Ambassador Donna Hrinak, U.S. Ambassador to Brazil in 2002-2004, discusses Brazilian society and the international standing of South America’s largest nation with anchor Daljit Dhaliwal.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Ambassador Donna Hrinak, welcome to WIDE ANGLE.
DONNA HRINAK: It’s a pleasure to be here.
DHALIWAL: You’ve been U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. In fact, you’ve actually lived there twice. What do you make of the film that we just saw?
HRINAK: I found it very powerful. I think it’s a very realistic film. It reminds me a lot of the Brazilian movie made a few years ago, CIDADE DE DEUS, THE CITY OF GOD. And I think this film reflects in the same way the reality of life in the favelas and what many Brazilians are up against.
DHALIWAL: Why is there such inequality, such extreme poverty, in Brazil?
HRINAK: There’s a line in the film where Wagner says, “This is very complicated.” And I think that’s really the answer to that question.
DHALIWAL: Wagner is the police officer.
HRINAK: Yes. The real answer is: it’s very complicated. Some of it lies in Brazilian history. And Brazil and the United States are very much alike. We’re both large countries, with multi-ethnic populations. But we were settled in very different ways. In Brazil, a few people were given huge tracks of land that required lots of manual labor. And so, from the very beginning, you had lots of wealth next to great poverty. The racial question is a part of this too. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. And then there was a reluctance on the part of Brazil to admit that some of these problems needed to be faced early on. When I first lived in Brazil in the ’80s, if you suggested to a Brazilian that there was a racial problem in Brazil, they were pretty quick to put you in your place. “Now, this is something you’re bringing from the States. You’re projecting this on us. We’re a racial democracy.” When I went back 15 years later, and they had quotas for Afro-Brazilians in public universities, people were talking openly about racial issues. So, they are facing up to some of these problems. But they’re a little bit late. And the problems have become worse because they didn’t deal with them early on.
DHALIWAL: So there’s this legacy of European colonization and slavery. But why does Brazil today still have one of the largest gaps in the world between rich and poor?
HRINAK: Because I think they didn’t address the problem early on. I asked a Brazilian what the face of poverty looks like in Brazil today. And he told me it was female, black, and urban. The Brazilian political and economic elites were quite comfortable with the situation for a very long time. Poverty really didn’t impact them until mass migration occurred down to the south, because that’s where opportunity was. That’s where jobs were. The northeast of Brazil is the traditionally poor part of the country, and the south of Brazil was growing so much faster than the north. But not fast enough to create jobs for all the uneducated people. Education is a key to this, too. Massachusetts Bay Colony made primary education mandatory in the 1620s. Brazil made primary education mandatory in the 1960s. So it takes a couple of generations for that education to kick in, and really change the country.
DHALIWAL: And what do rich Brazilians today make of the inequalities in their society?
HRINAK: I think that’s changed a lot too, even in the 15 years that I was away from Brazil. There’s a lot more social responsibility in Brazil now, much more a sense of, “We’re all in this together, and we have to give back to our country.” Brazil is a huge country. It’s bigger than the continental United States. But it is a very closed country in many ways. For many years, it had the idea that, “We have our own market, we have our own culture. We speak a different language from our neighbors, we look inward.” When Brazil started looking outward and benchmarking itself a little bit against what was going on in other societies, then I think the Brazilian elite became a little more aware.
DHALIWAL: And when they see the existence of shantytowns, favelas, is that something that is part of their consciousness?
HRINAK: More and more so. I think the younger generations are in particular, because they were more globalized, they do know what goes on in other countries, and because there’s a sense that this has just gone on too long in Brazil. If Brazil’s going be a global leader, and it certainly aspires to global leadership, then they have to clean up their domestic act.
DHALIWAL: When you were living in Brazil, did you ever get a chance to go to a favela?
