By Karen Shishiptorova, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As reported, US Ambassador Clifford M. Sobel is scheduled to be replaced by Thomas A. Shanon this summer. Appointed by George Bush in retribution for his fundraising efforts in New Jersey during the reelection, his nomination in May 2006 was seen with a certain reserve by the Itamaraty – Brazil´s Foreign Office – as among other issues, Sobel spoke neither Portuguese nor Spanish.
Mr. Sobel arrived with an express presidential order: To convince the Brazilian government to accelerate NAFTA – North American Free Trade Agreement – negotiations. He was also to stimulate the integration of the bio-oil industry between the two countries, which did not move forward. However, it was under Sobel´s three year watch that Brazil-US relations improved considerably.
Sobel´s recent declarations to O Globo reinforce the importance of Brazil-US bilateral relations to President Barack Obama. “Brazil´s policies are evolving, as well as US´s. And we are paying a lot of attention to them. Obama´s administration is still in its first six months, but it is building an agenda where Brazil is definitely at the center,” he declared, adding that the synchronicity between Obama and Lula is so perfect, they finish each other´s sentences. Much like Obama has given a new face to America, Brazil also underwent a makeover in the recent years. “Brazil is experiencing a very special moment. It is an island of stability, both politically and economically. When we look at the issues ahead, such as energy, climate, swine flu and the financial crisis, Brazil must be a part of the solution.”
Mr. Sobel learned that Brazilians are unable to say no, yet, this does not necessarily mean they are saying yes. He is also glad to note that, today, Americans know where Brazil is on a world map and that Buenos Aires is not its capital.
Sobel is credited with the Brazil visit of President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as well as being a fierce motivator and facilitator of the productive Brazil-US CEO Forum of March 2007, to promote trade, industry and investment focusing on economic growth for both countries. He was also behind the endeavor called +Unidos, a joining of forces between the US Embassy, its consulates, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the American Chamber of Commerce and fifty other American companies to develop and promote social and corporate responsibility initiatives in Brazil.
The +Unidos group released a complete mapping of US corporate and social initiatives in Brazil on December 9, 2008 entitled Social Private Investments in Brazil.
One of his final duties was launching the Northeast Brazil Tourism and Investment Seminar, held June 10 and 11 of this year, in Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Pernambuco. Sponsored by the US Embassy, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazil Tourism Department, it gathered industry representatives and officials to discuss tourism and business opportunities between the US and Northeast Brazil.
Currently preparing his return, Sobel is sure about two things in his upcoming future: He and his wife, Barbara, are determined to learn Portuguese, a project he found impossible to tackle due to his 24/7 busy agenda, and that he will not return to his former company, Net2Phone (now ADIR) an internet telephone service provider. He intends to maintain the links and connections established in Brazil, with an eye to business ventures or even a university assignment.