Two to Tango: An Analysis of Brazilian-Argentine Relations

By Mariano, Karina Lilia Pasquariello | Brazilian Political Science Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Two to Tango: An Analysis of Brazilian-Argentine Relations


Mariano, Karina Lilia Pasquariello, Brazilian Political Science Review


Two to Tango: An Analysis of Brazilian-Argentine Relations (SARAIVA, Miriam Gomes. Encontros e Desencontros. O lugar da Argentina na política externa brasileira. Belo Horizonte: Fino Traço Editora, 2012)

"The Federal Republic of Brazil seeks to form a Latin American community of nations through the economic, political, social, and cultural integration of the peoples of Latin America." So declares the opening paragraph of Article IV of the Fundamental Principles of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988. At first glance, one has the impression that this provision represents a focus of Brazilian foreign policy along with issues such as autonomy, human rights, self-determination, and others in the same Article. The reality, however, is quite different, with the cited text reflecting a time of change when the Brazilian political class was reaffirming its readiness to establish relations on a new footing with its neighbors, especially Argentina.

This repositioning of the Brazilian state in relation to Latin America indicated a willingness to finally overcome Brazil's historic rivalry with Argentina and strengthen the integration process between the two countries. However, due to the lasting image in the public consciousness of binational competition - an image constantly cited as the explanation for the tensions and crises of Mercosur - there was not sufficient political will to overcome the burden of the history between the two nations.

The core of this problem lies in the way the Brazilian state was formed, a process characterized for more than a century by latent confrontation with Argentina over Brazil's regional dominance and international ambitions. The history of this relationship is the topic of Miriam Gomes Saraiva's book Encontros e Desencontros: O lugar da Argentina na Política Externa Brasileira (Friends and Rivals: Argentina's Role in Brazilian Foreign Policy), which analyzes the development of Brazilian foreign policy vis-à-vis policymakers' perspectives on Argentina starting with Brazilian independence and ending with the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Such a long timeframe requires delimitations either that are formal and periodic or that are defined by singular moments relative to the whole. In this book, the story is divided into three phases: distrust and estrangement (1822-1978), distrust and rapprochement (1979-1990), and cooperation and tension (1991-2003).

The first part of the narrative underscores how a sense of rivalry was present even at moments when certain Brazilian governments expressed an intent to establish some kind of rapprochement with Argentina. These efforts led to periods of relative cordiality between the two countries but did not produce concrete results capable of establishing new parameters for relations in the Southern Cone.

This first phase was marked by disputes over the delineation of national boundaries during the first half of the nineteenth century, due especially to Brazil's support for Uruguayan and Paraguayan independence from Argentina. During this period arose the Argentine belief in Brazilian imperialist intentions in the region and a consequent simmering dispute for regional dominance. In Brazil, meanwhile, there emerged a fear of the establishment of an alliance between Argentina and other countries in the region.

During the Paraguayan War this rivalry was put aside in the name of common interest, thereby ushering in a period of cordiality between the two countries, although their international alignments remained very different. While Brazil drew closer to the United States to establish a strategic alliance with this emerging power, Argentina remained closely tied to England and as a result grew politically and economically stronger.

Suspicions remained during the period from the Proclamation of the Republic in Brazil to 1950. Saraiva describes this time as a period of pronounced tension and rivalry against a backdrop of official détente based on a mutual understanding of the need to maintain regional peace. …

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