HRINAK: Yes, several times. In the ’80s it was easy to go into them through the church. The base communities in the Catholic Church were very active. They did a lot of work in the favelas, and I was fortunate to go in. I found that they’re not necessarily sad places. Not every favela is the same, but at least the ones I saw in São Paulo in the ’80s were not sad places. I had the impression they were full of people that wanted to make their community a better place. And in the ’80s, you didn’t have a sense of fear. By the time I went back, in 2002, and this time in Rio, the atmosphere was different. It was much more tense. And people talked about it being more difficult to work because of crime.
DHALIWAL: We just saw very dramatic examples of kidnapping in our film. And the figures are really quite startling. On average, one person kidnapped every three days. Do Brazilians live in fear?
HRINAK: Many of them do. And you incorporate this fear into your daily life. When you’re stopped at a traffic signal, you’re constantly checking your mirrors to make sure there’s no one coming up on the side of your car with a gun. I used to walk around with my purse on my shoulder and a tote-bag type that wouldn’t close. And so many Brazilians came up and said “Oh, don’t use that purse. Someone’s going to come up and take something out of that.” I know people who have been robbed six and seven times on the street or in their cars. And the fear exists at all levels of society, though a lot of this crime is poor-on-poor crime, Afro-Brazilian-on-Afro-Brazilian crime within the favelas, one gang against another. So, it’s not just the elitist Brazilians who are afraid of kidnapping for huge sums of ransom. It’s poor Brazilians, as well.
DHALIWAL: And there are some unusual examples of how rich Brazilians, the wealthy, are able to protect themselves. They live behind gated communities. They drive around in armored cars, right?
HRINAK: They helicopter to work. In fact, there are many multinationals that have pooled resources to rent helicopters. And they fly their executives in from their gated community to their offices downtown, and then land in helipads on the top of the buildings.
DHALIWAL: So, what do you do if you’re a middle class person who can’t afford to buy an armored car to deter would-be kidnappers?
HRINAK: You’re careful. And that’s unfortunate, because often you close yourself off from your own society. You’re careful of where you go, where you park your car, where your children are going, who they are there going with. To a certain extent, it’s the kind of precautions you take in any big city, but more intense and multiplied. This is not only a Brazilian problem. The issue is more striking in Brazil now perhaps than elsewhere. But large Latin American cities are all looking at this. Mexico City is looking at this. Caracas crime is out of control. Bogotá, ironically, is one of the safer places now. But I always tell people that I’ve lived in Mexico City, and Bogotá and Caracas twice, and São Paulo. And the only place I was ever assaulted on the street was at the corner of 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. So, it’s something we in the States know. We look at what’s happening in Brazil and say, “Well, isn’t that awful for them down there?” But this is an issue that we all confront.
DHALIWAL: In the film, we saw the work of a courageous anti-kidnapping squad in São Paulo. But the police forces do have a very bad reputation as well, right?
HRINAK: Some of the state police forces in particular do, yes. Are there good people who live in the favelas along with the criminals? Of course there are. Are there good and bad cops? Yes, there are good and bad cops too. The judicial system in Brazil overall cries out for reform. Many times cops will tell you, “We had to take this into our own hands because if this guy gets into the court system, he’ll never be convicted. He’ll buy his way out.” Corruption is an issue. Lack of preparation is an issue. Lack of money to buy basic equipment for police is an issue. São Paulo is a privileged state in many ways. It’s a wealthy state. Police forces up in the northeast of Brazil would be very envious of the kind of equipment we saw used in the film.
DHALIWAL: What is Brazil’s President Lula doing to fix these kinds of problems?
HRINAK: Well, he obviously understands the issue more than a lot of Brazilian politicians, because he comes from poverty. He comes from the classic story of the North-East family that moved down to São Paulo. He has a fifth-grade education and worked in the metallurgical industry. So, he strongly feels that something has to be done. Brazil doesn’t need to spend more money on social programs, but the country does need to spend the money that it has more efficiently and with less corruption, particularly at the local level. What President Lula has done is build on some of the programs that already existed. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was the President before Lula, started something called the school-scholarship program for poor children. And the money went to the mothers. Because regrettably, all too often, men in these communities have multiple families. And they’re very unreliable. So, mothers were paid to keep their elementary-school-age kids in school. $15 a month, which to us sounds like a pittance, but to some poor families can make the difference between a child being able to study and a child having to go out and sell newspapers on the street corner or wash windshields. Fernando Henrique Cardoso started the program. And then Lula came along and expanded it to more families and imposed health criterion as well to qualify for it. It’s a targeted, conditional program. And about 11 million families in Brazil now receive assistance from the state in this way. It’s a great stop-gap measure. And it’s brought the poverty rate down, according to the International Monetary Fund, by 11 percent in the first three years of Lula’s government.
