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As Brazil Grows, U.S. Refits Relationship


Now that President Obama is in Cartagena, he'll begin the conversations about trade and business opportunities in Latin America. But the Summit of the Americas is not the first meeting this week for President Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

On Monday, Rousseff visited the White House. And after this weekend's summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head to that Brazil's capital, Brasilia.

The two nations have a great deal to talk about, and for a look at the agenda, we spoke with Paulo Sotero. He is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Sotero told us that in 2010, U.S. and Brazil had developed what he called a great deal of bad blood. That's when then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva travelled to Iran in a failed attempt to negotiate an agreement over Iran's nuclear program.

PAULO SOTERO: I think we are in a phase of rebuilding a relationship, rebuilding a dialogue that suffered sort of a collapse. I think when President Rousseff succeeded President Lula, President Obama made a very important gesture, he re-established a dialogue with Brazil at the highest level by going to Brasilia first. This was the first time that an American president made such an important gesture and I think the two presidents have been engaging in a rebuilding of a relationship that is very important I believe to both.

WERTHEIMER: We still talk though, about Brazil as an emerging economy, and it is the sixth largest economy in the world. Is it fair to still talk of it as emerging? Is that one of the issues between the two countries?

SOTERO: Yeah. President Lula used to say that he was tired of being the president of an emerging country. He would rather be the leader of an emergent country.


SOTERO: And I think that's what's being built in Brazil. In many senses, Brazil is still emerging. In other senses like in agriculture, in energy, in aviation, Brazil is a developed country.

WERTHEIMER: But, of course, there's always the possibility that people in the United States will come to view Brazil as a competitor.

SOTERO: Well, in agricultural trade actually we are rivals, we are competitors. In other areas we can cooperate. Now, what I think has to change in the United States is the way Americans look to Brazil. Americans look to the continent as a bloc and they look at Brazil as a Latin American country.

Yes, we are - as a cultural reference - we are part of Latin America. Operationally though, Brazil is a unique nation, so diplomats - a diplomat friend of mine, Ambassador Luigi Rinaldi, who represented the United States at the Organization of American States, recently wrote a piece where he says the fact that Americans see Brazil as part of a Latin America, and all the prejudices that Americans have when they look at Latin America, make them have a difficult time understanding Brazil.

WERTHEIMER: Along with a growing economy, Brazil is also looking for a much more serious role in international organizations, for example, campaigning for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The United States is not supporting that.

SOTERO: I think that the Brazil right now is not campaigning for that. Brazil was seriously campaigning for that under President Lula. I think President Dilma Rousseff understands this process in a pragmatic and different way. She's completely concentrated in making Brazil's economy grow because Brazil's emergence is very much a function of that.

I think President Rousseff is a much more pragmatic leader. And the Security Council, by the way, this was not a subject very much discussed in the recent meeting between Obama and Dilma Rousseff because, you know, they know that this is not on the table right now.

WERTHEIMER: That is Paulo Sotero. He is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Mr. Sotero, thank you very much for coming in and talking to us.

SOTERO: A pleasure to be with you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.