Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim setting the tune for “Musical Chairs” at Itamaraty

This posting is a guest contribution by Dr. David Fleischer, Emeritus professor of Political Science at the University of Brasília, and editor of Brazil Focus – a weekly political risk newsletter

In early October 2009, Itamaraty (the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations) is operating a round of “musical chairs” with a rotation of its top three posts – Secretary-General (number two), and the ambassadors to Argentina and the US. 

 This “rotation” was provoked by the retirement of Amb. Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães as Secretary-General in mid-October as he reaches the mandatory retirement age (70).  Apparently, Amb. Guimarães will be appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs, replacing Prof. Roberto Mangabeira Unger who left this position in June 2009 to reassume his duties at the Harvard Law School after two years leave of absence. 

 Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães is considered the “principal ideologue” at Itamaraty and responsible for installing a rigorous Left ideological “line” since 2003 with stronger emphasis on South-South relations and with an ongoing dialogue with what Pres. Bush called the “axis of evil” – Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.  Thus, given his interest in the world of conceptual ideas, the Strategic Affairs position is thought to be appropriate.

Reportedly, Brazil’s current Ambassador in Washington Antônio Patriota would be transferred to Brasília to replace Amb. Guimarães as number two under Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.  Amb. Patriota replaced veteran diplomat, Amb. Roberto Abdenur (then age 64) in November 2006.  This appointment reflected the tone that has come to mark the Itamaraty during President Lula’s administration: Fairly inexperienced diplomats who have close links to the institution’s top echelon are named to the most important embassies while veteran ambassadors – who might voice disagreement with the ministry’s policies – suffer various degrees of ostracism. This was the case with Ambassador Abdenur. He was transferred back to Brasília on a 48-hour notice on justifications that his posture was incongruent with Brazil’s foreign policy “line”.  He had “spoken out of turn” regarding Brazil’s enhanced trade relations with China, anticipating possible dumping of Chinese exports (that occurred in 2007-2008 and forced Brazil to impose “quotas” Chinese textile, clothing and shoe exports).

 This was a case of “what goes around comes around.” Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães was himself ostracized during the second government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.  He was the Director of IPRI (International Relations Research Institute) and attacked the FTAA in successive public speeches.  He was removed from the IPRI position and not assigned to another post.

 Roberto Abdenur had served as Brazil’s ambassador in Berlin, Peking, Vienna and Quito, and was replaced by Antônio Patriota (then age 52), a career diplomat who had never before received an assignment as ambassador.  A few months previous, another “junior diplomat” (with no previous experience as ambassador) – Mauro Vieira – was appointed Brazil’s ambassador in Buenos Aires.  Amb. Patriota had previously worked under Amorim at the UN and in Geneva (WTO), and in 2006 was the under-secretary for political affairs at Itamaraty.

To complete this October 2009 “rotation”, reportedly Mauro Vieira is to be transferred from Buenos Aires to Washington, and Ruy Nogueira, the current under-secretary for Trade Promotion (also closely linked to Amorim) was to be Brazil’s new ambassador to Argentina.  However, Ruy Nogueira declined Amorim’s invitation and instead Ênio Cordeiro, the current sub-Secretary-General (number two under Guimarães) was chosen.

 In a missed opportunity, a fourth senior diplomat who was also under consideration in this “rotation” was passed over. Vera Machado the former Brazilian ambassador to India and the Vatican would have been the first woman to represent Brazil in Washington or Buenos Aires.

 Finally, in late September, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim switched his party affiliation from the PMDB to the PT.  This fanned speculations that he might run for office in the October 2010 elections.  If so, he would have to “step down” [resign his post] in early April 2010, and President Lula would have to choose a new foreign minister.  The second “locus” of Brazilian foreign policy is with the Foreign Affairs Advisor within the presidential office – Professor Marco Aurélio Garcia – who as long-time PT’s national coordinator for international relations has a close relationship with President Lula.  Professor Garcia is expected to remain at Lula’s side until January 1, 2011 even if Celso Amorim “steps down” in April 2010.  Marco Aurélio Garcia has been chosen to elaborate the campaign program of PT pre-candidate for president in 2010 – Dilma Rousseff.

 Thus, there are no concrete indications that this “musical chairs” rotation will produce any major changes in Brazil’s foreign policy posture – bilateral relations with the US and Argentina, or in multi-lateral forums such as the UN, the OAS, the WTO, the G-20, or Global Climate Change.

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