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Brazil on world stage

October 13th, 2009
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

To the outside world, Brazil appears on a roll. In recent weeks, the country has beaten out Spain, Japan and the United States to become the venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics – the first South American country to host the games.

Brazil has taken an increasingly important place in world economic deliberations as a member of the Group of 20 industrial and developing economies. Its domestic economy appears to be recovering from crisis faster than many others.

But Brazil’s decision to give refuge Sept. 21 to the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in the Brazilian Embassy in that Central American nation has aroused controversy and concern about whether Brazil is acting on principle or trying to curry favor with the other Latin power, Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a strong supporter of Mr. Zelaya.

Peruvian pundit Alvaro Vargas Llosa said Brazil was helping Mr. Zelaya to bolster its own standing in the Americas.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has maintained a dual “political-ideological persona during most of his term,” Mr. Vargas Llosa said. While cooperating with Washington, “he has also kept an old Brazilian tradition of counterbalancing U.S. influence in the region and trying to emerge as a regional power.”

“He obviously thinks the alliance with the left helps him in that regard, too,” he said.

Mr. Vargas Llosa , a specialist in Latin American politics and author of a book, “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot,” said he believed Mr. Chavez “was the key international factor in Zelayas clandestine return and that Lula was closely informed by Chavez about what was going on. [Mr. Lula da Silva] agreed to play that role.”

Brazilian Foreign Ministry officials deny that their government is carrying out Venezuelan directives and say Brazil could not refuse sanctuary to Mr. Zelaya, whose ouster has been deemed illegal by the Organization of American States (OAS). The Obama administration has also called for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement.

Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told Brazil’s Globo News that the country had no role in slipping Mr. Zelaya back into Honduras but had “allowed Zelaya to enter the embassy, and it is helping the dialogue.”

“Everybody is free to think what [he] wants. But, I think this is a good exit. We just based our decision on rights and respect. Zelaya could have died if we had denied him entrance.”

Paulo Paim, a senator from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul and a member of Mr. Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party, said, “It was a natural decision to let Zelaya go in the Brazilian Embassy. Every country would do the same; there is no doubt. We are being helpful to the Honduran people.”

Mr. Paim added that he was hopeful that OAS mediators will convince interim President Roberto Micheletti to step down and allow Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term.

“I am optimistic about the return of the legitimate president,” Mr. Paim said.

Claudio Cajado, a representative from Bahia state and member of the opposition Democrats party as well as of the Brazilian lower house’s foreign relations committee, agreed that Brazil could not deny sanctuary to Mr. Zelaya.

But he criticized the Lula da Silva government for allowing Mr. Zelaya to use the embassy in Honduras as a platform for publicity and politicization.

“Zelaya made an aggression to our embassy,” Mr. Cajado said. “He used it to stage rallies. His behavior was not appropriate.”

Mr. Paim denied that Mr. Zelaya’s behavior reflected poorly on Brazil, saying, “He could do whatever he wants. Nothing affected the Brazilian image.”

Mr. Cajado, who recently visited Honduras, said the situation remains complicated and defies an easy solution. He noted that “the Supreme Court of Honduras, their army, their Congress, their Commission of Human Rights, support the interim government” of Mr. Micheletti.

A peaceful resolution to the crisis could help boost Brazil’s stature, but continued stalemate will reflect poorly on an emerging power, Mr. Cajado suggested.

“The information that I have is that Chavez” was behind the return of Mr. Zelaya to Honduras, Mr. Cajado said. “I think just time can prove if there was an association of Lula, Zelaya and Chavez.”

By Luis Vieira

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