RIO DE JANEIRO – The presidential election in the United States is likely to be determined by a handful of battleground states, but on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city, there is just one option.
“It’s Obama. The other side is the dark side of the moon,” said Tiago Arakillian, a documentary filmmaker and movie producer who lives in Rio. “Even (conservatives in Brazil) think the conservatives in the U.S. are very old-fashioned – even the oligarchy,” he added.
Economists and policy analysts worldwide have noted that President Obama’s foreign policy has been lacking in terms of U.S.-Brazilian relations – no trade accords exist between the U.S. and Latin America’s largest economy. At the moment, opportunities for increased commerce between the two countries are complicated both by Obama’s commitment to enforcing trade rules and by new protectionist tariffs in Brazil.
Meanwhile, GOP candidate Mitt Romney has yet to articulate his policy toward Brazil, and the Republican Party’s platform does not address the country directly.
Romney has vowed to encourage free trade and private investment through the creation of regional trade zones in Latin America, but the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela took action in 2005 to stop the formation of the regional trade zone proposed by the United States under former Republican President George W. Bush. Rubens Barbosa, former Brazilian ambassador to the United States, told Bloomberg News that those nations remain hostile to the idea.
Romney calls the territory affected by his trade plan the “Reagan Economic Zone.” From a foreign policy perspective, this reference to President Ronald Reagan may be dangerous, said Mike Allison, assistant professor of political science at the University of Scranton. In Latin America, “many, including several of today’s presidents, associate (Reagan’s) tenure with torture, disappearances, murder and other human rights violations,” Allison wrote in a Sept. 19 opinion for Al Jazeera.
Such a label may simply feed into Brazilians’ negative image of the United States.
In Brazil, “not just intellectuals, but the people” have a worldview that is “profoundly anti-American,” said Maria Paula Araujo, professor of social history at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The legacy of American imperialism – colored by incidents including the Reagan administration’s involvement in Brazil’s military coup, “decades of intervention in Latin America” and contemporary issues like the war on terror – still shapes the country’s image abroad, students in Araujo’s class noted.
Araujo declared herself “100 percent pro-Obama,” adding that the current president has changed how Brazilians view the United States.
The president certainly has a much higher rate of name recognition than his opponent. Brazilians generally talk about “Obama or the other guy,” as Arakillian described Romney.
Voting is obligatory for citizens from 18 to 70 years old in Brazil, but according to Arakillian, that does not make for a more informed populace. The success of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s current president, was almost entirely the result of the endorsement she received from her predecessor, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, Arakillian said.
With the growth of the PT, or the Workers’ Party, in Brazil over the last three decades, the trend of politicians within the country is to appeal directly to working people, said Bruno Rodrigues, a graduate student at the federal university.
“In the U.S., it’s mostly the conservative thinking and the center,” Arakillian said. “There’s no left.” He said Brazilians were surprised the Occupy Wall Street movement’s idea of uniting the workers against the extremely wealthy was perceived as radical in the United States.
The Brazilians interviewed could not pinpoint a way the election would specifically change the political situation in their country.
“Lula had a very fluid form of diplomacy” and maintained a relationship with a number of other countries regardless of their political discord, Rodrigues said. During Rousseff’s presidency, foreign policy has been “a bit more closed,” but maintaining a relationship with the United States is important no matter who runs the country, he added.
But Brazilians are still paying attention, even if it may be “only superficially,” said Yama Arruda, a researcher at the City Archive of Rio de Janeiro.
“The whole world is watching the United States,” he said.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that President Ronald Reagan offered American assistance that led to Brazil’s 1964 coup. In fact, the president who provided assistance to the military uprising was Lyndon Johnson. Reagan, while linked to uprisings in other Latin American nations in the 1980s, did not play a role in Brazil’s coup. The Herald regrets the error.