NAVAL WAR COLLEGE
“GOOD NEIGHBOR 21” AND THE ROLE OF BRAZIL
Guilherme Wagner de Azevedo Cordeiro
Lieutenant Commander, Brazilian Navy
A paper submitted to the Faculty of the Naval War College in partial satisfaction of the
requirements of the Department of National Security Decision Making.
The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by
the Naval War College or the Department of the Navy.
25 April 2005
Theodore Wu, Professor
“GOOD NEIGHBOR 21” AND THE ROLE OF BRAZIL
The paper will address the fact that sociopolitical stability in the Latin America
cannot be taken for granted. There are non-traditional security issues that can pose threats to
the United States or to its interests in the future.
The U.S. foreign policy should change the way it sees Latin America and work on
changing the way the United States is seen in the region. This paper will argue that a 21st
century version of the “Good Neighbor” policy can make such change of mindsets possible
and that the best way to start it is turning Brazil from “part of the problem” into “part of the
solution”. The country’s pivotal state role will facilitate the completion of the change.
Since the United States took over the most influential role in Latin America from
Europe after World War I, it has been a commonplace to see the region as “U.S. backyard”.
The relative calm and peace of Latin America in comparison with a global security
environment marked by threats such as terrorism and weapons mass destruction (WMD)
proliferation are the U.S. excuses for not working on a long-term agenda for the region. With
the exception of major current concerns—immigration, cartels and guerrillas in Colombia,
transnational crime, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez—the policy for the
region is on the edge of neglect because there are neither records of WMD use nor
operational activities of terrorism targeting the United States.
Keeping a reactive strategy for the next decades can prove to be a mistake. If U.S.
foreign policy does not use the tools of diplomacy to address the causes of uncertainty in the
region, maybe solving eventual crises—directly or indirectly, after they start—can become
more costly and divert important resources badly needed in other “theaters”. Besides that, the
U.S. influence in the region can be challenged by China and European Union (EU) if they
manage to establish strategic partnership as result of successful public diplomacy efforts.
This scenario will probably change if the United States really intends to approach the
negotiations of the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA) in a multilateral way.
Besides Castro and the immigration issues from Central America and Caribbean, the
major sources of uncertainty are related to South America. Countries followed the
“prescriptions” of globalization, issued by intergovernmental (IGO) and nongovernmental
(NGO) organizations with U.S. influence, but the majority of population in South America
have not benefited yet. Each country that experienced military dictatorship returned to
democratic rule in a different pace. Social inequality, poverty and unemployment mixed with
weak institutions favor charismatic leaders who usually blame United States for everything
that goes wrong and provide fertile ground for destabilizing non-state armed groups
(revolutionary guerrillas, organized crime gangs and drug cartels).
In the South American context, United States could gain a lot from working together
with Brazil. Sharing borders with all but two countries in the continent, Brazil is a major
economic power, is historically successful in and committed to negotiated solutions through
international institutions and, since the end of the authoritarian regime, follows a
constitutional principle of regional integration1.
It is not a matter of defending Dependency Theory but economy in its most recent
trend—globalization—is responsible for a great part of the social problems and of the failure
of institutions and governments in Latin America.
