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Mr. Obama, Meet the New Brazil

Authors: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies, and Matias Spektor, Center for International Relations at Fundação Getulio Vargas
March 18, 2011
International Herald Tribune

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When Barack Obama lands in Brazil this weekend, he will find a country transformed. In little more than a decade, some 30 million people have been lifted out of poverty and the country has risen to seventh place in the world economy.

Change at home has revolutionized policies abroad. Brazil has woken up to the 10 states along its borders, becoming the eminent power and driver of regional integration in South America. It has set out to develop closer ties simultaneously with Israel, Syria and Iran.

Brazil has been wooing friends with credit, aid and trade. It has set up shop in most countries in Africa, where it delivers fast-growing aid and development assistance and invests heavily in oil and infrastructure. Brazilian generals command the United Nations operation in Haiti.

In the process, Brazil has become a major creditor, supplier and client of the United States. Holding some $160 billion in U.S. bonds, Brazil has a major stake in the recovery of the U.S. economy.

With most of the Amazon within its borders, the world's 10th largest oil stores, and nearly a fifth of the world's fresh water, Brazil is an environmental power, an energy power, and guarantor of global food security.

Once an inward-looking society, Brazil now faces the challenge of projecting its own interests and voice around the world on the major global issues of our time.

But Brazil's rise in global politics has irked many in Washington. Clashes of worldview and interests have erupted in recent years over issues like Iran, Honduras, Colombia, climate change, international trade, Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela. In the past two years in particular, mutual distrust has colored much of the bilateral ebb and flow.

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