israel "have never been more robust."
Brazil has offered to help mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which were briefly revived in September before grounding to a halt over the resumption of Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories.
. . . . .
Abbas visited Brazil in 2005 and 2009, and Lula made the first-ever trip by a Brazilian head of state to Palestine and Israel in March this year. (Brazil recognizes Palestine,, Dec. 5, 2010 (AFP Report))
Brazil has an import immigrant community itself from the Middle East, and is sensitive to the need to cultivate relations with a host of states, including, but not limited to Israel. See, e.g., Abbas witnesses Palestinian presence in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil-Arab News Agency, Nov. 22, 2009. Brazil had earlier called for a freeze on settlements, to preserve the feasibility of a two state solution (Brazil calls on Israel to completely stop settlement activity in occupied territory, People's Daily Online, Dec. 1, 2010). 

To some extent, whether Brazil is successful in its efforts to mediate the dispute among the peoples of Israel and Palestine is less important than that Latin America begins to assume a less passive role in international affairs.  What had started out tentatively in the course of the constitutional crisis in Honduras of 2009 has begun to show signs of expansion in this latest effort. Brazil's Lula has been aggressively cultivating a role since 2009.
“I’ve had a dream for the past three years, to organize a peace game in a neutral stadium, of a mixed team, Israel and Palestinians, against the Brazilian national team,” Lula said today in his weekly radio program. “This would be an extraordinary achievement for Brazil and, above all, a very important sign for peace.”
Brazil is seeking a broader role in the Middle East as part of the country’s push for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Lula this month hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. (Andre Soliani Costa, Lula Seeks Brazil Soccer Game Versus Israel-Palestine (Update1), Bloomberg, Nov. 23, 2009))
The United States has come lately to the realization of the effects of power projections from this quarter.
U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic party, meanwhile scorned the decision over the weekend as “severely misguided,” and said it “represents a last gasp by a Lula-led foreign policy which was already substantially off track.”
A co-chair of the Congressional Brazil Caucus, Engel noted the soon-to-be ex-president had grown close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was quoted by the AFP news service as saying Brazil “wants to establish itself as a voice in the world but is making the wrong choices as it tries to do so.” (U.S. Israel Slam Brazil's Recognition of PA as New Country,  Israel National News, Dec. 5, 2010).
The Israelis are listening. Pepe Escobar's recent reporting of Lula's visit to Israel is instructive. Pepe Escober, Brazil Steps in Between Israel and Iran, Asia Times, March 18, 2010.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the first Brazilian president to visit Israel officially. Lauded for his charisma, swing and formidable negotiating powers - United States President Barack Obama refers to him as "the man" - little did Lula know that to engage his hosts this week he would have to give the Prophet Abraham a run for his money, no less. . . .  After being grilled in the Knesset - including by Netanyahu - for his policy of non-confrontation and dialogue with Iran, Lula did not flinch. He condemned both the Holocaust and terrorism; he reminded his hosts of Brazil's and Latin America's stand against nuclear weapons; he stressed "dialogue" and "compassion" to solve the Middle East conflict; he defended a viable two-state solution for Israel and Palestine; but he also did not refrain from criticizing the expanded colonization of East Jerusalem. He received a standing ovation and, according to some members of parliament, "more applause than [former US president] George W Bush".  . . .  Lula and Netanyahu have adopted a bilateral system of meetings between heads of state and top ministers every two years.  (Id.)
And Israel continues to press successfully for trade deals with Brazil.  "Ironically, it's on the economic front, rather than geopolitics, that Brazil is managing to seduce the Israeli establishment. Israel signed a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Mercosur  - the fifth-largest bloc in terms of gross domestic product in the world - much to the chagrin of Palestinians, who identify the FTA as a powerful boost to the Israeli military-industrial complex. "  Id.  See also,  Israel-Brazil trade seen surging on Latam trade deal, Reuters, March 15, 2010) ("Brazil expects a new free trade agreement with Israel to swell bilateral trade to more than $3 billion within five years, officials said on Monday.").

Palestinians press Brazil as well.  Because of its stronger links to Iran, the Palestinians find Brazil more useful as an intermediary, a state of affairs that has not gone un-noticed in Israel itself.  See, e.g., Abbas prods Brazil to help end Iran support for Hamas,, Nov. 20, 2009).
"Iran supports Hamas with money. Hamas' decisions are in the hands of Tehran," Abbas said Friday in an interview with the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo.
Abbas' remarks were clearly aimed at Lula's next Middle East visitor on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"I hope [Lula] can tell [Ahmadinejad] a few things about everything that is happening in the Middle East. I think the president will," Abbas was quoted as saying.(Id.)

AFP/File – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (left) shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas … From Israel 'saddened' as Brazil recognises Palestinian state, Yahoo News, Dec. 4, 2010.

For Latino/as, Brazil's moves offers a broadening perspective, as well as the possibility of life beyond the passive voice, either within host states or in the international community. It is possible that as the political interests of Latino/a communities within the United States expands, it will be seen less often as that group that can be mobilized only to protect its more narrowly defined set of (self) interests.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't noticed before in my searches!
Excellent and helpful factor of perspective on the subject, I’d be interested in hearing much more on what you had to say.