Flying Down to Rio: Perspectives on U.S.-Brazil Relations
Albert Fishlow is Professor of Economics and Director of the Concilium on International and Area Studies, Yale University. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in 1975-76, and was a member of the Linowitz Commission on U.S.-Latin American Relations.See more by this author
Soon it will be a year since Jimmy Carter's April 1978 trip to Brazil. Prior to the visit strained relations between the two countries were ill concealed. Washington's efforts to roll back the Brazilian-West German agreement for construction of facilities for uranium reprocessing and enrichment in Brazil were deeply resented - not least because Vice President Mondale was dispatched first to Bonn. The human rights stance of the new Administration was a second provocation. Brazil rejected any further military assistance in the spring of 1977, since such aid - for all countries - had as a condition a congressional requirement of a report on human rights; later Brazil canceled long-standing bilateral military pacts between the two countries.
Only a week before the trip Carter's Brazilian hosts emphasized that the stop was an American and not a Brazilian initiative. But after it was over, their satisfaction was evident. Jimmy Carter had come, seen, and compromised. Neither of the salient differences had been advanced provocatively; indeed, the nuclear accord was implicitly recognized as a fait accompli, and the publicized Carter meeting with private leaders actively engaged in the process of political opening avoided even the hint of intervention. Sighs of relief in official Brazilian circles as Carter embarked for Africa signaled an end to the long winter of discontent ushered in with the inauguration of the new Administration in Washington.
Such reduced tensions were equally welcome aboard Air Force One. For all of candidate Carter's criticism of the 1976 memorandum of understanding commemorating a special U.S.-Brazil relationship, misunderstanding was not his preferred substitute. Brazil simply looms too large for U.S. foreign policy objectives - be they pursuit of world order, of better hemispheric relations, or of narrow private economic opportunity.