In the 1990s, countries of the region followed much of the “Washington
Consensus”—trade liberalization, openness to foreign capital, privatization of state
enterprises, competitive exchange rates and deregulation—but failed to be that assertive
about fiscal discipline and public spending. Although these reforms seemed to improve
macroeconomic marks, poorly coordinated structures and financial crises deteriorated the
initial benefits before people could perceive them. United Nations conducted a poll in 18
countries of the region in order to judge how local populations see the civilian-ruled
democracy. The results showed that almost 55% of all Latin Americans would prefer an
authoritarian regime to a democratic government if authoritarianism could solve countries’
The stability in the region as a whole is apparent. The removal of Ecuadorian
President Lucio Gutierrez can be seen as a sign that general situation did not improved a lot
since, for example, the day President Fernando de la Rúa had no choice but to resign after
violent popular riots and demonstrations in 2000. The leaders of Andean countries are about
to live “the worst of both worlds”: lack of popular support and increasing activity of
destabilizing non-state actors such as the well known Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de
Colombia (FARC - Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which has control of part of
Although restricted to those sectors directly involved with the continent, national
security system (NSS) participants are starting to voice their considerations about the existent
and the potential situations. General Bantz J. Craddock, United States Army, Commander,
United States Southern Command, concluded this way his statement to Senate Armed
Services Committee last March:
“We cannot afford to let Latin America and the Caribbean become a backwater of
violent, inward-looking states that are cut off from the world around them by populist,
authoritarian governments. We must reward and help those governments that are making
difficult, disciplined choices that result in the long-term wellbeing of their people. The
challenges facing Latin America and the Caribbean today are significant to our national
security. We ignore them at our peril.”3
BRAZIL – PART OF THE PROBLEM
Even with strong bureaucratic resistance to reforms and generalized corruption—with
money from drugs business in most of the cases4—among politicians, judges and law
enforcement agencies, a serious risk to democratic institutions is unlikely. The most
organized social movement—Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST -
Landless Workers' Movement)—is responsible for occupation, sometimes with violence, of
farms and public buildings in the cities. The intelligence community, led by Agência
Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN – Brazilian Intelligence Agency), pays close attention to
MST and other similar movements.
In terms of violent actions, the major security threat is posed by organized crime and
its heavily armed groups. Because of the country’s continental dimensions, their destabilizing
potential is concentrated in major cities. Their actions include drugs and arms trafficking,
bank robbery and kidnappings. Because of the great volume of drugs that passes through its
territory on the way to the United States, Brazil has been mentioned in the Annual
Presidential Determinations of the Major Illicit Drug-Producing and Drug-Transit Countries
The porosity of Brazilian borders in the Amazon region allows FARC to use them as
routes for smuggling of arms and drugs. The ties between FARC and the drug lords are very
close. A sinister example of that is the joint venture of recruiting retired soldiers and
corporals of the Brazilian special operations forces6. The relatively new Ministry of
Defense—it was created in 2000—faces the huge challenge of projecting power in such a
vast region and, at same time, attending requests for assistance from other ministries. To
make matters worse, since the end of military rule in 1985, the defense budget has decreased
The most significant security trouble is economic stability. After solving the
hyperinflation problem in 1994, Brazilian financial authorities kept an austere monetary
policy with very high interest rates. This and the privatization process attracted volatile
capitals—known also as “hot money”, funds invested in assets that can be bought and sold
quickly—to the economy but it did not increase domestic savings or investments in
infrastructure. Brazil decided March this year not to renew the credit deal with the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) because macroeconomic indicators show some favorable
conditions for development. However, IMF directors “noted that public debt was still high
and sensitive to global financial conditions”7.
Directly linked to the failure in achieving sustainable growth is the “social apartheid”.
The differences between classes are huge and evident. It is improbable but not impossible
that the combination of very high levels of social inequality and violent crime can be used as
an argument for the rise of populist groups which sell the idea of the “benevolent
Still in the economic field, Brazil is turning out to be a good negotiator in
international trade. En bloc—Mercado Comum do Cone Sul (MERCOSUL - Common
Market of the Southern Cone) and the developing nations’ Group of 20 (G20)8—or alone,
Brazil’s recent “victories” were against U.S. interests to some extent. Last September, for
example, World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against farm subsidies paid by United
States (cotton) and European Union (sugar).
Brazilian government is putting a lot of effort in strengthening the commercial ties
with other developing regions around the world in an attempt to exert some kind of
leadership in trade issues. It is also working on bilateral MERCOSUL-European Union free
trade agreement and taking advantage of fact that China is courting Latin America
diplomatically and economically. The administration of the ports at both ends of the Panama
Canal is done by a Hong Kong company9. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the region last
November and sealed agreements that sum 30 billion dollars in investments in Brazil and
Argentina in the next ten years.
