Brazil: A curious, but very distant observer

This is the second of a series of entries examining how the U.S. presidential campaign is being viewed in different Latin American countries.

Photo: São Paulo by Cleber Quadros | Flickr | Creative Commons

The twists, turns, and daily gaffes of the U.S. presidential campaign elicit muted interest from Brazil’s opinion makers and usually land near the back of the newspaper.  A review of the Brazilian media indicates curiosity about the race but little fretting about its consequences.  As Republican candidate Mitt Romney has struggled, Brazilian commentators have started handicapping the U.S. election in President Obama’s favor.  The magazine Veja said Romney had nearly issued himself a “political death certificate” via recent mistakes, while O Globo judged the Republican to be down, but not completely out.

Romney’s struggles have not generated great joy, even though a recent poll showed that nine of 10 Brazilians, given the chance, would vote for Obama. Many Brazilians are frustrated about the Obama administration’s attacks on Brazilian trade policy, which they attribute to the coming election.  Public exchanges between U.S. and Brazilian trade officials have grown terse. Personal relations between Dilma and Obama appear chilly, with no conference planned on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week.  Romney’s foreign policy positions, on the other hand, draw criticism.  Mocking Romney’s rightward drift, Professor Demetro Magnoli wrote in Estado do São Paulo that the former governor is “the most dangerous man in the world” for his threats to unleash a trade war with China and a real war with Iran.  Nonetheless, Magnoli and others in the Brazilian press seem skeptical that campaign rhetoric will be reflected in foreign policy.

While the U.S. campaign gives Brazilians little reason for either excitement or concern, one implication they may see is that Brazil’s regional stature will continue to ascend regardless of who wins.  Romney’s campaign platform for Latin America plays up threats from “Bolivarians,” criminals and drug cartels, and Hezbollah.  Moreover, his promised solution – a “Reagan Economic Zone” – seems incongruous with the late president’s image in Brazil and much of Latin America.  Obama, on the other hand, has a personal background and restrained tone in foreign affairs that makes him more popular with the Brazilian public, but he has not taken advantage of that to improve relations or to address irritants like trade or onerous visa requirements, nor to improve Washington’s image in Latin America.  Whichever administration begins in 2013 will find a Brazil that is curious, but hardly waiting on Washington for answers.

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