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.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Brazil News
President Rousseff (with UN Gen Sec Ban Ki-Moon) became the first woman to address the UN General Assembly in 2011, photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

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.

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Syria in 2003, Brazil News
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva inspected Syrian troops in 2003 as part of one of his many trips to the Middle East, photo by Antônio Melina/ABr.

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”.


  1. It’s true that Dilma’s term should be focused on continuity but I’d like to see her place more emphasis on education and sociological development. Unless Brazil starts producing more skilled workers, and utilises the skills of those workers, it’s likely that the country will experience growing pains like the ones it is already showing signs of. What’s the point of having a huge economy with lots of foreign investment and incentives when you have to constantly import workers or worse still cope with millions still entrenched in poverty without access to good and fair education?

    To put it simply, it would seem to me as though Brazil is getting a little ahead of itself by working from the top instead of the ground up.

  2. The reality is that the economic momentum is necessay to provide the funds for the social and educational programs. It is not an easy task, but with Dilma keeping her ¨eye on the ball´it will improve geometrically.
    The major industrial nations have raped their countries to improve their standards of living. Hopefully Brasil will develop the foresight to preserve their unique forest regions before they are lost.


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