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Make Brazil a Higher Priority

7:30 AM, Nov 5, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Rousseff clearly understands that anti-U.S. posturing can be winning card in Brazilian domestic politics. By calling off the state visit, she wasn’t simply expressing her disgust with NSA espionage, she was also trying to boost her sagging poll numbers ahead of Brazil’s 2014 presidential campaign. Rousseff is gearing up for a reelection bid amid high inflation, sluggish economic growth, rampant crime, major corruption scandals, and widespread public unrest. The nationwide protests that shook Brazil this past summer have largely subsided. However, the past month has witnessed demonstrations over teacher salaries, and far-left anti-capitalist activists are doing their best to create havoc in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and other cities. To make things worse, the country’s biggest criminal organization (known by its Spanish acronym, PCC) has threatened to unleash a “World Cup of terror” during the 2014 global soccer tournament, which Brazil will host.

In short: Rousseff is struggling to address a range of domestic woes, and the spying scandal provided her with a golden opportunity to stoke Brazilian nationalism and distract public attention from problems at home. Her decision to snub the United States has done significant short-term damage to bilateral relations, but that’s a price she was willing to pay. President Obama reportedly tried to change her mind during a 20-minute phone call on September 16; he also spoke to her for 45 minutes on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Russia on September 5. Yet Brazilian officials still felt that Obama and his team weren’t taking their outrage over the NSA issue seriously enough. “As resentment festered in Brasília,” the New York Times reported, “the Obama administration seemed to put the tension with Brazil on the back burner, focusing on other issues like Syria.” Rousseff was unmoved by Obama’s appeals, and the cancellation of her visit was announced on September 17.

The espionage controversy also jeopardized Boeing’s attempt to sell Brazil $4 billion worth of F-18 fighter jets. Other bilateral trade deals may be delayed, as well. Meanwhile, Brazil continues to expand strategic cooperation with Russia. On October 16, it announced that it would be purchasing $1 billion worth of Russian anti-aircraft technology. “More than buying military equipment,” said Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, “what we are seeking with Russia is a strategic partnership based on the joint development of technology.” The Brazilians already bought twelve Mi-35 attack helicopters from Moscow in 2008.

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