SOUTH AMERICA'S 800-POUND GORILLA FLEXES ITS MUSCLE IN ... TEGUCIGALPA?
On the whole, Brazil has kept a pretty low profile on the international stage in the past few years, letting Venezuela's President Chavez bang his shoe on the table of the Americas. Brazil has seemed content to let Chavez preen and posture, especially in the case of the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Chavez has wanted Zelaya, a fellow constitutionally elected rabble-rouser, returned to power, presumably so that he can count another leftist-turned-autocrat in his corner. The Obama administration has straight-facedly insisted it also wants Zelaya back in power, remembering the soft-power carnage wrought by the Bush administration's quick embrace of a coup that briefly ejected Chavez in 2002.
Now, after being repeatedly denied reentry to Honduras, Zelaya has popped up at Brazil's embassy in the Honduran capital, causing near-apoplexy in the de facto Micheletti government.
Brazil has already protested Honduran security forces' actions against its mission--but the question remains: Why would Brazil take the dramatic step of using its embassy as Zelaya's staging ground in the first place?
(Readers who served at State in the 1960s and '70s can stop laughing at the idea of Brazil, then perennially under military dictatorship, upholding any constitution. Stop it. Right now.)
I'm tempted to say the answer is profile, profile, profile.
Brazil, South America's biggest country and largest economy, has surely chafed at Chavez's hijinks--particularly since President da Silva is also mildly lefty but has tried to run his country somewhere besides into the ground. Brazil has called for a prompt meeting of the UN Security Council to consider the Honduran crisis. And Brasilia has the political capital and all-around muscle to weather a lengthy disruption to its diplomatic activities in Honduras.
In short, Brazil takes a welcome turn on the side of law and order; asserts regional leadership while stealing Hugo Chavez's spotlight; gets to make that dramatic call to the UN; and is now owed a favor by the Obama administration which, despite efforts to broker a deal in Honduras, has been unable to pull it off.
Maybe there's some quid pro quo on Brazilian ethanol in our future. ...