“GOOD NEIGHBOR 21”
According to “backyard” mentality, Latin American countries have no decisive role
in the International Political System (IPS). The United States should not take this for granted
and run the risk of losing their support. On trade, for example, the notion that geographic
proximity between markets is not so important anymore is degenerating to a globalization
cliché but it is being proved true with the growing Chinese and E.U. interest in the continent.
The policy for the region is changing to accommodate to the new world economic
order. At least in theory, the United States sees multilateralism as fundamental to the
negotiations of the FTAA—“a free trade area from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego”10.
But there are things that need to be changed: the tone of U.S. foreign policy and the
way it is perceived by IPS actors.
The reports by Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other groups that
address U.S public diplomacy and strategic communication11 point out the lack of strategic
direction and barely mention Latin America, exception made to the “usual suspects” (Cuba
Domestically, the various actors have little or no interest in other Latin America
issues than immigration, drugs, Cuba, Colombia and, more recently, Venezuela.
Then, it is advisable to launch a cultural offensive on both international and domestic
systems in parallel with the commercial talks that permeate current relations. This was done
successfully in the 30s and 40s of the last century under the “Good Neighbor” policy. It
seems appropriate to study and adapt it to the reality of the new century in some sort of
“Good Neighbor 21” as an alternative to the “backyard” model. As it happened in the period
between Great Depression and World War II, the United States needs regional support to
face challenging times ahead.
Historical precedent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt continued the implementation of the
"Good Neighbor" policy, initiated during his predecessor’s term12, in relation to Latin
America, when the active U.S. intervention of late 1800s and early 1900s gradually gave
place to the search for hemispheric solidarity against external threats. In his inaugural address
on assuming the Presidency for the first time, Roosevelt declared:
“In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good
neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the
rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his
agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”13
In the following years, the U.S. foreign policy for the region was based in active
participation of the President and the Cabinet-level authorities in addressing relevant issues
of the agenda such as trade and defense. Latin American countries welcomed this sense of
importance and became more supportive.
As another characteristic of what would be called later “soft power”, President
Roosevelt, created in August 1940, the Office of the Coordinator of the Inter-American
Affairs (OCIAA) which outpoured U.S. propaganda at Latin America to counteract the
fascist influence. The policy was directed also towards internal audiences in order to close
the gap between the stereotypes and the perception of the reality of Latin America. The
OCIAA produced its own movies14 and sponsored artistic projects about life and people of
the region. As proof of how this period brings good memories there even after sixty years,
the Brazilian cartoon character created by Walt Disney—a parrot called José Carioca—is still
The move from “gunboat” to “good neighbor” policy finally paid off after Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor. Most nations of the region aligned with the cause of the Allies and
made available huge amounts of raw materials needed for U.S. industrial war effort. The
partnership with Brazil provided bases to U.S. Navy anti-submarine campaign in south
Atlantic, facilities needed for the airway to North Africa and troops for the campaign in Italy.
After the war, however, the plans for the region changed to the unilateral containment
of the communism and protection of U.S. interests, many of them bought or acquired in
favorable conditions as result of the partnership principle of “Good Neighbor” policy.
How the United States sees Latin America.
Due to the fact that NSS just cares about the region in very specific subjects, it is
difficult to believe that the other domestic politic system (DPS) actors are going to act
differently. The overall attitude is negative—except the news about odd or exotic situations
that confirm the stereotypes—and cannot be confronted because there are not efforts to
present the positive side.
The Department of Defense focuses on "ungoverned spaces" in Latin America—
Amazon forest and triple border Brazil-Argentina-Paraguay—and how they can be used by
terrorists against the United States. Other concerns made public are the drug trafficking,
political revolutionary movements and their association. In the last years, an old “nemesis”
got a friend: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are the bêtes noires of the continent.
Immigration is other topic discussed by different NSS and DPS actors. There is
always a possibility that terrorist can enter, legally or not, in the United States but the main
issue is economic and affects a lot of constituencies around the country. The message passed
out is well known: illegal immigrants work for less money, pay no taxes and remit billions to
their countries of origin.
Another major concern that is publicized is the role of Latin American countries in
production and trafficking of drugs.
