What is José Serra trying to do? In his campaign for president of Brazil he has accused Bolivia of complicity in drug trafficking and criticized Lula for trying to mediate in Washington’s fight with Iran and for refusing (along with the most of the rest of South America) to recognize the government of Honduras, which was “elected” under a dictatorship. For a while he stayed away from joining Washington’s international campaign against Venezuela, but now he and his vice-presidential candidate Indio da Costa have waded into that putrid swamp as well, saying that Venezuela is “sheltering” the FARC (the main guerrilla group fighting the Colombian government).
For the record: Despite a decade of allegations, Washington has yet to publicly present one shred of evidence that the Chávez government actually supports the FARC. The only “evidence” in the public domain comes from laptops and computer equipment allegedly captured by the Colombian military in their raid across the Ecuadorian border in March 2008. Right-wing bloggers such as Reinaldo Azevedo repeat the media myth that Interpol verified the authenticity of these allegedly captured files, but Interpol’s report emphatically says no such thing. All we have is the word of the Colombian military — an organization that has been known to murder hundreds of innocent teenagers and dress them up as guerrillas.
Does Serra really want Brazil to pick fights with all of its neighbors in order to place itself defiantly on the wrong side of history? And this just to become Washington’s biggest right-wing ally? Yes, in case Serra has not noticed, the United States under President Obama, as under Bush, has only right-wing governments as allies in this hemisphere: Canada, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Mexico. There is a reason for that: U.S. policy towards Latin America hasn’t changed under Obama.
Even from a purely Machiavellian point of view — abandoning any idea of helping to make the region or the world a better place — the “Serra Palin” strategy makes little sense. Brazil had good relations with President Bush, and can have good relations with Obama, without surrendering to this kind of disgraceful servitude. Brazil is not El Salvador, a small country whose government is blackmailed by threats to send home hundreds of thousands of migrants residing the United States. And El Salvador has not gone down the road that Serra has chosen.
It is not just in Venezuela and Bolivia that the United States spends tens of millions of dollars to influence politics. In 2005, as Folha de S. Paulo reported, the U.S. funded an effort to change Brazilian law so as to strengthen the opposition to the Workers’ Party. Washington has a big stake in this election, as it seeks to reverse the changes that have made Latin America — formerly the United States’ “backyard” — more independent than it has ever been in its history. José Serra is making that stake bigger every day.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He has written numerous research papers on economic policy, especially on Latin America and international economic policy. He is also co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and president of Just Foreign Policy. This article was published in Portuguese in Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil) on 6 August 2010 and published in English by CEPR under a Creative Commons license. Em Português.