By Adriana Camisar
The recent visit of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Israel is a very important development.
For years, Brazil’s diplomacy took a rather hostile stance toward Israel. In fact, the government of Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) got very close to the Iranian regime and, in 2010, even tried to prevent the United States and the European Union from sanctioning Iran for its nuclear development program. Brazil was a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council at the time and certainly helped Iran evade international sanctions, at least for a period of time.
Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, distanced herself a bit from the Iranian regime but kept the anti-Israel stance of her predecessor, voting against Israel in virtually all international forums.
The traditional anti-Israel posture of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) responds in part to a third-worldist worldview, deeply rooted in Latin America, which has sought to keep distance from the United States, and therefore from one of its main allies, the state of Israel. This worldview is based on a somewhat simplistic understanding of Latin American history, according to which the United States is to blame for most of the region’s problems. This ideological position has been disastrous for the region since it generated a culture of victimization and the distancing of many Latin American governments from the democracies of the West in order to get close to dark regimes such as Iran, Russia and China, among others.
In the case of Brazil, Itamaraty's anti-Israel posture had also to do with the desire of the Brazilian career diplomats to get Brazil elected as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, in the highly improbable case that the council gets reformed to include new permanent members one day. To achieve this, these diplomats thought it would be necessary to get the votes of the countries that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But the truth is that such a reform of the U.N. Security Council would be impossible to achieve without the agreement of the United States government, which would in turn need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, something extremely unlikely.
In any case, this anti-American and anti-Israel worldview seems to have received a major blow since Bolsonaro took power. His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in a recent tweet that the discriminatory treatment of Israel at the U.N. had been a Brazilian foreign policy tradition, and that this government is determined to break with this "spurious and unjust" tradition, in the same way it is breaking with the anti-American and third-worldist tradition that prevailed.
Bolsonaro's campaign promise to move the Brazilian Embassy to Jerusalem will apparently have to wait. But his recent announcement about the opening of a trade office in Jerusalem and his visit to the Western Wall in the company of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (an unprecedented gesture) are very strong signs of change.
The recent vote of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Council is another sign. For the first time in the history of the council, whose anti-Israel bias is both shameful and notorious, Brazil voted against two anti-Israel resolutions.
In November and December this year, Brazil's new, warmer relationship with Israel will be put to a test. This is so because two important resolutions will be re-introduced at the U.N. General Assembly. As every year, member states will decide if they want to renew the funding and mandate authorization of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, the two entities that make up the most powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that exists under the U.N. roof.
In addition to demonizing the state of Israel, in the name of the U.N., these entities promote the most extreme Palestinian positions as they question Israel’s very right to exist and advocate for the right of return of the more than five million people of Palestinian ancestry (who are still wrongly considered "refugees" by the U.N.) to the State of Israel. This radical stance is clearly against the two-state solution that the U.N. claims to support, as the mass migration of these people to Israel would mean the destruction of Israel as a majority-Jewish state and the eventual creation of one Palestinian state "from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea."
Brazil votes, year after year, in favor of the continued funding of these two entities, creating among the Palestinians the illusion that the U.N. will eventually grant them a state “from the river to the sea,” and directly discouraging genuine peace negotiations with Israel. A change in the way Brazil votes would undoubtedly be a breath of fresh air and would send a positive message not only to other countries in the region but also to the entire world.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Last week I attended the Eighth Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, and the fact that more than 25 presidents of the Americas came to this year’s conference shows a positive side of the Summit. Also, the gathering of the Civil Society and Business Forum (which are two conferences that take place before the Summit), created a discussion on the most crucial and difficult issues of the region.
Is it possible to measure the effectiveness of the Summits?
Yes, this time it has been possible to get results and we have attained more information than in previous years.
The central theme of the summit, “Democratic Governance in the Face of Corruption,” looked a little ambitious in the previous months of the event. Corruption is undermining several governments in the past year and we saw what has happened in Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is in prison. In Peru, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to resign, in Ecuador, former President Rafael Correa will face accusations of corruption shortly and the ongoing corrupted regime ruling Venezuela.
There was a strong document signed by all participants committing their governments to work solidly and in agreement to combat the scourge of corruption at all levels. Is this document a strong and definitive tool for the immediate future? No, it’s not. It is just the first step, but at the same it is an encouraging beginning that the Civil Society is fighting corruption.