The slow pace of the FTAA negotiations gives time and the benefit of the doubt to the
interest groups make their case about the economic damages to the Congress, the media and
“Good Neighbor 21” opinion-making strategy should explore the advantages in the
long term of having the potential of Latin American on U.S. side instead of spending
resources in the solution of sporadic crises. It is neither difficult nor so expensive job. It was
done before when the DPS actors worked to turn declared enemies of the past into closest
allies. If it is possible to show U.S. audiences that, despite all casualties and resources spent,
Iraqi people are doing a good job and deserve continued help, it does not seem impossible to
present the positive side of Latin America. It is just about fighting the ignorance. Some
points that can be considered are: to learn from the experience of private sector and NGOs, to
celebrate the heritage of millions of U.S. citizens, to honor countries of origin of popular
idols, to stimulate social and cultural exchanges, to publicize Latin American breakthroughs
and to overcome opposition from interest groups.
The creation of a specific agenda is not necessary. In fact, the Department of States’
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs has its origins in the OCIAA.
How Latin America sees the United States.
In a world where cable television (TV) and internet provide real time coverage of the
events, the hegemonic power is under continuous scrutiny.
Latin American audiences watch all that with an extra dose of skepticism because the
region deals directly with U.S. foreign policy since early 19th century. The United States
supported the independence movements around the region and promptly recognized the new
nations but failed to show consistency with the very democratic ideals it lives by and that
inspired those countries. The United States has intervened militarily in tens of occasions,
provided military aid and advice to countries in civil war or unrest and supported, overtly or
not, coups d’état and authoritarian regimes. In other words, mere speeches about spreading
democracy and free trade have no effect on the region’s public.
On economy, the memories about globalization are not the best, which can be
harmful to FTAA implementation. The developed countries, in defense of the interest of their
corporations, pension funds and banks, pushed Latin American countries into the
liberalization part of the “Washington Consensus” with no major concerns about the reforms
needed, profited from that and, when some of these countries bankrupted, criticized local
governments for their structural failure.
The local media compares U.S. foreign policy in different regions and present the
situations where it seems myopic to the public. This was recurring in the coverage of the
buildup to invade Iraq, the invasion, the failure in finding WMD stockpiles, the insurgency
and the consequent changes of rationale for invasion.
This controversial attitude fuels the general notion, used by leaders from different
sides of political spectrum, that U.S. interests are responsible for everything that is not going
well in their countries. The democratically-elected governments of socialist background keep
a very pragmatic and orthodox approach to the relations with the United States but they
follow a light version the “Yanqui, go home” playbook to win public support.
“Good Neighbor 21” should be a coordinated effort of public diplomacy and strategic
communications. Part of this effort seems symbolic but it would be very effective in
captivating the audiences around the continent. Latin Americans are very proud of their
countries and they really appreciate when their representatives seem important in the
“concert of nations”. A simple “photo-op” with two presidents can bring good mood in
bilateral relations. Exchange of visits between senior officials is also very well received. This
kind of events could happen more often in U.S.-Latin America relations, mainly in FTAA
FTAA discussions will be a great opportunity to have the rest of continent but Cuba
on U.S. side. It will be demanding but, if the U.S. negotiators are well prepared, skilled in
dealing with people and knowledgeable about the cultural diversity of their counterparts, the
effort will be worth it.
An important portion of the public opinion is exposed to U.S. entertainment and news
media by cable and internet. United States could stimulate the initiatives of the NGOs, IGOs
and private sector to provide internet access and use it as tool for education and public
affairs. Education reform is something needed in the entire region and the U.S. help can be
remembered by the students when they become voters or, better than that, leaders in their
BRAZIL – PART OF THE SOLUTION
As it happened about seventy years ago, Brazil is the best candidate to test “Good
Neighbor 21”. The difference now is that, if Brazil passes and other countries follow behind,
the bond forged will not be broken so easily.