DHALIWAL: And this is something that they would like to expand?
HRINAK: They would like to expand it. But Lula and his government and most thinking Brazilians know that it can’t go on forever. What you need to do is educate people, give them the opportunities to earn that money themselves. Not take it from the state — create the jobs for them.
DHALIWAL: Latin America has been largely peaceful in the past 20 to 30 years and, as a region, has been left off many people’s agendas. Why should Americans care about what’s going on in Brazil?
HRINAK: We’re all Americans. Latin America and the United States of America, we’re all Americans who share the North and South American continent. And what happens in these countries that are so close to us is going to affect what happens here. You see it with the immigration issue here. You know, we talk about the BRIC countries now. And the first country of the BRIC is Brazil, followed by Russia, India, and China — tremendous growth economies. And Brazil is the B in BRIC. So, this is an economic power right here in our own hemisphere. For no other reason than our own economic self-interest, we should pay attention to Brazil.
DHALIWAL: And it’s the 12th largest economy, isn’t it?
HRINAK: Yes, Brazil is the 12th largest economy in the world. The fifth largest democracy. And a country that fundamentally shares our democratic values.
DHALIWAL: What does that mean for Americans though, the 12th largest economy? Why should they care about that?
HRINAK: Well, because many of them are working in industries that are exporting to Brazil. Many Brazilians are coming here to spend their money on vacation, or buying U.S. products here, or studying in the United States. We have a mutual beneficial relationship. And we can do a lot more with it, I think. For instance, Brazil looked at alternative energies 20 years ago and now has a thriving ethanol industry based on sugar cane. If the United States had looked at alternatives seriously that long ago, they may have followed the Brazilian example. We can sometimes learn from others right here in our own hemisphere. I think people in the United States will come to pay more and more attention to Latin America, because there are more and more Latins in the United States. I think of my son as a Hemispheric citizen. He was born in Brazil, so he’s a Brazilian citizen. His father is Mexican. And of course, he’s from the States because of me. So he has interests in all of these countries.
DHALIWAL: We’re also hearing quite a lot about this leftist shift that has been taking place in Latin American leadership. We’ve got Lula in Brazil, Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, and Bachelet in Chile. How concerned should Americans be about this shift?
HRINAK: Too many people, I think, use the term leftist without focusing on the fact that you have a more moderate left and a more radical left. Lula and Bachelet represent the more moderate left. Lula ran for President three times and lost. And he lost in part because his party scared a lot of Brazilians in those first elections. This is a radical workers party. But by the time he was elected in 2002, he wasn’t scaring people. Because, well, Brazil had changed. It was no longer a military dictatorship. The world had changed. And Lula and his party were smart enough to change with it. Each of these countries has their own history that brought them to the place where they are. I lived in Caracas, Venezuela the first time during the Caracaso, which was the series of riots in February 1989 over some price increases and economic reforms that President Carlos Andres Perez tried to institute. The Caracaso should have been a wakeup call to the Venezuelan political and economic elite. And instead, after a week, after some 1,500 people were killed, everybody turned over and went back to sleep. And those were the seeds of Hugo Chavez. If you’re not going to address problems when you have the opportunity, then somebody will come along and address them for you.
DHALIWAL: Should Americans be concerned by this trend?
