A picture is worth a thousand words, says the Chinese proverb; and a deed is worth a 100 pictures, it might be added. And in diplomacy, words can carry great weight.
The combination of words with deeds in the field of Brazil’s foreign policy that has been heard or seen so far raises concerns.
It is understandable that the Foreign Minister of the interim Government would favor the change in administration that brought him to that position, even though a large percentage of the Brazilian population considers the new government to be illegitimate, and even though the process has been criticized around the world.
We are talking not just about the Workers' Party or other left wing militants, but also of artists and intellectuals - those who, intuitively, interpret the soul of the people. Certainly, the picture of the cast and crew of the film "Aquarius", protesting on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, shown on the front page of the Wednesday, May 18, edition of the "Folha de São Paulo”, is in sharp contrast, in its diversity, with the colorless men in dark suits and white shirts appearing in the photographs of the swearing-in ceremony of the interim President.
For an instant, looking at the photo of these perennial courtiers, I was transported back to other palatial events of the Military Government era, where no women, no blacks and no young people were to be seen.
What we are witnessing at the Itamaraty, as the Ministry of External Relations is known in Brazil, bears a clear resemblance to the larger picture.
Right from the start, the interim Foreign Minister gave us an indication of what was to come. Resorting to unusually harsh words, reminiscent of the announcements made during the time of the dictatorship, he accused the Governments of countries in the region of engaging in the "propagation of falsehoods." Curiously, the statements that were released were attributed to the Ministry of External Relations and not to the Brazilian Government, as it is customary, with the probable intention of making clear the authorship of the texts. Other statements attacked the Governments of countries allied with Brazil. In one case, there was even a veiled threat to cut off technical cooperation agreements with a small, poor, Central American nation. The Secretary-General of UNASUL (The Union of South American Nations), a former President of Colombia, elected by the unanimous vote of the members of the Organization, was accused of exceeding his brief.
A mixture of conceit and arrogance can be read between the lines, as if Brazil were different from, and better than, our sister-nations in Latin America.
Perhaps, out of prudence (or fear of its largest partner), the statements avoided using the same language when mentioning the OAS (Organization of American States), despite the criticisms made by the Secretary-General and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Nor do they mention, and have so far declined to comment on, the “concerns” expressed by Costa Rica, a small but proud country without a trace of "Bolivarian" ideology.
But what is most troubling is the desire of the interim administration to distance itself from the two previous Governments, which are now being accused of partisanship, as if partisanship only exists on the left of the political spectrum. When the party is right wing, and the political choices are taken from the neo-liberal playbook, there is no “partisanship” but rather “State policy”.
There are many "experts", whose opinions are often repeated in the mainstream media, who accuse the Lula and Dilma administrations of having a "partisan" foreign policy. They overlook the fact that many of the initiatives taken by these two Presidents have been the object of respect and admiration around the world. Like that of Unasur itself — clearly disparaged by those currently in power — and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) without whom the first real reform, however modest, in the quota system of the IMF and the World Bank and the G-20 of the WTO (World Trade Organization), which permanently changed the standard of negotiations at the global level, would
never have occurred.
At the same time, these “experts” seek to cripple Mercosur by removing the "heart" of the Customs Union (to borrow a metaphor from Uruguay President Tabare Vasquez).
In trade, the eagerness to join the regional mega- agreements of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) type, reveals a complete ignorance of the clauses that constrain the possibilities of sovereign policies in the industrial, environment and health fields, among others.
It is amazing that someone who fought with such strength and courage for the right to use compulsory licensing to ensure the production of generic drugs, seems not to be aware of the existence of clauses, deceptively entitled Trips “plus” (and which, in our view, should be called Trips “minus”), that, in a more or less disguised way, reduce the latitude for the use of such measures, at a time when high-level panels created by the Secretary-General of the United Nations warn of the risk of weakening the Doha Declaration on Intellectual Property and Health, which are now enshrined in the Goals for Sustainable Development adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the 20th General Assembly of the United Nations.
Africa, to which half of Brazil's population can trace its origins and where Brazilian trade and investment have grown exponentially - and which is, incidentally, of strategic importance to the security of the South Atlantic - has been relegated to the back burner by this new short sighted pragmatism.
Comments about the BRICS, IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), as well as relations with the Arabs, are made en passant. Never mind multipolarity, “Long live the unipolar hegemony of the cold war!” No independent attitudes needed here!
The Tehran Declaration, by means of which Brazil and Turkey (following a request by President Barack Obama) showed that a negotiated solution was possible, was published six years ago on May 17. At the time, the Declaration was praised by experts from all over the world, including those from the United States.
But the elites need no longer be concerned. Courageous positions of that sort will not be seen from now on. Brazil will go back to the little corner from which it should never have emerged.
CELSO AMORIM is a career diplomat. He was Foreign Minister in the Governments of Presidents Itamar and Lula and Defense Minister in the Government of President Dilma Rousseff