In the context of international security, all military programs of nuclear research but
the submarine propulsion were canceled. The country is a member of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, Missile Technology Control Regime and Brazilian-Argentine
Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, and signatory of the Non-
Proliferation Treaty and of Treaty of Tlatelolco—which establishes a nuclear weapons-free
zone in Latin America.
The Amazon region is one of the top priorities of the Brazilian government. The
Ministry of Defense determined the Army to deploy units at points of Colombian border in a
focus shift from potential Argentine aggression to drug traffickers and guerillas threat. The
Brazilian Navy patrols the rivers, keeps Marines units in the region and takes part in social
actions. The Air Force has the mandate to enforce the “Lei do abate” (destructive shooting
law) if the aircraft pilot does not obey all the standard interception procedures. The Sistema
de Vigilância da Amazônia (SIVAM – Amazon Surveillance System) is to be commissioned
in 2006. In emergencies such as forest fires, floods and toxic spills, the Armed Forces are the
first representatives of State to reach the scene of action.
Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay formed the 3 + 1 Group on Tri-Border Area Security
“to discuss and analyze preventive actions against terrorism and other transnational
The money from drugs is a very destabilizing factor in Brazil. Anti-drug initiatives
that do not threaten sovereignty will be welcome by Brazilian government.
In terms of population, Brazil is one of the world's largest democracies. It has held
four presidential elections since the end of military rule. In the last two, the votes of the
more than 100 million voters were cast in electronic voting machines.
Coordinate actions of Ministério Público (Federal prosecutors) and Polícia Federal
(Federal Police) against corruption and financial crimes are very popular, more frequent and
In the region, Brazil changed from a historic isolationism in relation to the Spanish-
speaking America to a strong advocacy of South American integration. The foundation of
MERCOSUL and, more recently, of the South American Community of Nations signals the
region’s desire to be stable and democratic. Brazil plays also an important role in
guaranteeing governance. It helped Paraguay (1996) and Argentina (2000), sponsored the
“Friends of Venezuela” initiative (2002) and offered political asylum to Ecuadorian President
(2005) to give an end to institutional crises in these countries.
Economy and trade are areas where the United States is currently willing for a
Brazilian economy shows signs of steady recovery after years of incremental Gross
Domestic Product. Brazil is considered a “superpower” in agriculture, which is a point of
attrition in bilateral relations. Its industry is diversified and creative with increasing
competitiveness. Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (EMBRAER – Brazilian Aeronautics
Company) is one of the best examples of that. It exported training aircrafts to United
Kingdom and France, created the first ethanol-fueled—taking advantage of the abundance of
this fuel in Brazil—series production aircraft in the world and one of its jet aircrafts will be
the airborne platform for Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) program for the U.S. Army.
Besides the products and services that Brazil can offer, the trade negotiators are doing
their part in making the country a global trader. They manage to find in what areas the offer
of one party is complementary to the need of the other. Brazil, alone or with MERCOSUL, is
working on bilateral agreements with other developing countries and blocs—EU, China,
India, South Africa, Chile and Andean Community.
Brazil and the United States are co-chairs of the final phase of the FTAA
negotiations. Taking care to not upset Brazilian neighbors, this can be the best opportunity to
start a real strategic partnership and expand it to the rest of continent. Points of disagreement
such as U.S. farm subsidies and Brazilian intellectual property legislation are controversial
but need to be addressed in a long term perspective and in a multidisciplinary way. The
countries will be open to that if they fight the mutual skepticism. Although timidly, Brazil is
working to prove that it deserves respect as a serious nation. It is U.S. time to prove that it
can be admired again and deserves the leadership role.
The alliances are not real if there is skepticism about U.S. attitude despite the sharing
of the same values. If other urgent issues shift attention from Latin America to the point that
regional allies feel neglected, they will support someone else, not necessarily other U.S. ally.
The United States passed through similar situation in the past and the “Good neighbor”
policy, implemented after much negotiation, created the best environment ever in the
Americas and formed the indispensable alliance that allowed the final victory that time. At
this “globalized” beginning of the 21st century, the United States should do it over—starting
with the South American greatest power, Brazil—rather than keep a reactive posture and
spare itself of unnecessary harm.
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