US - Brazil Relations Desafinado

Christmas season marks the 50th anniversary of Brasilia, the futuristic capital city designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, and magazines and online media are celebrating the event. Moving the seat of government inland was the beginning of the Bossa Nova (new wave) of president Juscelino Kubitscheck that started Brazil's transformation from the tropical paradise of Hollywood movies into a major world democracy.

Kubitschek made the cover of Time before JFK launched the New Frontier. But months after the White House danced to the Bossa Nova a military coup backed by another Democrat, President Lyndon B. Johnson, put Brasilia in the hands of the military for two decades.

Desafinado, the hit by Joao Gilberto that captured the musical mood of the period, means out of tune. Although President Barack Obama promised more harmonious inter-American relations, the sounds coming from Washington are once again, out of tune.

Even Time Magazine has noted the Cold War drift in Obama's Latin policy.

Brazil is concerned as Uncle Sam flexes his muscles next door in Colombia, and in Honduras. And the 54 cents/gallon tax Washington slaps on sugar-based ethanol imported from Brazil that Obama supported is keeping the US senate from approving a Bush retainer from taking over the ambassador's office in Brasilia.

Washington's efforts to put a positive spin on the policy rift are in damage control mode now that Brazil's foreign minister Celso Amorim canceled a meeting set for today with US Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela. The only thing the two nations seem to agree upon in this moment is that deposed Honduran president "Mel" Zelaya should be guaranteed safe passage out of Honduras.

Like the Bush holdovers he works with, Valenzuela continues to obfuscate the legality of the Honduras coup in order to keep US military bases there funded by tax dollars. The state department has also patched together a Karl Rove-style "coalition of the willing" that seeks to shift the focus away from possible US misdeeds in Honduras and tag Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador as enablers of what Hilary Clinton characterizes as a terrorist government in Iran.

Fronting this group are Colombia and Israel, the largest recipients of US foreign military assistance, along with Costa Rica, Peru and Canada.

Providing Zelaya with asylum in their Tegucigalpa embassy, Brazil is well aware of the anti-Castro Cuban support for the Honduras coup that Obama's Bush holdover ambassador, Hugo Llorens, may finally have to discuss in testimony to the US Congress. The right wing Cubans, who are also active as mercenaries in the Northern Tier of South America, view Honduran leader Mel Zelaya as a pawn of Kremlin proxies in the region, notably the Castros and Hugo Chavez.

But the most contentious issue facing the US and Brazil and South America as a region, is Washington's long term base deal with Colombia that puts US forces along the borderland with Brazil and turns the Amazon into the new Rio Grande.

Obama has nominated Bush holdover, Thomas Shannon, a highly regarded careerist who has been Assistant Secretary of State for "western hemisphere" affairs to be the next US ambassador to Brazil. Shannon's appointment, however, has been held up for months because of objections from the anti-Castro lobby and their new front man Senator George Le Mieux (R-Fla.), who was appointed recently by Governor Charlie Christ (R-Fla.) to replace Mel Martinez, who resigned.

The anti-Castro Cubans think Shannon has been soft on containing what they see as Havana's support for the FARC narco-guerrilla movement in Colombia. And they support Washington's desire to make more base deals in Peru, and in Chile, where Obama has plans to visit later this year.

Even if Shannon is confirmed by the Senate, there are no guarantees that Brazil, moving into a presidential election year, will accept him. US ambassadors have never been shy about meddling in the internal politics of Brazil. The churn rate for US ambassadors in Brazil is 24 months.

If Shannon makes it to Brasilia possible FARC border incursions would have him wearing two hats, being the good cop doing photo ops with the likes of Madonna and Sting while coordinating with US military commanders and electronic battlefield contractors in Colombia in the best tradition of the Yanqui warrior diplomats he started out with including Frank Ortiz, John Dmitri Negroponte and David Jordan.

Defense spending siphoning dollars away from nation building is a classic example of how the pathology of underdevelopment perpetuates itself and recycles deply imbedded concepts of class conflict. With the United States as its #2 oil customer, Brazil's neighbor Venezuela is shipping billions of American petrodollars into the Kremlin's coffers with the purchase of armaments. Money that could better be used on the social programs Hugo Chavez likes to take credit for.

Brazil's economy is putting up real growth numbers and the US presence along the northern border could become a divisive issue among voters and those in the armed forces who align with US supported neoconservative politicians. As Brazil moves toward a presidential election, relations with the US are definitely... desafinado.