"Hunger Cannot Wait": The Poverty Issue in Brazilian Foreign Policy

By Puntigliano, Andrés Rivarola | Ibero-americana, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview
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"Hunger Cannot Wait": The Poverty Issue in Brazilian Foreign Policy


Puntigliano, Andrés Rivarola, Ibero-americana


I. INTRODUCTION

The first Brazilian president to address the United Nations General Assembly was General Jouo Baptista Figueiredo (1979-1985), in 1982. Although the eyes of the international financial system were on Brazil, the New York Times identified him as "José Figueiredo" (O Estado de S. Paulo, 2003). There was little knowledge, even among specialized journalists, about Brazilian official representatives. Moreover, it is probable that the bad reputation of military regimes in Latin America also diminished the authority of its heads of state to speak on behalf of their people, even in the case of Figueiredo, whose message resembled that of many social movements or leftist parties, with strong criticism of global asymmetries and a pledge for the cause of developing countries. The situation was radically different when President Luiz Ignacio "LuIa" da Suva arrived in the United States and made his speech at the UN in September 2003. He managed to achieve a media impact and appeal for his ideas far beyond Figueiredo's. We argue here that two elements explain this. First was the emergence of a new systemic context with new spheres of authority (SOA) promoting values of a new kind. second was Lula's legitimacy to insert the national goals into the global agenda. He was the "success case" for democracy, the working class kid who became (by peaceful means) one of the most voted presidents in history (second to Ronald Reagan). As we see it, both elements help to explain how, only a few months after becoming president, LuIa gained global attention for his message, centered round the fight against poverty and eradication of hunger. Not only in Brazil, but worldwide. A primary intention of this article is, through an analysis of the "poverty" concept in international relations, to analyze changes in Brazil's position in the international system. Around this issue, we want to discuss two hypotheses. First, that there has been a change in the international system that gives a new kind of leeway to forms of influence from periphery countries. second, that Brazil has been developing a foreign policy strategy that intends to acknowledge changes, and intends to take as much advantage of them as possible. Lula's line of action has introduced new elements, but there is also a long-term line of action of Brazilian foreign policy behind it. Our focus is on Lula's use of the banner of the "fight against poverty" as an element that legitimates old Brazilian (and periphery) demands for a new world order that reduces asymmetries between core and periphery. This has many implications that go beyond the issue of poverty itself, and they will be discussed below.

The article starts with a brief theoretical overview analyzing some of these changes. The focus of this part is on the emergence of a new sphere of authority, with the UN system as a main node of international relations. We discuss here how the poverty issue has developed in the international agenda, from the perspective of international organizations (IOs). The next part outlines the main lines of Brazilian foreign policy orientation during Lula's government, in relation to the poverty issue. The following sections deal with the elements of continuity in Brazilian foreign policy and a more concrete discussion of what we see as the particularities of Lula's presidency in this area so far.

II. A THEORETICAL OVERVIEW

In ancient Greece, the tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle, taught his student that a state ought to be small enough for the citizens to know each other's characters and that its territory should be small enough to be surveyed in its entirety from a hilltop (Russell, 2002:203). As is well known, Alexander obviously did not follow the advice of his teacher. Instead, he pushed the frontier of Macedonia far beyond from what any Greek had experienced before. In a way, Aristotle might have been right, since Alexander's vast empire did not survive his lifetime.

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