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Brazil's Foreign Policy Failures

The End of the Country's Regional Ambitions

A demonstrator holds an inflatable doll of Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during a protest calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, December 13, 2015. Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters

When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff traveled to Cuba in 2012 to announce the biggest foreign investment in the island since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, a man in his mid-forties stood discreetly at her side. Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Odebrecht­—the biggest construction company in Latin America, which was founded by his grandfather—had scored an almost $1 billion contract financed by a Brazilian public bank to modernize the Port of Mariel. In explaining the initiative after flying from Havana to Haiti with Rousseff, where his firm was also expanding investments, he summarized: “We act in alignment with Brazilian foreign policy.”

Fast-forward to January 2016. Odebrecht has been behind bars since June, accused of paying fortunes in kickbacks to politicians in exchange for contracts with Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. A number of his competitors and associates were also arrested because of their connection to the scandal.

For her part, Rousseff is

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