Brazil and the Bolivarian Revolution

Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez was known for having started and spread what is called the Bolivarian revolution, a kind of anti-American, dictatorial type of socialism. His success in spreading his revolution and his influence in the region would not have been so successful without the support of the moderate-left countries of Latin America as well as the ALBA block made up of Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. In my last article I pointed out the role that countries in the region have played and continue to play in the perpetuation of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

However, of all the countries in the region, Brazil is a crucial piece in the support of the Bolivarian revolution. At this point is probably a more effective source of support than Cuba or any other member of ALBA, despite having openly distanced itself from the Venezuelan model. Indeed, Brazil has supported Chavez in the international arena thus helping prolong the agony of the Venezuelan people, the authoritarian practices of its government, and the geo-political threats to the region.

As Brazil has grown economically, it has become self-conscious of its ability to become politically influential, not merely in the region but also in the world. Thus, it has sought a place for itself as a regional and world player. Beginning with the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva, Brazil was eager to show its political independence from the United States regarding foreign policy and international relations. Thus, Brazil proceeded to lead what is known as “South-South” relations, which is a sort of outreach to African and Arab countries in an effort to form a political coalition that also included other Latin American countries.

This explains certain Brazilian polices such as the recognition of the hard-line Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the legitimate winner of the June, 2009 elections in spite of widespread indications of fraud. Then Lula went further. Following Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil that November, President Lula tried to play a role in solving the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. In alliance with Turkey, Brazil offered Iran a deal that went contrary to the U.S. and European agenda. This deal had nothing to do with the problem of nuclear proliferation or with Iran’s nuclear program. It rather served Iran’s interests in delaying UN Security Council sanctions and probably more severe economic sanctions expected to come from the U.S. and Europe.

The same modus operandi applies to Brazil’s policies in the region. However, there is an additional idealistic component in the attitude of the Brazilian government that deeply affects other Latin American countries.  The Brazilian government views the power of the left as a victorious regional movement. The Left is defined in the abstract and does not draw any distinction between the social democracies of the moderate left and the authoritarian elected governments of the Bolivarian Alliance. It is the spirit and momentum of the left that needs to be preserved. The Venezuelan Bolivarian government is an integral part of this leftist movement.

As an example, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff pointed out that the “Venezuelan election was a model of an exemplary democratic process”. Moreover, Marco Aurelio Garcia, the most senior foreign policy advisor in the Brazilian government, was sent by the Rousseff government also as an observer to the election, who proceeded to complain about the “international support for the Capriles’ candidacy and for the attempt to delegitimize the democratic process in Venezuela”. In an even more perplexing statement, Garcia suggested that Chavez’s victory reinforced democracy, particularly after the region suffered “a democratic interruption with the impeachment of (President) Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.”

Garcia also accused, “right and center-right opposition forces in Latin America” of supporting Capriles.” Thus, he implied that the Venezuelan elections were a point of contention between the right and left wing forces in the region. Therefore, had Chavez lost the elections it would have been a defeat for the left in general—whether the authoritarian or the democratic wing.

This last point is particularly astonishing since Capriles ran on the platform of the social-democratic Brazilian model. However, the left could not see Capriles as one of them; he confronted Chavez, an authentic symbol of the left. Chavez, though deceased, remains a symbol of the left’s strength throughout the continent.

Garcia pointed out that in the region there are different types of leftist regimes but what they all have in common is that “all of them are marching in the direction of translating political democracy into a social factor.” Here, Brazil is passionately defending the idea that no political democracy can co-exist with inequality or the lack of social inclusion.

However, the fact that political democracy, human rights, and judicial independence are sacrificed in the name of social justice seems to be of no concern to the Brazilian leaders.

The Brazilian government seems to also obsessively believe that regional integration- an idea that was championed by former Brazilian president Henrique Cardozo and is supported by conservative governments in the region- can only work with left wing governments.

But it gets worse. According to officials in Rousseff’s circles, the Brazilian president began, even before Chavez’s death, to prepare a plan in cooperation with other countries to guarantee “the stabilization of Venezuela” after Chavez’s departure.  This point I find particularly astonishing since it looks like Brazil is much more concerned about the continuity of authoritarian stability rather than restoring the rights that the Bolivarian state had usurped from their citizens.

Of greater importance, the grassroots of the ruling Workers party (PT) in Brazil has a strong pro-Chavez component. I would dare to say that at the grassroots levels of the PT, Chavez is more popular than Rousseff or Lula.  It is this grassroots that is speaking about the need “to armor the region” and Chavez’s legacy.

Despite these Brazilian attitudes and their rather dubious foreign policyit is extremely important that the United States continue to cultivate Brazil as a regional and global partner even if its current behavior is disappointing.

As Brazil develops as a strong economic power with regional influence and a strong democracy, it could potentially turn into an ally of the United States.  This is unlikely at the present time given the strong pressure exercised by the Brazilian workers party. In spite of these hurdles, the U.S. needs to focus and work harder on strengthening its relations with Brazil while seeking their cooperation in confronting the many regional problems that now exist. The good news is that in Brazil, elections are clean and transparent and thus the next president may not be a captive of the pro-Chavez forces.

The more Brazil grows democratically, the more it needs to be persuaded that the Bolivarian revolution and the Bolivarian alliance, as well as Iran and other nefarious groups, are a threat to the region. It must see that allowing these forces to proliferate undermines the stability of the region and presents a threat to democracy. It seems that current diplomacy between the U.S. and Brazil is heavily focused on trade. While this is important, our efforts should be broadened to include trying to convince Brazil to pursue a policy that supports democracy and human rights in the region.

If Brazil moves closer to the position of the United States, the rest of the continent is more likely to follow suit for the Brazilians’ success is having a major impact on the other countries of the region. Further, if Brazil makes a commitment to help reinforce democracy, it can be a major force in driving the Organization of American States (OAS) back to the principles outlined in the organization’s democratic charter and Resolution 1080, which stipulates sanctions and diplomatic pressures when democracy is violated.

About Luis Fleischman

Dr. Luis Fleischman is a Senior Adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College. He is the author of the book, "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States."