HRINAK: I think we should understand that what happens in Latin America is important to us. We have resources that come from Latin America. If you look at Venezuela — it’s the fourth largest supplier of petroleum to the United States. So we have real material interests, and growing ethnic ties, which means we should pay attention to what’s going on. But we shouldn’t overreact, either. When Lula was running in 2002, the Brazilian currency was trading at four to the dollar. Some 25 members of Congress got together to write a letter to President Bush warning about this “axis of evil” developing in the Western Hemisphere among Castro, Chavez, and Lula. And now, he’s running for a second term, and the Brazilian currency is just over two to the dollar. So, we sometimes overreact. And the capital markets suffer as a result. U.S. investors suffer. And the country that we’re overreacting to suffers as well.
DHALIWAL: So where does Lula fit on this spectrum of, for want of better description, good left and bad left?
HRINAK: There is a great TV clip from the early ’80s where Lula is being interviewed. And someone asks him, “Are you a Communist?” And he looks sincerely astounded by the question. He says, “Well, no. I’m a labor leader. All I want is for Brazilian workers to have a decent wage, be able to send their kids to school, have a place to live, have good health care.” I think he’s a leftist because he was reacting to a military government in Brazil. And if you were not in the military, you were leftist almost by definition. Good left, bad left? I think he’s responsible left. I think he’s globalized left. He’s forward looking, has a vision for his country. I would say he’s the common-sense left.
DHALIWAL: How is Lula a global leader?
HRINAK: He has tremendous credibility because of his own personal experience. It’s the American dream in many ways, the Brazilian dream. You come out of poverty and you’re the President of the world’s 12th largest economy. So, I think the fact that he was able to overcome so many difficulties gives him tremendous credibility. But also, he comes from a country that has a lot going for it — a lot of natural resources, a very strong culture, a country that should exercise a more important leadership role than it traditionally has.
DHALIWAL: If Brazil’s got all of this stuff going for it, why isn’t it more of a global player then?
HRINAK: During his campaign in 2002, Lula said “We have to stop blaming the United States or Europe for what we are. And we have to look to ourselves. If we haven’t realized our potential, then it’s our fault. What have we done wrong?” And he concluded, “It’s because we haven’t invested in our own people. We haven’t taken advantage of opportunities for leadership. We’ve let others exercise that leadership over us instead of taking up the responsibilities ourselves.” And there are rights and responsibilities to leadership. And you have to exercise those. I think, for a long time, Brazilians would look at the United States and say, “We’re a lot alike. And they’re rich and powerful. And we’re poor and weak. Why is that?” And what Lula said was, “It’s not their fault. It’s not about that they’ve taken away from us. It’s about what we need to do.”
DHALIWAL: And Brazilians, of course, go to the polls this fall. Do you want to stick your neck out and tell us whether you think Lula has a good chance of being reelected?
HRINAK: I never in my entire career correctly predicted an election outcome. No, no, I shouldn’t say that! But, Brazilians going to the polls this October is just a remarkable example of democracy. When I first lived in Brazil in the mid-80s, they were just emerging from the military dictatorship. And it was a new democracy that went through a lot of trauma in its early years — constant economic crisis, default on their foreign debt, a President that was impeached, and a political system that just went about its business. And when I was there again in 2002 and saw these pictures of generators being taken on rafts up the Amazon River so that people could vote in the all-electronic voting — no hanging chads, no pregnant chads — I thought “what a remarkable example of democracy.” I went with a Brazilian to the polls, someone who worked at the Embassy. The first time, we waited five and a half hours. The second time, we waited two and a half hours. No one got angry. People were joking. People who obviously preferred one candidate over another were kidding around. But with no violence, no animosity. It was really remarkable.
DHALIWAL: So, what do you think? Is Lula going to be reelected? Are we going be seeing more of him?
HRINAK: Well, the polls show that he has a big lead. But the television times just started. In Brazil, the amount of television time that a candidate is entitled to depends on his or her party’s representation in Congress. And in Brazil the party with the largest representation is the party whose candidate’s in second place in the presidential race. So we have to wait and see. I think it’s a little too early to predict. But if the voting were today, clearly Lula would win.
DHALIWAL: Right. If he is reelected, what kind of issues do you think that he still needs to get to in his second term?
