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February 18, 2009
Brazil’s expansion tests smaller South American neighbors

The Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border has been a source of tension between the two countries.

In November, the Worldfocus signature series on “Brazil Today” explored Brazil’s emerging power, touching on growth of the oil industry and the state-controlled company Petrobras: Brazil emerges as an oil giant.

But Brazil’s rise has not been entirely smooth, and the country has had run-ins with its South American neighbors. Bolivia and Petrobras have had disputes over gas exports. There have also been land disputes between Paraguayans and Brazilians, during which peasant farmers burned the Brazilian flag.

Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina. He writes at “Upside Down World” about Brazil’s emerging power and its impact on smaller neighboring countries.

Is Brazil creating its own “backyard” in Latin America?

In past months a number of conflicts have occurred between the emerging global power of Brazil and its smaller neighbors, in particular Ecuador and Paraguay. This has led Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government to defend Brazil’s multinationals and to mobilize troops to protect the nation’s interests.

The power vacuum left by waning U.S. influence in South America has been filled by new global world powers as well as a local power with the ambition of becoming a global player . As recent as the 1990s it was European capital—Spanish and French—that was most dynamic in South America, buying up privatized state-owned enterprises. More recently, China has tried to move into the economic void, importing oil and gas and investing in mining.

For some time Brazil has set out to expand its influence using the South American region as its springboard, a fact that has been the subject of various analyses and studies. However, lately this expansionist policy has generated serious conflicts such as that between Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Lula da Silva. In some of these disputes Brazil has deployed troops to reinforce its national interests, as happened recently on the Paraguayan border.

It is possible that the growing resentment toward Brazilian companies is the price to be paid for Brazil’s commercial and economic expansion. Recently Brazilians began hearing complaints about the country’s “imperialism.” In 2004, Brazil’s Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) began to experience spectacular growth. That year Brazilian companies invested US$10 billion dollars abroad, as compared with just $250 million the year before. By 2005, the sum total of Brazilian FDI reached $71 billion, as compared with Mexico’s $28 billion (Mexico is Latin America’s second largest FDI investor). A significant proportion of this recent business expansion is taking place in countries that border on Brazil.

[…]On Oct. 2, Lula enacted Decree 6.952, which regulates the National Mobilization System dedicated to confronting “foreign aggression.” The decree defines “foreign aggression” as “threats or injurious acts that harm national sovereignty, territorial integrity, the Brazilian people, or national institutions, even when they do not constitute an invasion of national territory.”

An editorial column of Defesanet states that the approval of the decree constitutes a clear message to neighboring countries: “Any act of aggression or persecution of Brazilian citizens residing in Paraguay (brasiguayos), in the Pando region of Bolivia, as well as new threats to cut gas lines and take over Brazilian installations and companies operating in other countries are now characterized as external aggressions and a military response from Brazil will be legally sanctioned.”

The issue transcends the Lula government. It is basically the affirmation of an emerging power that its borders extend to wherever its national interests are. All great powers were built up in this way, with an attitude that has always been known as “imperialism.” Maybe that’s why many South Americans feel that Brazil is creating its own “backyard.”

To read more, see the original post.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user World Resources Institute under a Creative Commons license.

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