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U.S.-Brazil Summit: More Alliance Than Ethanol

Filed under: Latin America

This weekend, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will camp out with George Bush near Washington, at Camp David. It's the first time ever that a Brazilian leader has been accorded such important relations with the U.S., or merited the honor of an overnight stay at Camp David. It heralds the growing warm ties between the U.S. and Brazil's leaders.

The U.S. and Brazil have never been enemies - in fact, never had anything but minor disagreements, but on the other hand, we have never been close. But it's logical that we should be. We are the dominant powers on our respective continents we share one hemisphere with. We are multiracial nations that are proud of it, founded on the idea of freedom, not bloodlines. We are both democracies, we both fight the stain of slavery, yet we both have rich diverse cultures in the wake. We also have spectacular ecologies, each of our nations its own trip around the world within one border, so big they're impossible to see completely. Our nations are both known for their innovation, and each of our nations leads the world in certain kinds of technology - both love cars and airplanes - and both love the future. It's natural that we should be close allies and in the jet age, that our citizens visit each other's countries all the time. But we are not that close.

Economic inequality and the Cold War have something to do with that - Brazil has not been nearly as successful as its northern neighbor; in fact, it has many poor people. It also has a recent legacy of military despotism from the 1970s. Washington tolerated it, because Brazil was a counterbalance against the Soviet Union, but the longterm effect of this focus on a single issue has been to leave a lingering legacy of resentment, because living under a tyrant - who cleverly kept opposition from Washington off by not aligning with the Soviet Union - is still living under a tyrant. But we are hardly responsible at the root for that, and to be honest, much of the public resentment in Brazil on such grounds is just garden-variety jealousy. But as Brazil's economy grows - and Goldman Sachs did a recent study finding that Brazil's economy was way bigger than anyone realized - there is less resentment and insularity - and more interest in friendship with and working with the U.S., because increasingly, we have more and more in common - mutual admiration not the least of it.

In America, we need friends like Brazil.

So this is a sweet moment. Bush and Lula, two men from very different political parties - Bush flaming right and Lula flaming left - have paired up for the common good. Where the hell elsewhere do we see such amity in the world, such putting aside of political differences, all because both sides agree on the exact same goal of opportunity and prosperity for all people? Both men hate poverty and are willing to use the most modern tools and experiences of economics to get rid of it. It's a thing of beauty.

Our very natural commonality and our natural alliance is taking its first step in the great ethanol accord that Brazil and the U.S. are signing. We will cooperate with each other to create an ethanol market for the benefit of not only ourselves, but the battered little nations in Central America and the Caribbean which have no choice but to rely on Venezuela for oil.

Oh yes. That's a factor. Brazil and the U.S. see it happening and they don't like it. Hugo Chavez doesn't just hate us, he hates everyone who does the same things we all do to get prosperous. He's screamed at the U.S. publicly, but he's imposed his will on Brazil, stealing its gas wells in Bolivia, and forcing its state oil company, Petrobras, into new worker collectives with his own state oil company in violation of contracts. No one in Brazil likes this and they also don't like him walking into Brazil's big trade alliance, Mercosur, and trying to take over. Brazil has plenty of reasons to be wary of Chavez and to use its growing might to check his economic power. It's not their style to do it in open confrontation, but they will not let this pass.

So, together, Brazil and the U.S. will do a project together. We will use our already developed talents to help the Central Americans and Caribbeans develop their own sugar-cane and corn-producing capacity so that they too can be self-sufficient to some extent in energy and no longer will be bullied and kicked around by a Venezuelan caudillo who demands absolute fealty.

The implications of this will be amazing. Huge Brazil and huge America are united in a common purpose to halt the rising and arrogant power of Hugo Chavez, whose oil fueled earnings are being used to intimidate other nations. Now Hugo is encircled by two big clouds, Brazil to his south and the U.S. to his north, both of whom are determined to develop their ethanol industries to reduce Chavez's monopoly on energy. Ethanol is not a cure-all and won't replace oil as an energy source, but it will widen the pool of available energies, and that's important because right now, China's and India's rises have narrowed the margin of excess, making every drop that Chavez produces a critical one because there isn't any extra. Hence. Chavez's monopoly and power.

Already Hugo Chavez grasps the significance of this alliance. He's screaming about it. He's going off like a banshee and now Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has chimed in, denouncing the U.S. for growing corn-based ethanol because he claims it will create starvation. I suppose he should know - he's destroyed his own sugar industry and left Cubans hungry. But more signifiantly, he sees resources as finite and thinks feeding our cars with ethanol is no different from taking food out of poor people's mouths. He doesn't understand the economic concept of the expanding pie at all. But he does see the geopolitical picture and right now he knows that if the U.S. and Brazil can reduce dependence overall on oil consumption, it's very bad news for his boy-wonder and money patron, Hugo Chavez, whose spread of his own revolution is Castro's long-held dream.

It's amazing how this is working. It shows that Bush and Lula are far cleverer than Hugo Chavez who is no idiot on the wiliness front himself. Through ethanol and more importantly an alliance, Bush and Lula are reducing the significance of Hugo Chavez. They are making him smaller as they grow bigger through genuine economic production, not artificially high oil prices derived from shortages. This move has got to be one of the most brilliant of both men's careers. They are on the same page and together they are moving forward.

Leaving Chavez in the dust.

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