(IPS) – The first black president of the United States visited the first woman president of Brazil: their meeting resulted in modest progress in bilateral relations, but a bitter taste could not be avoided over the announcement, in Brazil, of the U.S.-led air attack on Libya.
On Saturday, Obama announced in Brasilia the launch of air strikes against the Libyan regime, in line with the Mar. 17 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which ordered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to call a ceasefire against rebels demanding his resignation, and authorised the use of force to impose a no-fly zone over the country.
Brazil, currently a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, had opposed the military measures and was one of five Council members to abstain from voting.
Together with other emerging powers, Brazil has long demanded reform of the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful political body for international peace and security – and has made it clear it wants a permanent seat.
In a speech in Brasilia, Rousseff advocated Security Council reform, but refrained from mentioning the case of Libya.
“We are concerned by the slow pace of reforms of multilateral institutions that still reflect an old world order,” Rousseff said. “We are working tirelessly to reform governance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We are also advocating fundamental reform in global governance, via the enhancement of the U.N. Security Council.”
Obama replied, “The United States will continue our efforts to make sure that the new realities of the 21st century are reflected in international institutions, including the United Nations, where Brazil aspires to a seat on the Security Council.”
Former diplomat Marcos de Azambuja, with the Brazilian Centre for International Relations (CEBRI), told IPS that on bilateral issues, “for the first time Brazil was not lectured on human rights or democracy; on the contrary, it was President Dilma who made demands of the United States,”
But Brazil is still an emerging country, he noted, adding that equality is achieved by “mutual respect and the absence of resentment.”
China recently displaced the United States as this country’s largest trading partner.
Obama expressed his country’s desire to become a major importer of oil from Brazil’s vast “pre-salt” oilfields.
The pre-salt oil, at an undersea depth of up to seven kilometres, and below a two- kilometre layer of salt, may place the country’s oil reserves fifth in the world.
In Azambuja’s view, the United States was speaking as a customer, and saw Brazil in the role of a country that can sell oil “without political blackmail being a factor, as it is in Venezuela or countries of the Middle East and Africa.” “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a relationship on such an equal footing,” he concluded.
Ten cooperation agreements were signed by Obama and Rousseff, but there was disappointment over taxation.
“U.S. and Brazilian company owners were hoping for an agreement to avoid double taxation. It was a strong demand from both sides,” said U.S.-born naturalised Brazilian political scientist David Fleischer, a professor at the University of Brasilia.
A timetable of six-monthly meetings to discuss diplomatic problems and bilateral relation issues was also agreed. “Previously, consultations were not held on such a regular basis,” Fleischer said.
However, Obama did not propose the removal of tariff barriers for Brazilian products, a goal that is a long way from being achieved.
“We seek fairer and more balanced trade relations,” Rousseff said. “For us, it is essential to eliminate the barriers raised against our products, like ethanol, beef, cotton, orange juice and steel.”
Last year Brazil’s trade deficit with the United States was the largest in history, at 7.7 billion dollars, a marked fall-off in the South American country’s exports since 2006, when it had a trade surplus of 9.9 billion dollars with the United States.
The most sensitive moment of the visit, Fleischer said, was Obama’s appearance before hundreds of journalists Saturday to announce he had authorised U.S. forces to bomb Libya. But the move had been in the works for the previous week, Fleischer added, and just happened to occur when Obama was in Brazil.
Obama arrived Saturday in Brasilia, where he met with Rousseff and attended a conference with the business community. On Sunday he and his family travelled to Rio de Janeiro, where he addressed the Brazilian people from the Municipal Theatre, rather than at an open air mass rally that was cancelled for security reasons.
He left Brazil Monday for Chile, the second stop on his Latin America trip.
There was no consensus in Brazilian society about Obama’s visit, and two small demonstrations were held to protest the decision to attack Libya.
“Obama failed to respect Brazil when he came to our country and declared war on another state from here,” historian Socorro Gomes, head of the Brazilian Centre for Solidarity with Peoples and the Struggle for Peace (Cebrapaz), told IPS.
Cebrapaz coordinates the campaign against military bases in the Americas, and was among the few dozen organisations that organised a peaceful demonstration involving about 500 protestors in Rio de Janeiro Sunday.
In Gomes’ view, “Obama’s policies are basically a continuation of U.S. supremacy and military power. We want people to know that there is no consensus about Obama in Brazil.”
Under the Obama administration, the United States “is following its design for the Middle East, with governments in the region completely aligned with its interests, namely oil, gas and control of the seas,” she said.
Federal lawmaker Chico Alencar, of the left-wing opposition Socialism and Freedom Party, said the “most basic issues” had not been resolved.
The visit “was terrible in terms of trade, because Obama said he was interested in our pre-salt oil but didn’t say a word about reducing tariff barriers for our ethanol,” Alencar said.
U.S.-made Boeing F-18 fighter planes “are constantly being pushed at Brazil, but our good Embraer (the Brazilian aerospace company) planes don’t even get a look-in on the U.S. market,” he complained.
As for Brazil’s desire for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Obama merely expressed “appreciation for Brazil’s aspiration,” rather than firm support, he said.
Finally, the “political and ideological” aspects of Obama’s visit were “a disaster, just at the time when, as usual, U.S.-led powers unleashed a violent attack on Libya, which until recently had been a U.S. ally,” he said.
The cities of Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro were under such tight security that ordinary Brazilians could not even get a glimpse of the U.S. president and his family. A protest mounted Friday by some 200 activists in front of the U.S. consulate in Rio resulted in 13 arrests, after a demonstrator threw a Molotov cocktail.