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Measuring Dilma’s Visit to the United States

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
April 11, 2012
Folha de Sao Paulo


To measure the success of Dilma's visit to the United States, skeptical observers, journalists especially, are looking for proof that Washington is ready to give things to Brazil: a trade agreement, a U.N. Security Council endorsement, or the crown of leadership warranted by Brazil's economic and social prowess, democratic bona fides, and global importance. All of this may well materialize over the next decade, and should. Until then, President Dilma doesn't have time to waste wringing her hands while Washington's ship of state conjures these big ticket tangibles. Instead, she is looking to the United States to help her achieve what Brazilians elected her to deliver. And it is a very tall order.

She explained Brazil's challenge to her American audiences in Washington, Boston, and Cambridge: to create the conditions for Brazil's new and emerging middle classes to become productive in value-added industries that rely on well trained and educated human capital. Time is of the essence: Brazil has a thirty year window when the working-age population will be larger than the country' retirees. Connecting Brazilians to American scientific research and educational institutions is essential to investing in human capital. Exposing Brazilians to the American culture of innovation and creativity is likewise, in her formulation, a huge component of her task. And perhaps more difficult: Can we bottle these somewhat more intangible qualities Dilma so admiringly mentions? And are these really only ours to export?

As I listened to President Dilma explain to Americans the complexity of redressing extreme poverty at the same time that she tries to build a high-tech industry, flatter her audiences about the dynamism and fluidity of our open society, and beseech us also to think twice about military action against Iran, or to recognize the inexorable importance of emerging powers in a multipolar world, I couldn't help think that Dilma's presidency embodies a number of qualities that Brazil has to offer the United States.

Here are a few: optimism about the future; hard work for the common good; commitment to expanding opportunities for the neediest and the newly empowered; confidence to challenge the status quo or politically correct tropes of the day—at home and abroad; political will to bring together individuals of disparate histories or world views; and yes, the sensibilities of a woman who clearly understands that wrestling with the complex dynamics of gender and power is essential to the full flowering of democracy.

The US-Brazil Joint Communiqué gives the non-skeptical reader an utterly surprising sense that we are indeed weaving together the threads of substantial ties between our two societies. I will write more about the dimensions of our mutual discovery, about American politics, and global issues in my forthcoming columns. Whatever President Dilma's visit did not achieve this week, her focus, gravitas, and intelligence demonstrated that Brazil has ample reserves of the very qualities she hopes to harness from the United States. We should seize upon her sincerity and seriousness and walk through the door President Rousseff has opened to the United States.

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