By Nathan M. Walters, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – President Dilma Rousseff traveled to Washington D.C. Sunday, April 8th for discussions on the international economic crisis, the Rio+20 Conference, and the new student exchange program, Science Without Borders (“Ciência sem Fronteiras”). On Monday, April 9th, she was at the White House for talks and lunch with the American President Barack Obama.
On Tuesday, April 10th, Rousseff visited Harvard University and MIT as part of the Science Without Borders program launch, that aims to send 100,000 Brazilians to study in the world’s best universities between now and 2014.
A little over a year after President Obama’s official visit to Brasília and Rio de Janeiro in 2011, Rousseff’s first visit was intended to strengthen and deepen economic and diplomatic ties between the two biggest democracies in the Western Hemisphere.
However, with only a brief meeting between the nations’ presidents on Monday, there was a lot to cover in the way of developing a stronger U.S.-Brazil alliance (namely; trade, Brazil ascension to the UN Security Council, the Syrian conflict, and Iran nuclear programs).
Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, an organization of policy experts in Washington, D.C. expressed surprise that more progress was not made. “It’s baffling really, how two countries that could get so much done find so much to disagree on,” he told The Rio Times.
Policy officials in D.C. remained positive and encouraging regarding Brazil’s development. President Obama praised the “extraordinary progress that Brazil has made under President Rousseff.” While Dilma acknowledged the potential for greater cooperation between the two countries in the areas of science and innovation.
The meeting of the nations’ leaders also brought some tension however. Rousseff spoke of the “monetary tsunami” created by the U.S. and other nations’ low interest rates that lead to devalued currencies, hindering the competitiveness of Brazil’s export industry.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton focused on other issues during a White House event on Monday, applauding Rousseff’s Science without Borders program and making clear that the U.S. wants “to be a partner, an equal partner, to promote sustainable, diversified, innovation-driven growth that translates into inclusive, long-lasting progress.”
David T. Ellwood, Dean of HKS, commented on the benefits in education that can come from a closer alliance with Brazil. “Brazil and the United States share numerous public policy challenges, and the two nations can learn from, and help, one another. Harvard Kennedy School will continue to work to deepen the ties between faculty and students in the Western Hemisphere’s two largest nations.”
Discussions on education and science seemed to be the most successful of the trip, and the focal point of Rousseff’s visit to MIT and Harvard on Tuesday. That and the opening of two additional U.S. Consulates in Brazil, which will help to get more Brazilians to the U.S. for business, education and tourism.
Still, some analysts commented that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil seems to be hindered by a mismatch in expectations. “Brazil sees itself as having earned a high degree of respect, but the U.S. is not willing to cede ground without clearly understanding Brazil’s position on many key issues that are important to U.S. policy makers,” shared Peter Hakim.