Relations with Other Nation States

Argentina and Brazil are historic rivals. Since the return of Brazilian democracy in the 1980s, Argentina and Brazil have worked cooperatively in areas including the economy, tourism, education, and others, although diplomatic relations are sometimes strained. Several factors are at play in this fraught relationship. Both Brazil’s early ties with Europe, and its preference for continuing relationships with European nations over its Latin American neighbors, remain significant. Brazil’s support for Paraguayan and Uruguayan independence from Argentina (both countries are home to significant minority populations of Portuguese descent), and regional nationalist rivalries (that manifest strongly between soccer fans) also inform today’s efforts to foster positive bilateral relations.[1] Brazilians have celebrated the election of the first Latin American pontiff, Pope Francis, which has generated a sense of regional pride bound by a common Catholic heritage.[2]

Brazil and Cuba have developed close bilateral relations in recent years, with Brazil hiring some 4,500 Cuban doctors to meet the medical needs of impoverished Brazilians—a response to 2013 street protests demanding an improvement of social services. Closer relations have also positioned Brazil as a major trading partner with Cuba, a communist nation that is gradually becoming exposed to market forces.[3]

Portugal and Brazil have a lengthy history, beginning with the Portuguese claim to the territory of present‐day Brazil in the 16th century. Portuguese merchants and settlers created a profitable colony, transferring their social and cultural norms, including Roman Catholicism, to Brazil. Portuguese became, and remains, the lingua franca of Brazil, distinguishing it from most of its neighbors in South America.

After independence, Brazil’s government focused on building ties to the era’s great maritime and industrial powers, first Britain, and then, the United States.[4] The relationship with Portugal became one of nostalgic rather than strategic import. However, continued immigration from Portugal to Brazil maintained informal lines of communication between the two countries. In the post‐war era, Brazilian leaders employed this nostalgia as the basis for a unified Luso‐Brazilian foreign policy. Arguing that, “Portugal was an indivisible nation,” consisting of both its European and overseas provinces, Brazil became a strong defender of Portuguese colonialism, even serving temporarily as Portugal’s embassy in India.[5] In the 1960s, however, Brazil reversed its position as a result of a newfound sympathy for and identification with anti‐colonial aspirations.  Globalization and the democratic revival and economic liberalization in both countries reinvigorated their economic relationship. Between 1996 and 2002, foreign direct investment and trade between the two countries increased dramatically.[6] However, they have also become geopolitical rivals, competing for influence in Portuguese‐speaking Africa. Brazil’s economic growth provided a vibrant Portuguese‐speaking job market after 2008, enticing many young professionals to emigrate from Portugal to Sao Paolo in search of employment.

The United States and Brazil have historically maintained close relations, punctuated by periods of distance mostly caused by economic policies. Consistent with its stance against communism elsewhere in Latin America, the United States government supported the 1964 military coup and immediately recognized the military regime. Official government policy was criticized by the American left and religious leaders (including the U. S. Catholic Conference and the National Council of Churches), who early on spoke out against support for the junta and spread news of its human rights abuses, receiving information via the Brazilian Catholic Church.[7] Activism in support of Brazil would help shape the growing popular American response to American political and military interference in Latin America as a whole.[8]

Since the 1980s, American influence has been predominantly economic and exercised through organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which oversaw Brazil’s economic liberalization and debt expansion. Former President Lula da Silva was openly critical of American economic policy and especially of the U.S.‐led war in Iraq (comparing it to American interventions in Latin America), though overall he remained friendly to the United States throughout his presidency.[9]

Most recently, the United States and Brazil have found common ground on the issue of climate change, and together launched an initiative to increase their use of renewable energy.

While new, the relationship between Brazil and China is significant. Brazil is China’s most important economic partner in Latin America and, in 2009, China surpassed the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner, a position the U.S. held for eighty years.[10] The following year, China became Brazil’s largest foreign investor.[11] While the relationship provides a counterweight to Brazil’s reliance on the United States, trade with China resembles historic colonial patterns in which Brazil sells natural resources and other commodities to China and imports China’s higher value manufactured products. Indeed, much of China’s investment in Brazil supports the extraction and transportation of natural resources.