The second big issue has been the ongoing and endless humanitarian situation in Venezuela. Venezuelans are leaving the country to all possible places and there are hundreds of thousands living today in Colombia, and tens of thousands in Brazil, Panama, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay. Unfortunately, only 16 countries had the courage to sign a statement declaring loud and clear that the next elections in Venezuela are a farce, and warning the Americas of the humanitarian situation under President Nicolás Maduro’s regime and also among the millions of Venezuelan citizens who are arriving in other countries.
Panama was very clear on this matter and its president, Juan Carlos Varela, said that it is an obligation of all the Americas to recognize the very dramatic situation and help do something. They must face the lies of the Venezuelan government which does not recognize the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in its own country, and Venezuela blocks the possibility of real aid to its population and it is backed by proxies like Cuba and Bolivia in the region.
United States Vice President Mike Pence, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Brazilian President Michel Temer, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto were the main voices denouncing Maduro’s dictatorship.
The third big issue was not previously in the agenda. The Summit discussed the situation in Syria. Most people condemned Syria for using chemical weapons, however Bolivian President Evo Morales blasted the United States and said “Bolivia is fully backing the Syrian brothers in this moment that they are suffering an aggression.”
Populism in the region has brought misery and pain to the region, however it is decreasing. But Morales, Cuban President Raul Castro (who did not attend) and Maduro (who was not invited to attend) are still insisting in carrying out their totalitarian regimes with proxies from outside the Americas like Iran and opening doors to Hezbollah.
The B´nai B´rith delegation had conversations with different Civil Society organizations, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and officers of several delegations. The Civil Society main meeting was attacked by Cuban members of Castro´s regime, who were shouting insults at Peruvian Prime Minister César Villanueva and the OAS secretary general. Regardless, the Civil Society was able to end its three day meeting, despite members of a dictatorship showing that open dialogue is not acceptable in Cuba.
We believe that the strong condemnation against Syria has been very important. It shows that the comprehension of Middle East unrest is now better understood in the region, and that populism is decreasing.
The next OAS General Assembly will be held the first week of June in Washington, D.C., and it is celebrating its 70th anniversary. This General Assembly will show if there is a real and strong majority to sanction the outrageous regime of Venezuela. Such a decision would help the OAS look stronger and the whole region look more democratic.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Dilma Rousseff has to leave the Brazilian presidency. A Senate majority vote of 61 to 20, no abstentions, ousted her under the accusation that she “used illegal means to hide holes in the federal budget, exacerbated a recession and high inflation.” The impeachment procedure established under Brazilian law ended with her second term as president.
Another vote to ban Rousseff to participate in elections and be elected was defeated, so if she wants she could be a candidate in 2019.
Michel Temer, acting president during the time the impeachment has lasted, became the formal Brazilian president on Aug. 31, and his term will end on Jan. 1, 2019.
Rousseff, who was imprisoned during the country’s dictatorship in the 1960s, said she broke no laws, and argued that she was forced to make tough choices on the budget in the face of declining revenues, and accused that her problem was the refusal by opponents in Congress to work with her.
Rousseff had sharp words on Monday for her former vice president, Temer, who took over when she was suspended and will finish the term as president. She called him a “usurper” and “racist.” Temer, whose family is from Christian Lebanese origin, is trying to face the very difficult economic situation Brazil is going through with high rates of unemployment and inflation.
A large number of members of Congress and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been implicated in a number of corruption scandals. It is another front that Temer has to face. Watchdog groups estimate 60 percent of the 594 lawmakers in both chambers are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption.
Rousseff and her predecessor Lula Da Silva ruled Brazil for more than a decade. Together with former Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; Evo Morales in Bolivia; the Castros´ in Cuba; and Jose Mujica in Uruguay (2005-2010), there was created a wide net of populist governments, which engaged with Iran and utterly anti-Israel and anti-American.
Today the political map has changed. Argentina voted for another type of ruling when they elected Mauricio Macri last year; Rousseff has been ousted by impeachment; Venezuela is economically and politically ruined; Cuba is trying to approach the United States and Uruguay changed in last year´s election for a most moderate leftist like Tabare Vazquez for president.
These changes have created a serious political division in the region.
