Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Yes! Weekend!” was the caption of a cartoon last Saturday, showing a stylized Air Force One on the beach and a pair of brown legs following a torso mostly into the foamy brine. Is this funny?
Maybe, but it shows the sort of pressure the President of the United States (POTUS) is under when he makes decisions that are, to put it mildly, unusual.
Consider the following decisions: to come to Brazil before its President had paid a visit to the US; to bring both his wife and his young children along; NOT to go to São Paulo, the engine driving Brazil’s economy; to give a stump speech to the Brazilian public in Cinelândia, Rio’s equivalent to Times Square; to visit a newly pacified favela; and to spend two nights at the Rio Sheraton, rather than staying overnight in Brasília.
Not to mention going to peaceful Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, when great chunks of the oily Middle East and Africa are afire with revolt and repression, and Japan is menaced by meltdown.
Contrast this outgoing, hands-on style with that of Brazil’s President Dilma: staying behind the scenes rather than behind a microphone; quietly putting her own people in power; pushing her own agenda, even where that contrasts with her predecessor’s velleities; laying down the law to her PT followers to welcome her guest rather than protesting; and, finally, pushing back on the POTUS agenda where, in her view, it doesn’t work.
For instance, she vetoed spending two nights in a hotel which is flanked by one of the largest un-pacified favelas in town. For another, she vetoed the stump speech in Cinelândia, complete with security measures last seen in “The Day of the Jackal” (e.g. tanks in the street, sharpshooters on rooftops, all businesses closed, one sole entry point).
And, knowing full well that there would be no earthshaking announcements made at this presidential encounter, she vetoed a closing press conference—each president simply read a statement, then Dilma bade “bon voyage” to her visitors.
Each to his/her own style. POTUS and his family had their weekend in Rio: they saw three of the world’s most famous sites: beach (Copacabana), statue (Corcovado) and slum (Cidade de Deus).
POTUS delivered “remarks” to some 2,000 cheering fans at the Theatro Municipal, with very few protesters outside the barricades in Cinelândia, while his wife and daughters toured the Cidade do Samba.
The biggest disagreement, of course, between POTUS and Dilma, had nothing to do with style. While Obama was in Brazil, the UN Security Council, whose rotating presidency Brazil now occupies, voted to initiate air strikes and a no-fly zone against Libya.
The vote was ten in favor, none against, five abstentions—Brazil, Russia, India, China (the four BRICs) and Germany. The U.S. felt air strikes would deter Kaddafi from killing his rebellious fellow citizens; Brazil felt it would cause Kaddafi to become even further entrenched, and even more civilians would perish.
In other words, the buck stopped for POTUS in a very different place than it did for Dilma. The Curmudgeon fears that Dilma’s buck was a better bet than Obama’s, but only time will tell.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)