Outside In

Photography by William S. Speer By Johannes Werner March 31, 2011


Wikipeeking at Brazil

I admit: I am hooked on WikiLeaks.

I keep spending the wee hours reading U.S. Department of State cables from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.

What really got me hooked is the opportunity to understand what makes our foreign policy tick in relation to the second-biggest and fast-rising power in this hemisphere.

My conclusion: Our foreign policy clockwork is in big need of a thorough cleaning.

As I am writing this, President Barack Obama is preparing a long-overdue Latin America trip that will take him to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heaping praise on the South American power.

No wonder. Brazil is one big, fat business opportunity. Its economy is growing at a Chinese pace while sweeping extreme poverty off the front porch. Massive social spending, coupled with gigantic offshore oil finds, the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, have triggered an unprecedented construction boom.

The country’s economy has become the engine of Latin America and the Caribbean; and it is—literally—building bridges (tunnels, highways, railroads, pipelines) to neighboring markets and beginning to feed millions of people beyond its borders.

Brazil is already Florida’s largest foreign trade partner, and the United States—particularly Florida—is the largest beneficiary of Brazilian investments abroad. What’s more, the U.S. dollar is under devaluation pressure, the Brazilian real is on its way up, and this opens a window for recession-pummeled companies to enter a booming market with

their competitively priced products and services.

Even so, don’t get your hopes too high about a special U.S.-Brazilian relationship. If the selection of classified cables so far released by WikiLeaks is any indication, security and military interests are overshadowing economic interests in our relations with Brazil—despite a long history of friendly relations.

Example: Our diplomats are wasting time in high-level interaction with Brazilian officials by bringing up, again and again, the supposed danger emanating from Venezuela and Cuba, scolding Brazil for not doing anything about it, according to several cables.

It’s time to face facts. Brazil has changed; the country has turned away from our military umbrella and now defines its security interests along the lines of its own economic development, that of its neighbors and other emerging nations. Brazil sports close ties with both Venezuela and Cuba, precisely for that reason. Brazilian officials have repeatedly urged the Obama administration to open direct channels to Venezuela and to end the Cuba embargo, according to WikiLeaks cables.

Our diplomats also have wasted months hawking Boeing jet fighters to Brazilian officials when they should be implementing policy—not trying to sell U.S. products, according to WikiLeaks documents. (Brazil eventually picked competitor Dassault, because the French company agreed to assemble the jets in Brazil and wouldn’t try to block Brazil if it wanted to sell the jets to, say, Bolivia.)

In the meantime, diplomats should be focusing on larger economic plans that can benefit more U.S. players. For example, a three-year-old U.S.-Brazil biofuels agreement started under the Bush administration incentivizes Brazil-based companies to expand sugarcane ethanol production to third countries that have free-trade agreements with the United States. Despite Washington’s neglect, Brazil has been investing in Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Haiti, and ethanol is beginning to flow from these countries to the United States.

I am not praising the benefits of ethanol. The point I am trying to drive home here is that the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy should be economic opportunities such as the ethanol agreement—seeing eye-to-eye, identifying common interests, and working together to make things happen, instead of fear-mongering.

Even if you don’t get contracts on a silver platter from your government, you can make good things happen. The Department of Commerce has trade attachés at the U.S. embassy in Brazil that are at your service. Enterprise Florida, the state’s foreign trade promotion branch, also has opened an office in Brazil’s business capital São Paulo. Finally, you can accompany Palmetto developer David Ferdinand, who has plans to turn a small island off the coast of São Paulo State into an ecotourism venture. He’ll be taking a Florida delegation to the nearby São Sebastião area this July to attend an ecological festival and meet with local businesspeople. Send an e-mail to [email protected] if you would like to join.

Johannes Werner is editor of, a website featuring real-time news about the Cuban economy and host of the Florida-Caribe show on WSLR 96.5 FM.

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