- - Monday, June 29, 2015

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Two years after she canceled a state visit to Washington in a pique over revelations of U.S. spying on her office, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff no doubt will be glad to visit President Obama at the White House this week — if only to escape her mounting problems back home.

In a rare second chance to make a first impression, Ms. Rousseff’s belated U.S. tour marks her government’s attempt to overcome the National Security Agency snooping scandal and put an end to the leftist leader’s resistance to improving relations between the hemisphere’s two most populous countries. She also is making the trip as the world’s seventh-largest economy is falling into recession, struggling to balance its national budget and desperately seeking foreign investment.

In her quest for foreign capital, Ms. Rousseff will hold six events with business leaders in New York City, Washington and San Francisco, and will visit Google’s headquarters and a NASA research center. Her discussions at the White House on Tuesday will be complemented by a pitch by her delegation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Even if the Brazilian president is able to persuade American investors to inject more money into Brazil’s manufacturing and infrastructure sectors, she will be hard-pressed to raise her country to the level of economic success and diplomatic visibility of China and India.

Among American and Brazilian analysts, there is a consensus that no substantial agreements will be reached during Ms. Rousseff’s visit. But her meeting with Mr. Obama will underline the desire for the “normalization” of bilateral relations, said Celso Lafer, a former Brazilian foreign minister. “With this visit, Ms. Rousseff is making an investment in her own credibility at home and taking a step toward a better Brazil-U.S. relationship,” he said.

“Trust is the most important issue in bilateral relationships,” former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said in an interview. “All the efforts in order to rebuild the trust must be reciprocal. If the U.S. invited [Ms. Rousseff] for a visit, the U.S. is willing to rebuild what it had started to destroy.”

During a call Thursday to Ms. Rousseff, Vice President Joseph R. Biden stressed that this invitation reflected “the U.S. administration commitment to realize the enormous potential of the Brazil-U.S. partnership.”

Brazil’s troubled domestic landscape has compelled Ms. Rousseff to swallow her pride after she unsuccessfully sought a U.S. apology for the NSA spying on herself and the national oil company, Petrobras. She also demanded a commitment from the White House to never snoop on Brazil again. Ms. Rousseff met in April with Mr. Obama in Panama, and both announced her visit to the U.S.

Mr. Obama did not apologize to Brazil or give a blanket promise that the U.S. wouldn’t spy again. The solution came with nuanced words, even if they were not totally credible. “When [Mr. Obama] wants to know something, he will call me,” Ms. Rousseff told journalists in Panama.

She will not be received in Washington for an official state visit, having lost that opportunity two years ago. Instead, she will be a guest at Blair House and will have dinner with Mr. Obama at the White House. On Tuesday, the two leaders will hold official talks in the Oval Office, followed by joint statements to the press. Mr. Biden will host a lunch for her at the State Department with about 200 guests.

Policies and mandates

Ambassador Jose Botafogo Goncalves, former Brazilian trade and industry minister, said Ms. Rousseff took a step in the right direction by accepting the U.S. invitation. “She is changing her domestic and foreign policies in order to keep her mandate,” Mr. Botafogo said in an interview.

Despite narrowly winning a second four-year term last fall, Ms. Rousseff is facing challenges at home that are reflected in her 65 percent disapproval rating, according to the Datafolha Institute. It’s the highest disapproval rating for a Brazilian president since 1992, when President Fernando Collor de Mello was about to be impeached.

Brazilians are blaming the government for adopting the wrong economic policies during her first term, which resulted in deep deficits, high inflation rates and recession. Amid a severe fiscal adjustment, the Brazilian economy is expected to contract by about 1.3 percent this year, and its business sector is not expecting much improvement for 2016.

Ms. Rousseff also is being challenging by a corruption scandal involving the massive state oil company Petrobras, judged by many to be the worst in the country’s history.

The investigation is every day moving closer to Ms. Rousseff’s political godfather, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In recent months, she has become a frequent target of booing at public events, and huge popular demonstrations have called for her impeachment.

Hoping once to centralize power in Brasilia, she was forced to delegate the leadership of her administration’s economic and political agendas. Now, she is turning to foreign policy, previously a weakness, as a way to boost her image and keep distance from Brazil’s troubles.

Peter Hakim, honorary president of the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue, said Ms. Rousseff and her government are clearly looking for U.S. support and aid for a rebound. But he said no one should consider Ms. Rousseff’s visit to Washington to be the unveiling of a “new strategic partnership” or the “restoration of the bilateral relationship.”

“In order to have better relations with Washington, Brazil must be more creative, expose new ideas of cooperation and recognize that the U.S. can have an important role in Latin America,” Mr. Hakim said.

No major agreements are expected during Ms. Rousseff’s visit, despite expectations on both sides that the $100 billion in trade can double in 10 years. Brazil is still tied to Mercosur trading bloc and is not ready for free trade talks with the U.S., and the Obama administration has concentrated nearly all its trade efforts on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does not include Brazil.

Cuba and Venezuela may loom as the two biggest reasons for the Obama administration to invest in better relations with Brazil, and developments in those countries will figure heavily in Ms. Rousseff’s talks in Washington. The Brazilian president has good ties with Havana and Caracas, having closed her eyes to their violations of human rights and democratic principles. As the Obama administration tries to forge a new relationship with Cuba, Brazil can be useful, analysts said.

“We very much believe that fundamental to any long-term approach of the United States towards the hemisphere is the U.S.-Brazil relationship,” Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.

“This has to be a cornerstone of how we engage in the region, both because of the enormous potential in the bilateral relationship and because when Brazil and the U.S. are working well together, it allows the countries of the Americas to work better together.”

As for Brazil’s relatively low profile in U.S. political and strategic debates, one Brazilian diplomat remarked, “Both countries can have their different circumstances, but the U.S. cannot pretend that Brazil doesn’t exist.”

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