HRINAK: Well, he talked about the need to undertake five important reforms when he was first elected. And I don’t think he’s done enough in any of the areas. But some of the reform areas have not been touched at all — labor reform for example. This is a major impediment to growth in competitiveness in Brazil, because of the rigid labor structure. Congress has spent a lot of time over the last four years investigating itself in one scandal after another. So, a political reform to ensure a more transparent functioning of institutions and a closer relationship between a constituency and its representative. Tax reform — there are what they call “cascading taxes” in Brazil, you pay taxes on top of taxes. And for investment, not just foreign investment, but domestic Brazilian investment, that’s a major impediment.
DHALIWAL: And what about crime and poverty reduction?
HRINAK: That’s the ultimate objective of all these measures — to reduce poverty. When we had the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami, reducing poverty was one of the four big goals. And it’s the one I think that we have done the least toward. And this is why you see people protesting in the streets and overthrowing Presidents through mob action in Latin America — because you have a generation that’s known democracy but has not known prosperity.
DHALIWAL: That’s interesting. Have the market-driven policies of the last 15 years totally failed in Latin America?
HRINAK: I don’t think they totally failed. Some people will say it was because they weren’t fully implemented. Latin America did a certain number of things, but they didn’t do the entire basket. I think maybe they didn’t do the reforms in the right sequence. They took a sort of cookie-cutter approach. And the U.S. government and the IMF participated in this cookie-cutter approach, known as the so-called “Washington Consensus.” If it had been called the São Paulo Consensus, or the Santiago Consensus, the reforms would probably have been embraced more sincerely. But the cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work. And you see a lot of people rethinking it now. The IMF, for instance, is saying, “Well, maybe totally free capital markets are not what the emerging economies need as the first step.”
DHALIWAL: Let’s talk about U.S.-Brazil relations. You’ve been in the room when Presidents Lula and Bush have met. How did they get along?
HRINAK: Great. Really great. They talk not like two Presidents but like two men who are concerned about their countries. Now clearly there are issues that the United States and Brazil don’t agree on. And there was almost a tacit understanding that they wouldn’t talk about what they knew they weren’t going to be able to reach agreement on. For instance, I never heard the word “Cuba” come out of either one of their mouths in those private meetings. We knew we had issues over relations with Cuba that we dealt with the Brazilians with frequently at the Foreign Ministry level. But Bush and Lula talked about the effect of crime and narcotics on communities, and the importance of family, and faith-based organizations as a force for development. Down-to-earth grassroots stuff.
DHALIWAL: What about their shared vision for the Hemisphere?
HRINAK: I think we have a shared vision. Brazil is a very strong democracy. And it’s a country with a democratic vocation. I think Brazil does believe in the basic freedoms that we believe in. I think we both share an interest in reducing poverty throughout the Hemisphere. But Brazil and the United States frequently differ on tactics. And I’m afraid sometimes we in the States think that if you don’t agree with us on the means, then your end is different as well.
DHALIWAL: Yes. Well, there have been lots of run-ins between the two countries, be it over trade issues, United Nations reform, the Iraq War, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, right?
HRINAK: Yes, although Brazil actually took on a very unusual role in dealing with Venezuela before the referendum that reaffirmed Chavez. Brazil had always taken the position that it did not interfere in internal developments in other countries. And they became the leader of this group of “Friends of Venezuela,” of which the United States was a part. Lula did that in the early days of his administration and received substantial criticism from his traditional bases of support that said, “This is not what Brazil does.” Well, if you’re going to be a regional leader, it is what Brazil has to do. So, they’ve been an effective force in the region. Brazil has also been reaching out to Evo Morales in Bolivia, as they have key economic issues at play in Petrogras, the Brazilian petroleum company’s investments in Bolivia. It could serve as a model of a country that also has poverty issues and is addressing them in a responsible way.
DHALIWAL: The U.S. and Brazil also don’t see eye-to-eye on trade. They both want very different things. Brazil would like a South American trading bloc: Mercosur. The United States wants a free-trade zone for the entire Hemisphere: the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. How do you resolve a difference as fundamental as this?
