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Capsule Review

The Washington Dissensus: A Privileged Observer’s Perspective on US-Brazil Relations; His Own Man

In This Review

The Washington Dissensus: A Privileged Observer's Perspective on US-Brazil Relations
The Washington Dissensus: A Privileged Observer's Perspective on US-Brazil Relations
By Rubens Barbosa
Vanderbilt University Press, 2014 272 pp. $69.95 Purchase
His Own Man
His Own Man
By Edgard Telles Ribeiro
Other Press, 2014 352 pp. $17.95 Purchase

Barbosa, who served as Brazil’s ambassador to Washington from 1999 to 2004, assesses U.S. diplomacy with a condescension born of wounded pride—a common feeling among his peers in Latin American diplomatic corps. But the distinguished diplomat’s hard-hitting memoir focuses its main attacks on his own country’s leadership, firing point-blank shots at then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his foreign minister, Celso Amorim. Barbosa contends that the Lula administration’s anti-American posture harmed Brazilian national interests by foolishly wasting many opportunities to make real progress on promising U.S.-Brazilian agreements and by undermining Brazilian efforts to win a permanent seat on the un Security Council. In devastating detail, Barbosa portrays Brazil’s diplomats as confused about their fundamental purpose and undecided as to just what their country wants out of its relations with the United States—a lack of self-knowledge that only exacerbates the mistrust between Brasília and Washington. Barbosa’s provocative broadside will likely accelerate the ongoing debate in Brazil over how best to exploit its position as an emerging regional power.

The troubled U.S.-Brazilian relationship also provides the backdrop for the novel His Own Man. The book’s climactic scene involves a confrontation between the novel’s narrator, a Brazilian diplomat stationed in Los Angeles, and a former chief of the CIA station in Brasília, now retired in La Jolla, California, whose garage is stacked with documents detailing Washington’s covert attempts to foment anticommunist military coups in Latin America in the 1970s. “Maybe that’s why we stand alone today . . . isolated as hell,” the old spook muses, “unable to deal with a world that for the most part despises us.” The historical memories of Americans are famously short, and Ribeiro, a veteran Brazilian diplomat, clearly wants to remind readers in the United States of the cost of U.S. support for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985—and of the scars carried by people throughout Latin America whose lives were forever altered by the torture and murders carried out during the Cold War by Washington’s authoritarian allies in the region. As His Own Man makes clear, that legacy helps explain the attitudes and behaviors of today’s elites in Brazil—members of the generation that suffered under military rule—and their lingering distrust of U.S. power.

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