Over the last few weeks I have noticed a transformation in the actions and rhetoric of Brazilian statesmen. None of Brasilia's undertakings seem to be remarkable or abnormal when examined individually. Yet when viewed in the aggregate, it is hard to miss the new trend found within Brazil's dealings with the outside world.
A selection of headlines from various magazines and dailies gathered over the last month displays this trend well enough:
Brazil and France Announce Military Agreement
Zelaya Can Stay In Brazilian Embassy As Long As He Wants -- Lula
Lula to Honduras: Brazil Won't Accept Ultimatum, Return Zelaya To Power
Brazil's Lula Defends South American Arms Buildup
Brazil VP Says Country Should Build Nuclear Arms
Brazil to Buy $10 Million in IMF Bonds
Brazil's Lula Calls for G-20 to Replace G-8
Rio Relishes Olympic Bid Win
When strung together the pattern is clear: Brazil has decided - finally - to enter the clicque of great powers jockeying for hegemonic influence across the globe. Brazilian President Silva da Lula seemed to suggest as much this week in Copenhagen, brazenly stating, "We're not a second rate country, we're a first rate country."
A first rate country indeed. Over the last month Brazil has intervened in the internal affairs of numerous Latin American states, precipitated a large build up in offensive military capabilities, and vigorously sought to reshape the contours of the global economy. These undertakings are expected of the United States. Brazil, however, is new to the game.
This is for good reason. For much of the past 30 years Brazil's story was that of an underdeveloped, undemocratic, violence-stricken nation, famous for its slums and saddled with billions in debt it could never hope to pay off. This is the Brazil of the past. Today's Brazil is something quite different: Brazil's crimes rate has been declining steadily since the beginning of the decade, Brazil has seen a long string of fair and free elections, and Brazil has turned into a modern economic power house, being both the last major economic power to enter the recession of 2009 and the first one to leave it thus far.
In the midst of this is Lula da Silva. Lula is incredibly popular in Brazil (he has been named the most popular politician on the Earth), where few bother to question his judgments on politics or statecraft. Years of economic growth and falling crime rates have left Lula with a pleased electorate and a senate composed of allies and friends. Lula has all the political capital in the world but no where to spend it; in his seven years as President Lula has energetically confronted every major problem facing his country.*
The solution to Lula's excess momentum is to look outward. For the first time in modern history Brazil has banished enough of its inner demons to become a true force in international politics, and a president who is ready to play the role of Statesman-in-chief.
It is too early to say if this is a permanent change in Brazil's strategic orientation. Sustainable is not a word often used to describe Brazilian policies, and a leader with the public support of Lula da Silva is quite rare. Brasilia's expansionist tendencies could easily collapse the minute Lula leaves office in 2010. Yet Lula has set a high precedent for the leader that follows in his wake. By moving Brazil into the realm of "first rate powers" Lula may have forced the hands of Brazilian politicians for years to come.
*The exception, of course, is the depletion of the Amazon, which has continued unabated during Lula's tenure.