HRINAK: We recently let the Doha negotiations at the World Trade Organization break down over questions of global free trade, or global liberalized trade. And the big point of contention is agriculture. That is the one big issue that has separated the United States and Brazil — because of U.S. agricultural subsidies. I’ve spent a long time saying that the only way you can justify U.S. agricultural subsidies is when you compare them with the European and the Japanese subsidies, which are even higher. But Brazil is a huge bread basket. They’re an exporter of meat, soy, orange juice, citrus in general. Those are Brazil’s key products. And so, I think we focus on those agricultural issues, and overlook some of the issues where we have a lot of very important shared interest.
DHALIWAL: Brazil has become a leader of developing nations at the WTO talks. They want to protect poor farmers. Why not try and get to the bottom of this issue and appreciate what Brazil’s concerns are?
HRINAK: Yes, Brazil wants to protect poor farmers. But Brazil also has an agricultural industry that rivals ours. Brazil doesn’t have a lot of poor farmers that are going benefit. Like in the U.S., there aren’t many family farms left in Brazil. They do have agro-industry that will benefit greatly from a liberalized trade in agriculture. Should there be liberalized trade in agriculture? Should we reduce and eventually eliminate subsidies in the developed world? Study after study will tell you that this is the one way the developed world can make a sincere step toward reducing poverty in the developing world. So, yes, I think we should do it. We should do it because it’s the right thing to do. We should do it because U.S. consumers, in our case, would pay less for many products without these subsidies. I believe very strongly in free trade. I’m from Pittsburgh. I’ve seen what happens to U.S. industry when you don’t prepare for the inevitable. You can’t protect workers forever. Free trade is in the interest of U.S. workers. It’s in the interest of everyone in this Hemisphere. And the way to come to a resolution over the Free Trade Area of the Americas, for instance, is for Brazil and the United States to lead. And that doesn’t only mean convincing the other 32 democracies of this Hemisphere that they should institute a free-trade area. It also means working with our domestic constituencies, explaining to people here in the United States why free trade is in their interest, and Brazil explaining to Brazilians why free trade is in their interest. We used to hear a lot from the Brazilian government about how they couldn’t negotiate certain points because the Brazilian public opinion wouldn’t accept it. Well, part of the responsibility of government is to educate public opinion. And I think both sides, as leaders, can do a lot more in that regard.
DHALIWAL: The United States is Brazil’s number one trading partner. In the last year or so China became Brazil’s second largest trading partner. What’s growing this relationship?
HRINAK: In part, it’s the fact that Brazil has commodities that China’s growing economy really needs, such as iron ore and soy. China has become a tremendous market for Brazilian exports. But there are also Chinese imports into Brazil. You have mixed feelings in Brazil about the growing trade relationship with China, because many of the consumer goods that can be produced more cheaply in China and imported into Brazil are threatening Brazilian industry. Brazil took the decision to recognize China as a market economy, which was largely considered a political decision even though it perhaps didn’t make a whole lot of economic sense for many Brazilian industries. It’s a complicated relationship and a mixed blessing. Whether you think it’s positive or not depends on what sector you’re coming from.
DHALIWAL: Should the United States be concerned about this growing relationship?
HRINAK: No. I think we support the growth of trade around the world and shouldn’t be concerned about this. And even if we were concerned, what would we do? We’re going to stop this in some way? I don’t think so. I think you can adjust yourself. You can make sure that your own goods and your own industries are competitive. But you’re not going to stop this growing trade relationship that’s based, in large part, on mutual self-interest. And that’s what countries are all about. That’s what governments do.
DHALIWAL: Does Brazil see China as a dream ally?
HRINAK: Some Brazilians do, I think. But the majority would say that the United States is still the country with which Brazil has greater affinity. More Brazilians know the United States than know China. There’s a tremendous curiosity about China. We in the United States could do well to learn more about China, also.
DHALIWAL: What kind of challenges and opportunities does Brazil provide for U.S. foreign policy?
HRINAK: George Bush created tremendous expectation in the Hemisphere when he said this was going to be the “Century of the Americas.” And then 9/11 occurred, and that focus was lost. There are many explanations of what we could have done after 9/11 to keep Latin America more of a focus, but we did not.
