By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has made fewer official overseas trips in her first year in office than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, did in the first year of either of his terms as president. But many argue Rousseff has been more pragmatic in her approach to foreign policy, with a focus on key partnerships.
President Rousseff made thirteen trips abroad during 2011: fifteen countries in 41 days overseas. Latin neighbors Argentina and Uruguay were the most visited, with high profile trips to Brazil’s two biggest trading partners – China and the U.S.
To compare, President Lula spent 63 days abroad in his first year in office (27 countries on eighteen trips), traveling widely in Europe, making a point of visiting a number of countries in the Middle East – including Syria and Libya.
But despite having made a contribution to Middle East politics, particularly by her condemning of the unrest in Syria, President Rousseff is yet to make an official visit to an Arab country.
Instead, her visits have been either dominated by talks over the global financial crisis or set strategically to improve relations with trade partners, such as China where she returned home with a lucrative agreement to assemble Apple products in Brazil.
With her first year now complete, commentators are looking to see which countries will secure her attention in her second year in office. International Relations expert Professor Rafael Pons Reis told The Rio Times his thoughts on Rousseff’s foriegn affairs focus.
“Brazil’s foreign policy agenda in 2012 will involve maintaining and possibly deepening relations with key partners, such as China, the U.S. and the EU; regional countries such as Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia; member states of organizations such as Mercosur and BRICS, and also Lusophone nations such as Portugal and Angola.”
Mr. Reis notes that while Lula’s presidency was one of “transition”, Dilma’s presidency is now being characterized as one of “continuity”, which helps to explain the lower number of trips overseas. Although other causes may have also kept her close to home, for example, the slew of scandals embroiling her government, which saw seven ministers leave their posts last year.
Relentlessly compared to her predecessor, Rousseff’s style on the world stage has been more discreet, sober and managerial in style – and a more self-assured Brazil on the world stage is what many now believe truly characterizes her foreign policy.
Although shorter in terms of hours on the ground, her time abroad has yielded some memorable events, including her speech to the UN General Assembly, and other notable speeches denouncing human rights violations, female inequality and global famine.
It should be noted that, ex-President Lula was criticized for traveling more in his first year in office than his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, had done during his entire presidency.
But Lula’s defenders say he had a big job on his hands: namely “bringing Brazil to the world” and convincing others of Brazil’s worth for trade and investment, and on the international diplomatic arena – something Rousseff is now consolidating upon.
With the leaders of over 100 countries set to attend the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, due to be held in June this year, 2012 may be more a case of “The World to Brazil”.