Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence

Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence

Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence

Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence

Synopsis

Although Brazil and the United States have long regarded each other sympathetically, relations between the two countries have been adversely affected by geographical distance, language barriers, and cultural indifference. In this comprehensive overview, Joseph Smith examines the history of Brazil-U.S. relations from the early nineteenth century to the present day. With the exception of commerce, notably the coffee trade, there was relatively little contact between the countries during the nineteenth century. A convergence of national interests took place during the first decade of the twentieth century and was exemplified in Brazil's strategy of "approximating" its foreign policy to that pursued by the United States. In return, Brazil expected economic gains and diplomatic support for its ambition to be the leading power in South America. But U.S. leaders were cautious and self-serving. Brazil was treated as a special ally, according to Smith, but only at times of major crisis such as the two world wars. As the twentieth century progressed, friction developed over programs of U.S. financial assistance and efforts to deal with the threat of communism. Recently there have been disagreements over Brazil's determination to take its rightful place as a global economic player and regional leader. Nonetheless history reveals that these two giant nations of the Western Hemisphere share national interests that they realize are best served by maintaining a friendly, cooperative relationship.

Excerpt

To the people of the United States, Brazil has historically been regarded as a distant and virtually unknown country—stereotypically a tropical land of palms, coffee, and carnival and whose racially mixed society has more in common with Africa than the Americas. Contact between the two countries has long been made difficult by geographical remoteness, adverse trade winds, and different languages, history, and culture. in addition, there is no shared common border as Americans have with Canada and Mexico, or no relatively easy access by sea as with Cuba, or strategic significance as with Panama. Brazil has, therefore, rarely impinged on American consciousness. While it is known to be a huge country—as big as the United States with a large and expanding population, vast natural resources and marvelous economic potential—it has never posed a military threat to U.S. national security or presented an ideological challenge to the American way of life.

Moreover, in terms of diplomatic relations, the United States has historically found Brazil to be very receptive and generally willing to cooperate on hemispheric and international issues. This friendly feeling has provided Washington with a welcome relief and counterweight to the antagonistic relationship that has often existed between the United States and several of the Spanish-American countries. in fact, historians have referred to an “unwritten alliance” in which the national interests of the United States and Brazil have converged so that Brazilian diplomacy has acted as a bridge in helping to facilitate many of the policy initiatives undertaken by the United States in hemispheric affairs.

For the people of Brazil, the conventional image of the United States has been of the “colossus of the north,” an economic powerhouse where people are devoted to the Protestant ethic of working hard and making money. Despite admiration for its political stability and economic success, Brazilians have also perceived American society as marked by racial discrimination and segregation and contrasting unfavorably with Brazil’s more humane and tolerant idea of “racial democracy.” Until the advent of the airplane and mass media, travel . . .

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