DHALIWAL: Why was that? Why couldn’t that happen?
HRINAK: Because that commitment to the Americas did not run very deep within the Bush administration at the time. Secretary Powell had no Latin America experience. Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council had no Latin America experience. And we couldn’t get an assistant secretary for Latin America confirmed at the State Department, because it’s a position that has a lot of domestic political concerns attached to it.
DHALIWAL: You often hear it said that President Bush lost Latin America.
HRINAK: It wasn’t ours to lose, but I think we did lose an opportunity to do more with Latin America. What Brazil presents us is a country that largely shares our values, that shares our interests, and that can promote some of these interests and values within the Hemisphere while we have our prime attentions elsewhere. We should rely on Brazil more as a partner.
DHALIWAL: Do we give it enough credit, though?
HRINAK: No, I don’t think either side has given the relationship enough credit. I think the United States does not see Brazil as a reliable partner in part because we differ on some issues that are important to us, and because we differ on tactics in particular. We often come at problems from different perspectives. But I also think that Brazil often sees something happen and thinks, “If it’s good for the United States, it must somehow be bad for Brazil. And we just have to figure out what that bad part is.”
DHALIWAL: What more do you think can be done though to strengthen ties, to encourage the relationship? Where are we missing out?
HRINAK: I think those of us who know Brazil, first of all, have a responsibility to speak out about Brazil here. For example, how many Portuguese-language students are there at U.S. universities? I think this is something the Brazilian government has tried to do but could do more: promoting Brazilian studies here, the way we promote U.S. studies abroad. And we can do more of that in Brazil, as well. We started a program when I was at the Embassy, that I am happy to say has continued, called Youth Ambassadors. It chooses a handful of young Brazilians, between the ages of 15 and 19, to come to the States for a few weeks and be ambassadors for their country, talking about Brazil and learning something about the United States in return.
DHALIWAL: You seem to be suggesting that the U.S. and Brazil are natural allies. They are both these huge societies, multi-ethnic, with shared democratic values. Right?
HRINAK: Exactly. I think that the real basis of our friendship is that we believe in the same things. We believe our people deserve democracy and should have the right to exercise their freedoms and better their life.
DHALIWAL: You’re a member of the Executive Committee of the U.S.-Brazil Business Council. How is that going? What more can be done there, do you think?
HRINAK: That’s step by step, sector by sector work in many cases. Because we’re working with businesses, it involves a lot of individual private sector decision-making to strengthen ties between one business organization and another. But I think the Council, to the extent that it brings Brazilians to the United States and gets them to reach out beyond their particular Council group, and lets them speak to a broader audience, is something that’s very effective.
DHALIWAL: So it’s affecting the relationship in a largely positive way?
HRINAK: Absolutely, yes. Business ties have strengthened. They’ve expanded into more sectors. If you ask most people here in the United States, “What’s Brazil’s largest export to the United States?”, most people would be hard-pressed to come up with airplanes. But that is Brazil’s largest export. And one of our big exports to them is airplane parts — for commuter jets in particular. So people who fly on many of the U.S. carriers are flying on Brazilian commuter jets!
DHALIWAL: Brazil is just about as large in geography and rich in natural resources as the United States. So, why isn’t it more of a global player?
HRINAK: I don’t think it’s ever sought a global leadership role. It was quite a closed, inward-looking society for a long time. And it’s just beginning to assume a role on world stage.
DHALIWAL: Is that because of President Lula?
HRINAK: I think it started before him. I think it started with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso who had lived abroad, who had been in exile not only in Chile and other countries in the Hemisphere, but also in Paris, and then spent time in the United States as well. So, I think it started with the previous administration. And the continuity of this policy is very important in Brazil. It’s a sign of democratic maturity that Lula builds on Fernando Henrique’s achievements, and doesn’t throw out everything the last government did, just because it was the last government. Whether Lula succeeds himself or is succeeded by someone else in the upcoming elections, I think that a lesson that Brazilian leadership has learned at the highest levels.
DHALIWAL: Do you think Brazil has what it takes to be more of a global player?
