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Obama calls for change but not in our backyard

January 20th, 2009

Barack Obama can expect a warm welcome when he visits Brazil, if the cheers that greeted pictures of him on screens at a recent Madonna concert in São Paulo from a 60,000-strong audience are anything to go by.

Photo: barackobama.com

Photo: barackobama.com

Observers expect little change in US-Latin American relations with the new president’s in-tray full to overflowing with two wars, Middle East conflict, not to mention what has been dubbed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Newcomers to Brazil notice that the relationship with the United States is often characterised by a mixture of grudging respect, admiration and dry humour in equal measure.

Older Brazilians blame the US for the toppling of left-leaning president João Goulart in 1964, an event that ushered in another period of dictatorship and is said to have put back the country’s development by 25 years.

The younger generation have no knowledge of those events, but much of the country’s youth appear to have been instilled with the belief that the US has always meddled in its business.

‘Interference’

US interference in the affairs of independent states is a charge that has been levelled across Latin America at one time or another. The trade embargo imposed on Cuba, after Fidel Castro siezed power 50 years ago, is frequently cited as an example.

Despite this, Brazilians have an admiration for US achievements and have adopted some aspects of American lifestyle and values.

Middle-class Brazilian kids can be found learning American English in private schools when they are not plonked in front of the television, watching US cartoons or dubbed versions of teen comedies.

Large American SUV vehicles can be spotted all around cities such as São Paulo and Brazil has become something of a mecca for those seeking plastic surgery.

But there are some clear differences on trade issues and the Iraq war.

As the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, sighs were heard across Brazil that America was doing what America does.

As the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign unfolded, US-based international rolling news channel CNN carried the graphic ‘War on Terror’ as it went to ad-breaks, leaving it open to accusations that it looked like an arm of American foreign policy.

Meantime, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper carried the message ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in  Portuguese on its masthead – hardly a fine example of neutral reporting on either side it could be argued.

19th Century roots

The roots of US influence in Latin America have been attributed to the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in 1823 when US President James Munroe warned European countries about exerting influence in the region.

Originally aimed at Russian designs on the American northwest, the doctrine also challenged   intentions of a European Holy Alliance to help Spain re-conquer former colonies.

Since the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has been suggested that South America has moved to the left politically, as the Bush administration took its eye off the ball.

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Left-wing governments in led by Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and in Bolivia (Evo Morales pictured left with Lula) have sprouted , while after 10 years in power maverick Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez continues to thumb his nose at the US, which he accuses of sponsoring attempts to unseat him from power.

Chavez would prefer if Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva joined him as part of the main axis of an anti-American alliance.

But right from the off, ‘Lula’ as he is known decided which side Brazil’s bread was buttered and has for the most part kept relations with Washington smooth.

Indeed, early on outgoing US President George W. Bush openly praised Lula’s efforts to feed Brazil’s poor under the Fome Zero ‘No Hunger’ programme.

Tensions

Tensions were ratcheted up a notch when the US insisted Brazilians must be fingerprinted like everyone else entering the country, in the wake of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

When the new US president is finally able to drag himself away to South America, he will be faced with Brazilian concerns over US subsidies on ethanol and its stance at the Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.

Brazilian trade officials are itching to know whether Obama’s Democrats, who have traditionally been more protectionist stance than their Republican rivals, will continue down that route, given current global economic conditions.

For its part, Brazil wants support in its bid to get a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Whichever path he chooses, the new US president is likely to get a much warmer welcome than George W. Bush, whose visit in 2007 attracted angry protests.

Should the newest resident of the White House find time, he may want to drop into a bar in São Paulo, which has been named Barack Obrama.

The bar, which uses a play on words based around the popular Brazilian beer, Brahma is holding a celebration night on Tuesday for the new president’s inauguration and as part of efforts to promote its opening.

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Our Man in Brazil goes live

January 20th, 2009

Ourmaninbrazil.com went online a little earlier than anticipated, aiming to provide independent coverage and insight on Brazilian news, political, economic, business, cultural and sporting events to an overseas audience.

The opportunity to explain the background to Brazil’s relationship with the United States was just too good to miss on the day America’s first black president is sworn in.

Ourmaninbrazil will initially focus on written journalism, with audio and video content intended for a later stage.

Brazilian Correspondent and Editor John Evans has a wide range of reporting experience, previously providing election and economic updates for ‘The Business’ newspaper in London,  from Brazil.

The fluent French, Portuguese and Spanish-speaking journalist’s freelance work includes reporting on landless issues for the Associated Press news agency, water rationing, tax reform, and the effects of the Iraq War on Brazil at the Canal de São Paulo community TV channel.

Trained as a broadcast journalist, Evans gained experience as an assistant news producer at Five News (ITN) before working as Reporter/News Producer covering consumer affairs and personal finance issues for Simply Money TV in London.

In a previous spell in Brazil, Evans covered business issues for the English edition of the Gazeta Mercantil newspaper and worked as freelance Reporter/Producer for the Canal de São Paulo TV station.

In addition to contributing to The Daily Telegraph’s World Cup football qualifying coverage, Evans also covered Brazilian auto industry developments in Brazil for Automotive News.

After a spell in London reporting on European business issues, Evans, a student of international relations in Latin America at São Paulo’s renowned PUC University, returned to São Paulo in 2008 from where he reports on the metals business in the Americas.

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