The relationship with China is part of a larger network of emerging economic powerhouses known by the acronym BRIC, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Originally, an informal term coined by a Wall Street analyst in 2001, BRIC took on a formal meaning in 2009 when the countries began meeting on an annual basis. In 2011 South Africa joined the group to form BRICS. Like the 2008 invitation to participate in an expanded G8, the BRICS relationship demonstrates Brazil’s intent to increase its influence on global affairs.

Brazil is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP).  Created in 1996, the organization seeks to expand political, economic and cultural cooperation amongst its member states. The other members include Portugal, East Timor, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea‐Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. A significant outcome of CPLP negotiations has been the agreement by the members (excepting Mozambique and Angola) to undertake implementation of the “orthographic accord,” transcontinental standardization of the Portuguese language in education and administration, a highly debated priority of Brazil and Portugal since the 1930s.

Brazil serves as an emergent donor country for the Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa (PALOP), or African Countries of Portuguese Language. PALOP includes Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea‐ Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Brazil’s government initially opposed these countries’ independence efforts. However, in the early 1960s, new leaders believed that the movements offered Brazil an opportunity to secure greater prominence in world affairs. They repositioned Brazil as an older brother to the emerging nations by promoting the country’s history as a former colony, its common economic development aims, and its much vaunted model of “racial democracy.”

While decades of military dictatorship and economic turmoil limited the resources available to promote this effort, today, Brazil rivals Portugal in the levels of its aid, technical cooperation, and influence. In part, this commitment is perceived as a repayment of the moral debt Brazil owes for its role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its exploitation of African slaves. However, as a public symbol of Brazil’s new economic strength, there is also visible pride in the transition from aid recipient to aid donor.[12]


[1] Karina Lilia Pasquariello Mariano, “Two to Tango: An Analysis of Brazilian‐Argentine Relations,” Brazilian Political Science Review, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2013), pp. 118–121.

[2] Gary Duffy, “Wry Brazilian Welcome for Argentine Pope,” BBC, March 13, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-21779590, accessed May 9, 2014.

[3] Simon Romero and Victoria Burnett, “Brazil Forging Economic Ties With Cuba, While Hiring Its Doctors,” The New York Times, December 29, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/30/world/americas/brazil-forging-economic-ties-with-cuba-while-hiring-its-doctors.html?_r=0, accessed May 9, 2014.

[4] Nancy Elena Ferreira Gomes, "Portugal and Latin America beyond Historical and Cultural Ties," Megatrend revija, Vol. 10, No. 1 (2013), pp. 227–244, p. 230.

[5] Ana Ribeiro, “Aspects in the Construction of Brazil’s Transcontinental Lusofonia,” Journal of Critical Southern Studies Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2014), p. 67.

[6] Gomes, "Portugal and Latin America beyond Historical and Cultural Ties," p. 232.

[7] Robert Stam and Ella Shohat, Flagging Patriotism: Crises of Narcissism and Anti‐Americanism (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 92.

[8] Kathryn Sikkink, Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), p. 60.

[9] Joseph Smith, Brazil and the United States: Convergence and Divergence (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), p. 192.

[10] Daniel Cardoso, “China‐Brazil Relations and the New Dimensions of South‐South Cooperation,” Berliner China Hefte: Beiträge zur Gesellschaft und Geschichte Chinas, Vol. 42 (2013), p. 93.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ana Ribeiro, “Aspects in the Construction of Brazil’s Transcontinental Lusofonia,” Journal of Critical Southern Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2014), p. 59.

Image Credits:

"Pope Francis," 2013, Catholic Church England, Flickr Creative Commons.

"Palop" by User:Waldir - Image:BlankMap-Africa.svg. Wikimedia Commons.