HRINAK: Yes, I think it does now. I think it’s ready to assume its rights and its responsibilities. It is making serious efforts to address its domestic problems, so it feels that it has some credentials to be a world player. It certainly has the people that can represent those aspirations in a very effective way. We in the State Department were constantly jealous of Brazilian diplomats. They were so well-prepared and offered positions of leadership in their own government that we could never hope to aspire to. So, I think Brazil has the people. I think it has now developed a track record of dealing with serious issues like energy, looking at alternative sources of energy. It’s a tremendous problem for so many countries in the world now. Brazil has an example to offer.
DHALIWAL: The peacekeeping mission in Haiti might be another example of how it’s putting out feelers on the global stage. Right?
HRINAK: That was remarkable, that Brazil headed that mission, here in the Hemisphere. But it also played a role in peacekeeping in East Timor, a Portuguese-speaking country. And of course, they also lost one of their leading diplomats with the United Nations in Iraq. So Brazil certainly has well-prepared people, both within their Foreign Ministry and in other parts of the government, to exercise global leadership, to understand global responsibilities. And it now wants to do that. I think for a long time, Brazil was afraid of being the 800-pound gorilla in South America — being the United States of South America, if you will. And I think they’ve overcome that now.
DHALIWAL: They’re looking to seek more of a presence at the United Nations as well, right?
HRINAK: They are great proponents of the multilateral system. And one of our big differences over Iraq was the fact that the United States did not have United Nations Security Council endorsement to go into Iraq. Brazil believes in the multilateral system. Their ambition for a seat on the Security Council reflects their interest in strengthening multilateral institutions.
DHALIWAL: Let’s talk about Brazil’s future. A poet once said, “Brazil is the land of the future and always will be,” implying that somehow it hasn’t reached its potential. Do you think that’s fair? Do you agree?
HRINAK: I think Brazil’s future is now. We had a football coach in Washington who was criticized as not being interested in the future and bringing a lot of old players onto the team. He said, “No. I want to win right now, by choosing experienced players.” I think Brazil can win right now. I think they’ve got a combination of a strong democratic base. They have a growing economy. They have a more socially responsible private sector. They have a more globalized approach. I think they’ve got a lot going for themselves right now. So, I have a lot of confidence in Brazil. This is a country that you can look at and see ten or 12 people right today that you would be comfortable having as President in Brazil. You can’t say that about too many countries in Latin America.
DHALIWAL: You’ve lived in Brazil. You know it so well. What do you think Americans most misunderstand about Brazilians and vice-versa?
HRINAK: I think Brazilians have a very superficial understanding of the United States. They think we’re all about McDonald’s and Britney Spears. And I think we’re a more complicated society than that, but Brazilians don’t go beneath the surface. And we, in turn, don’t understand that what Brazil wants is respect. They are a big country. They do have a powerful role to play. They can, in many cases, promote our interests better than we can, perhaps even in a more effective way. They want to be respected as a country that can do it.
DHALIWAL: Why is it so hard for the United States to give them the kind of respect that they’re seeking?
HRINAK: I tried to understand that when I was in government for a long time. I think it’s because we don’t take the time to know them. And if we did, then we would understand what their power can be.
DHALIWAL: What about the other way around? Do you think Brazilians want to get to know the United States a lot better than they actually do?
HRINAK: I think there’s a tremendous interest in the United States. It depends what sector of Brazilian society you’re talking about. Clearly the popular culture is what they embrace. But I think a lot of thinking Brazilians, opinion leaders do think it’s important for Brazil to know the United States better. Because they can be a more effective partner and deal with these are shared interests. So, it’s not just the United States being interested in Brazil promoting them. It’s Brazil also being interested in the United States being more engaged.
DHALIWAL: And have you tried to get the Brazilians to share some of their expertise with the United States’ soccer team?
HRINAK: Well, I think the fair exchange there would be if we sent our women down to Brazil and they sent their men’s team up to us!
DHALIWAL: Ambassador Donna Hrinak, thank you very much for joining us on WIDE ANGLE.
HRINAK: Thanks so much for having me.