Perhaps the biggest foreign-policy story of the past decade, thoroughly overlooked by the American media after 9/11 and its subsequent monomaniacal focus on terrorism, security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the fact that Latin America has essentially moved away from Washington’s influence.
This quiet revolution from below, in rejecting the Monroe Doctrine, first enunciated in 1823 whereby the U.S. essentially barred European powers from influence in Latin America, has essentially for nearly 200 years served as an ideological platform for countless U.S. interventions south of the border but has yet to register on the radar the politicians in Washington.
From Ecuador to Paraguay, Venezuela to Brazil, governments increasingly composed of representatives of the indigenous people, are more and more rebuffing Washington’s advice as they seek to determine their countries’ futures without undue interference from their giant North American neighbor.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Brazil, which after suffering decades of corrupt government and intermittent military dictatorship in 2003 elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president, who’s adroit and progressive policies until he relinquished the proposed last year have laid the foundations for the dramatic rise of Brazil’s economy.
President Lula focused on social equality and improving the lot of the nation’s poor, and that and other policies such as reining in the rampant inflation that ravaged the country when he took office, saw him leave the presidency with an approval rating of 80 percent, a political achievement unmatched in any other country.
Lula put Brazil’s economic interests first and foremost, and spoke his mind prior to a G20 summit in March 2009, when in Brasilia, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown squirming uncomfortably beside him, he addressed the issue of the global recession which had begun the previous year by telling reporters, “This crisis was caused by no black man or woman or by no indigenous person or by no poor person. This crisis was fostered and boosted by irrational behavior of some people that are white, blue-eyed. Before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, and they have demonstrated they know nothing about economics.” Challenged about his claims, Lula responded: “I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker.”
Indirectly addressing the West’s and in particular the United States’ obsession with security against terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Lula continued, “We do not have the right to allow this crisis to continue for long. We are determined to make sure the world financial system is vigorously regulated. You go to a shopping mall and you are filmed. You go to the airport and you are watched. I can’t imagine that only the financial system has no surveillance at all.”
Last July while visiting Zambia Lula noted, “We had a debt of $30 billion to the International Monetary Fund but when I took office, we repaid the IMF and we don’t owe anymore to the IMF. On the contrary, the IMF owes us $14 billion. We have $250 billion in our currency reserves.”
Now the crown jewel in Brazil’s economy, the government-managed Petrobras energy company is to build on Lula’s sound fiscal foundation and stated that it intends to double its output within the next four years. Furthermore, echoing Lula’s reluctance to rely on foreign financial funding, Petrobras said that its plan to more than double oil output will boost the company’s cash flow and eliminate the need to tap debt markets in less than a decade, as profits from oil sales will be enough to cover both operating and debt costs, according to Petrobras Chief Financial Officer Almir Barbassa.
Earlier this week Petrobras announced its plans to invest $224.7 billion in increasing production through 2015, more than any other major oil producer in the world, as it develops some of the world’s largest discoveries in three decades outside of the Caspian basin.
Barbassa said modestly, “Cash flow will be enough to pay debt amortizations and the investments we will have. Few companies in the world can say this.”
A government focused both on social reform and prudent economic policy while the country’s largest company purchases a policy of minimizing foreign borrowing through a pay-as-you-go policy – what radical concepts.
It would seem that the future of Petrobras is quite bright, and if Washington bothers to listen to its rising southern economic superpower hemispheric neighbor it might even learn a few things about fiscal accountability, if the Republicans in Congress can be momentarily dissuaded from their efforts to drive America’s international credit ratings over a cliff.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com