Brazil, the United States, and the South American Subsystem: Regional Politics and the Absent Empire

Teixeira, a rising Brazilian scholar, forcefully makes the case that the United States has employed radically different policies in Mexico and the Caribbean basin than in more distant South America. Historically, heavy U.S. interventionism, so visible in nations close to the United States, has not been visited on South America—because, Teixeira demonstrates, Brazil has protected core U.S. interests there. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States applied the interventionist Monroe Doctrine to the Caribbean basin but not to South America, where Brazil could be relied on to maintain stability. During the Cold War, Teixeira claims, Washington could “neglect” South America because Brazil’s anticommunist military dictatorship thwarted nearby leftist regimes on its own, intervening even more decisively than the United States did to prevent the rise of leftists in Bolivia and Chile in the 1970s and even preparing to invade Uruguay early in that decade. But Brazil’s collaboration has been conditioned on U.S. respect for Brazil’s interests in its neighborhood. Consequently, when the Clinton administration threatened Brazil’s subregional hegemony by advancing free trade throughout the Americas, Brazil pushed back, and Washington relented. Teixeira may overstate the heft of Brazilian diplomacy and the enthusiasm of other South American states for Brazilian leadership, but his inspired insights demand the revision of much conventional wisdom regarding inter-American relations.

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