Brazil’s diplomatic corps is “trying to reduce the damage” caused by govt’s policies

Diplomat Cottas Freitas criticizes ideological foreign policy by warning: “Being an international pariah is a disaster”

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Araújo and Bolsonaro, "sacrificing it all for a shady, divisive policies" - Foto: Marcos Correa/PR

On October 22nd, chancellor Ernesto Araújo repudiated criticism towards the Bolsonaro government’s foreign policy during the graduation ceremony at the Rio Branco Institute, the academy of the Brazilian diplomatic corps, known as Itamaraty. On the occasion, the ambassador mentioned that at the last U.N General Assembly, only American president Donald trump and Jair Bolsonaro spoke of freedom.

“Brazil speaks through the world about freedom, if this makes us an international pariah, then let us be a pariah”, the ambassador defended.

However, on the other hand, Itamaraty employees are seeking to lessen the impacts of the country’s isolationism, due to its narrow alignment with Trumpism and its defense of conservative narratives in multilateral forums.

This was affirmed by diplomat Antonio Cottas Freitas, who has been part of the Ministry of Foreign Relations since 2004, in an exclusive interview with Brasil de Fato. According to him, career diplomats are directly feeling the consequences of Araújo’s ideological maneuverings, and are worried about current political decision making.

“Those who are abroad represent this foreign policy, they represent Brazil over there. They are questioned and demands are made of them. It’s hard. On the one hand, you have a duty to follow instructions and be a good professional. On the other, there is conflict not only of political consciousness. For example, having a right wing government and someone being more left leaning, this kind of thing happens...but nowadays, conflicts are being created that openly contradict national interests”, says Freitas.

“It’s difficult. But one has to accept it and if possible, try to minimize damages. It’s about reducing the damage up front, when possible. However, the Itamaraty structure doesn’t make it easy”.

Regarding the chancellor’s pronouncement a week ago at the Rio Branco Institute graduation, Freitas highlights the fact that being an international pariah has concrete consequences for the population, businesses and other national interests.

Exclusion from investment opportunities, difficulties in trade negotiations and in relations with neighboring countries, barriers that did not exist as the diplomat points out, should only intensify.

“It’s not positive in any way to be an international pariah. Being excluded from round tables, being alone in the corner while the countries that make up the biggest parcel of world GDP are elsewhere negotiating international rules and norms, defining commercial flows, investments and partnerships”, said Freitas.

On the same occasion, Ernesto Araújo also criticized multilateralism and the diplomacy of previous administrations, saying that Brazil was loosing its identity until president Jair Bolsonaro took over because the country stayed “for too long within itself, singing of past glories, dusting old trophies and forgetting to play in this year’s championship”.

During his speech, the chancellor denied being part of the so-called ideological wing of the government, though he criticized “Godless Marxism”.

However, debates promoted by the Alexandre Gusmão Foundation (Funag), which is associated with Itamaraty and promotes conferences and workshops related to international relations, show the contrary.

Themes such as combating communism and globalism, as well as other anti-scientific ideas, have become an integral part of the Foundation’s event schedule.

Ambassadors and foreign relations professors have lost ground to bloggers, militants and pro-government columnists.

In Cottas Freitas’ view, the Bolsonaro administration’s foreign policy is contradictory, and acts on the basis of confrontation with its enemy, where those who question or disagree with their positions are persecuted, attacked and constrained.

According to him, this narrative is increasingly taking over the state’s apparatus so as to enhance the outreach of conservative narratives.

“They are sacrificing everything for the sake of internal propaganda, very shady, problematic, sowing division, and creating conflicts and confrontations within the country itself. It’s a nightmare”, commented the diplomat.

Allies of Trumpism

While speaking to the graduates last week, Ernesto Araújo told the freshmen diplomats that they are stepping into a “renewed Itamaraty”, that signed commercial agreements with the world’s biggest economies and technologically advanced countries such as Japan and Israel, as well as partnerships with large financial hubs like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

However, since Bolsonaro took office, the foreign policy alignment with the United States has been under scrutiny and the target of criticism.

This all begins with the fact that Brazil forewent its status as a developing country before the World Trade Organization, in exchange of U.S support for its bid to enter the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the “rich countries” club.

An anti-China narrative, which was also an imitation of that coming from the current United States government, interfered in the production process of the coronavirus vaccine that was being developed by Chinese firm Sinovac, in partnership with the Brazil based Butantan Institute.

In Antonio Freitas’ opinion, which is echoed by specialists, bilateral negotiations have favored only the United States, as was the case with the iron export deal.

He stresses that fact that under no circumstance, a country of Brazil’s dimensions should submit themselves in such manner to another nation, no matter which one.

“This is not an alliance with the U.S. It’s an alliance with an extremist faction of the American political system. It’s not with the Republican party, it’s with Trumpism. This is the most obvious and colossal mistake, or violence, against Brazil’s diplomatic traditions and the interests of the population”, affirms the diplomat.

The likely scenario of Trump’s electoral defeat on November third’s election, will also impact Brazil’s standing on the world stage.

Without the Republican in the White House, the diplomat believes that though the United States will continue to be an imperialist and interventionist power, the Bolsonaro government will face bigger challenges in relation to human rights and environmental questions, since their conservative positions on these matters are already criticized on a global level.

“Because the bet on Trump was so big, without a doubt the two governments will have to try and build new channels of dialogue. But in the short term, the environmental issue may turn out to be an Achilles heel in the relationship between Brazil and United States. Since the U.S influences the entire world, they will probably influence Brazil’s relations with the world at large”.

He also believes that the implementation of a deeply conservative “christian foreign policy”, harms the secular 1988 Federal Constitution.

Discarded diplomatic tradition

The revolutionary rhetoric and the bet on a “renewed Itamaraty”, that praises the actions of past republican administrations, is reaching the mid point of the Bolsonaro mandate without any major achievements, and dependent on the results of another country’s presidential elections to determine its future.

Despite Ernesto Araújo’s speech, how much this new foreign policy is in fact being implemented internally, is still a big question.

“Howfar are the people at Itamaraty, the senior diplomats, pushing this forward, be it by opportunism or ideological alignment? How much has this permeated within Itamaraty? How much is this being structured among other governmental agencies that are also involved in foreign policy and diplomacy, like the military and sectors of the Finance Ministry?”, questions the diplomat.

Cottas Freitas reinforces the notion that primarily, diplomacy should follow constitutional principles and guidelines, with objective of guaranteeing the rights of Brazilians.

For this to happen, when it comes to international relations, he defends a type of diplomacy that strives for Brazil’s autonomy, cooperation with neighboring countries, and that sees a unified Latin America as a powerhouse.

A universalist diplomacy, that speaks to all countries including China, Russia, the U.S and the E.U, giving special attention to relations with African countries, which share historical and social ties with Brazil.

“This is the great Brazilian tradition. It’s our bread and butter, what we’ve always done. Brazil isn’t a country with military might, we don’t have imperialist territorial ambitions. What we need to do improve living conditions for the Brazilian population. To that end, we need to have good relationships. It’s not good to be isolated and a pariah. On the contrary: it’s a disaster”.
Brasil de Fato awaits Itamaraty’s response.

Edited by: Rogério Jordão