Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Beacon No. 35: Guests Try to Call the Tune in Brasilia


Brazil has recently tried to raise its profile on the world stage, seeing proposals for an expanded United Nations Security Council as opportunities to finally ascend to the world leadership role Brazilians have craved.

And why not, they might ask: Brazil has an energetic, multicultural population, untapped natural resources, economic dominance of South America, peaceful transfers of power, an endlessly creative music scene whose songs permeate the world, a big middle class and, uniquely in the Southern Hemisphere, a top-notch aerospace industry.

For some reason, though, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva decided the time was right for a summit with a group of countries that have almost none of those things: Cue the international spotlight for the South American-Arab Nations Summit in Brasilia!

This gathering may flop, as Larry Rohter writes in today's Times, because most South American countries want to focus on economic issues, the Arabs seem to have flown all that way just to condemn Israel, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez wants to tweak Uncle Sam's nose:

... The two blocs in attendance ... almost immediately voiced profoundly different priorities. In their opening speeches, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, focused their criticisms on Israel and the United States and called for greater solidarity with the Palestinians.

South American leaders, however, sought to keep the emphasis on economic issues. "Our great challenge is to design a new international economic and commercial geography," the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in remarks inaugurating the event on Tuesday morning. ...

Attendance fell short of Brazil's initial expectations, further depriving the event of some of its luster. While the majority of South America's 12 presidents are participating, only 7 of the 22 Arab nations that were invited are represented by heads of state or government. ...

Behind the scenes, the two blocs struggled to devise a final declaration that would be acceptable to both sides and not damage Brazil's diplomatic aspirations. Diplomats here said the United States and the European Union had expressed concerns to participants at the tone of the draft that the Arab group were pushing with some support from Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, Washington's leading critic in South America.

Oh, Lula! Luckily, Brazil makes some of the world's best espresso, just the thing for getting through those long afternoons when his noble aspirations for Brazil get jammed between President Chavez's prickliness and the need to endure guestly lectures about Zionism.

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