Presidents like Temer, Macri, Horacio Cartes (Paraguay) have joined the new President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia to face and reject the violent populism of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
With regard to Israel, it once again has democratic governments in Latin America with which to deal, to conduct business and to receive proper designation as the only democratic country in the Middle East.
The immediate future of Brazil is still uncertain. The economic crisis is the most important challenge that Temer has to face. If Brazil gets some improvements in its economy, the region will feel relieved and democracy will have a better chance to be sustainable.
Populist Presidents like Maduro and Morales have accused the Brazilian Congress of attempting a coup against Rousseff. That is absurd, legally speaking, because impeachment is a procedure established in the Brazilian constitution, and there has been no shadow of any coup. On the other hand, the confrontation between democracies and populists will go deeper, so not only the political relations will suffer, but the economic links too.
This is “the framework of uncertainty” for the immediate future in Brazil and its neighbors. Time is of the essence, so we will have to wait no less than until the end of the year to watch if Brazil can recover, and if the dangerous instability in Venezuela does not create another regional unrest.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
It is not the best for any democracy to impeach a president who has been elected by the book. But there is no doubt that the impeachment process that Brazil has started, which is going to take six months, is according to the constitutional law of Brazil.
The rhetoric of an “institutional coup” comes from populist leaders of the region who believe any politics are above the law and the constitution.
When Dilma Rousseff says “I never imagined that it would be necessary to fight once again against a coup in this country,” she is inciting to unrest, something that also populist rulers have used very frequently in the last decade.
Corruption brought political and economic distress, and corruption has dragged Brazil to the current situation.
Since the calls began many months ago, millions have rallied in the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio and other major cities to demand Rousseff’s impeachment. Responding to this social unrest, Rousseff compared the attempts to impeach her over corruption to the Nazi persecution of Jews. Mauro Wainstock, editor of Alef News, Rio’s Jewish newspaper, wrote of the statement, “Comparing peaceful democratic rallies to the Nazi genocidal machine is an unfortunate and ridiculously absurd insult to all the victims and their families.” The cavalier use of the Nazi regime as a point of comparison serves to desensitize the public to the unique horrors of the Holocaust. Brazil deserves better.
The weakness of the impeachment as a political move is that the charges are limited to budget technicalities instead of the Petrobras scandal and investigation of this state-owned oil company, which is tainting almost the entire political class.
It is a time of uncertainty, not only for Brazil, but for all South America.
The Brazilian situation produces a great damage to South America as a whole. Brazil is the giant, the largest territory, the largest population, the largest production. South America needs a strong and prestigious Brazil, otherwise MERCOSUR will be paralyzed and the rest of the countries will suffer.
Brazilian Foreign Policy in the last decade since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came first to power has supported leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela; Cristina Kirchner in Argentina; Raul Castro in Cuba; Rafael Correa in Ecuador; and Evo Morales in Bolivia. And beyond the region, Brazil started the relationship with the Arab League, with Iran and the ongoing criticism to Israel in every U.N. agency, in MERCOSUR, in OAS.
It was Brazil that rejected months ago the appointment of Danny Dayan as Israeli ambassador in a very uncommon diplomatic act of contempt against Israel sovereignty.
It is very uncertain if Brazil will make any changes in its foreign policies in the next six months while Rousseff is suspended. Michel Temer is the interim president, and Jose Serra a center right politician who has been governor of Sao Pablo and senator will be the foreign minister.
At least, we can hope that the policies vis a vis the Middle East will be warmer with Israel and should be critical with terrorism and states sponsoring terrorism.
Argentina immediately recognized the interim president. Uruguay has said that it will keep working side by side with the “Brazilian Government.” Chile has underlined that “there is concern before the situation in Brazil, but we hope that the democratic institutions prevail.” Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, will work with Temer too.
Venezuela, which is suffering the worst economic crisis ever known in that country, and is under a very serious political unrest, “supports” Dilma Rousseff. Ecuador and Bolivia are still cautious
In 60 days we will know if Interim President Temer has been able to start recovering the Brazilian economy and then the political stability.
In 60 days we will know if Interim President Temer and his ministers have been able to show a different face in international affairs, getting closer to democracies and putting aside populist governments that have brought pain and misery to the region.
And in a short time, Rousseff will have to show if her party and herself are able to recover and face the impeachment with a strength they do not have today.
It is a time of uncertainty, not only for Brazil, but for all South America.
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