Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Brazil and the United States: The Need for Strategic Engagement

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Brazil and the United States: The Need for Strategic Engagement

Article excerpt

The Power of Uniqueness

Washington's identification of Brazil with Latin America and the Third World hampers its appreciation of Brazil's power and importance to the United States. It is true that Brazil is geographically part of Latin America, and it is also true that Brazil, a founder of the Group of 77, was, with India, among the original leaders of the "Third World."

But Brazil is Brazil--as large and every bit as unique as the United States or China. Brazil, for many years the seat of the Portuguese empire, is the world's largest Portuguese-speaking country. It never had the large settled Amerindian populations that became a repressed underclass in the Andes and Mesoamerica; Brazilians today are as diverse as their North American cousins but growing faster.

Brazil's land mass is the fifth largest in the world. As in the United States, the possibility of expanding into large and relatively unpopulated territories helped to create a sense of new frontiers and optimism. Both the United States and Brazil have a dominant sense of pragmatism and a culture of solving problems and "making things work." Both have governments capable of reaching beyond their borders, but are deeply inward-looking and characterized psychologically by a sense of their own exceptional nature (and, sometimes, by the hubris born of an excessive sense of self-worth).

But if these traits make Brazil closer to the United States than to its Spanish-American neighbors, its unique culture, history, and worldview also separate it from the United States. The "automatic alliance" of the past is gone; both countries need to strengthen personal, professional, and institutional relationships that will create common ground for advancing their different and sometimes divergent interests as Brazil develops and carves out its own place in the world.

Geography. U.S. citizens think of Brazil as being Rio de Janeiro and its beautiful beaches or as the Amazon, an endless jungle traversed by the world's largest river system. During the Alliance for Progress years, Americans also became accustomed to hearing of the traditional rural isolation and poverty of Brazil's north-east. Less known are Minas Gerais, fount of Brazil's raw materials, mining industry, and arms production, as well as the great productive states from Sao Paulo to the south and west, home to both advanced mechanized agriculture and industry.

Brazil's national infrastructure is deficient with regard to both its great internal distances and to the requirements of maximizing international commerce. Brazil has thousands of airports--more than any country other than the United States--but its road, rail, and port systems lag. One study suggests that domestic transportation costs and port fees for soy, Brazil's largest single export, are double those of its major competitors. (1)

Brazil's population is heavily concentrated near its Atlantic coast, and is primarily urban rather than rural. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have almost 12 and 20 million inhabitants, respectively, making Brazil the only country other than the United States and China to have two of the world's largest cities.

In 1960, President Juscelino Kubitscheck (1956- 1961) founded a new capital city called Brasilia in the interior in lands that he described as "empty but for the jaguar's cry." Brasilia has expanded rapidly, and symbolizes Brazil's desire to better integrate the nation as well as to better link it to its neighbors, the Pacific, and the world.

Demography. The 201 million Brazilians are a people of striking cultural and ethnic diversity. The overwhelming majority, some 92 percent, are more or less evenly divided between whites and mulattos. They draw on the descendants of African slaves and of Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and Polish (2) immigrants, with important leavenings from the Middle East. Brazil's black population is 13 million. …

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