The State Department's top official on relations with the Western Hemisphere portrays U.S. relations with Latin America's most populous country—Brazil—as strong, and he credits the ties between President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as one reason for it.
"It's for real," says Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, speaking of "respect and comfortableness" between the two leaders. Shannon says the two "communicate in as clear and direct fashion as possible." Adds Shannon, "Both leaders have a very clear understanding of [what is] at stake in the relationship."
Numerous foreign policy commentators have expressed surprise that Bush would take such a liking to a left-leaning, career labor leader in the person of Lula. But their friendship has "reduced suspicions that might have existed...[and] overcome that wariness and replaced it with a certain confidence that we can actually get things done," says Shannon.
The Brazil-U.S. agenda includes cooperating on biofuels, fighting malaria and promoting democracy in Africa, stabilizing Haiti, and strengthening economic relations, he says. Shannon puts Brazil's democracy and international outlook in a positive light and draws a sharp contrast with the situation in Venezuela, led by the frequently anti-U.S. leftist President Hugo Chavez. "Brazil has an understanding of its place in the world...that is very modern and runs very close to our own," he says.
In contrast, Shannon says, Venezuela "harkens back to another era." Though some U.S. officials are known to consider Brazil a de facto counterweight to Chavez's Venezuela, Shannon doesn't describe it as such and says it was not a term he would use. "We've never understood Brazil in terms of Chavez," Shannon says.
He calls Brazil a regional stabilizing force. Shannon also says that under Bush, "there is a focus on big partners" such as Brazil in Latin America. He adds that the big-partner focus reflected the orientation of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "She's really a great-power thinker."