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Just Dating is Enough

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
June 18, 2014
Folha de Sao Paulo


I read Joe Biden's interview with Folha twice before his meeting with Dilma, once in Portuguese and once in English, just to make sure I hadn't missed any hints of something big, like an engagement ring. No big, shiny diamond caught my eye.

But Biden's tenacity in trying to win back Dilma's affections post-Snowden/NSA is frankly more impressive. His interview covered the usual topics--energy, trade, education, technology, innovation. The buzzwords of the last few years are now back in the mix. NSA, privacy, sovereignty, apology--the flashpoints of the last year seem now less prevalent. Maybe we'll have a state dinner after the election.

But why is it hard to get excited about the gradual return of the Washington-Brasília pas de deux? I keep returning to the architectural reference my friend and fellow Folha columnist Matias Spektor once used to describe it. Five years ago he remarked, and I am paraphrasing, that 'we now have the scaffolding, even the foundation, but not the building itself.' And that's why the endless lists of partnerships and dialogues, important as they are, still rings hollow.

Our bureaucracies--even senior cabinet secretaries--lead delegation after delegation to Brasilia, São Paulo and Rio--talking about the ins and outs of double taxation treaties, energy, trade, subsidies, tariffs, transportation, race, education, visas--the building blocks of a solid "strategic partnership."

Sometimes, we talk about global issues too--climate change, finance, food security--while tiptoeing around the difficult topics--genocide, Syria, Ukraine, Iran. But to be honest, it has been a long time since we have had what might be considered a diplomatic breakthrough.

No big Boeing deal. No Security Council. Brazil's big foreign policy momentum has slowed with its economy, and despite Joe Biden's seriousness of purpose, Brazil still does not have a politically significant constituency in the rest of the United States. Big American brands--Budweiser, Burger King-- now owned by Brazilian capital, don't tell Americans anything about Brazil.

And soccer? Well, yes, a giant metaphor, but arguably more about iconography and legacy than about Brazil's present or future. Instead, I'd like to see a chain of shops in every major American city--and why not in the big retailers like Target and Walmart-- offering us a blend of culinary, sartorial, musical, artistic and home design selections from around Brazil. Beyond soccer or the occasional flight on an Embraer jet, that would do far more to build a "Brazil consciousness" among the American people.

Nor do most Brazilians seem to be clamoring for Dilma to pivot from "dating" to "marriage" with the United States. Even if the state dinner, the Boeing purchase, and the nod to support at the UNSC had unfolded over the last year, consummating marriage between these two large powers just feels a tad passé.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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