Lula could certainly be an effective good will ambassador, enhancing Brazil's international profile. Yet, from the perspective of public relations and branding, a Rousseff administration should do much more than simply export Brazil's stable political-economic model while advocating international peace. Fundamentally, Brazil needs a makeover and a cause that will electrify the imagination. Judging from the result of the first presidential round, one issue that could set Brazil apart is the environment.
Exceeding most everyone's expectations, Marina Silva garnered 19% of the vote. Perhaps, one might expect such a performance in certain European countries but in Latin America such a tally is unheard of. The result suggests that many Brazilians may want something more for their country than simple market-friendly policies and carte blanche support for Brazilian agribusiness and the corporate sector. Silva has done particularly well with intellectuals, academics and bohemian types. Yet she also picked up support with women and Brazil's new urban middle class, the latter comprising approximately 36% of the electorate.
In this sense, what happened in Brazil echoes the recent political earthquake which shook Colombia. Just a few months ago, Antanas Mockus of the Colombian Green Party received more than 27% of the vote in his own nation's presidential election. Like Silva, Mockus drew much of his support from the urban middle class. Though he lost against his conservative challenger, Mockus' performance demonstrates that environmental politics is picking up steam in Latin America. If Mockus and Silva can broaden their base of support beyond the cities, then green politics could take off even more. In the long run, perhaps green parties may breathe fresh air into the region's leftist Pink Tide which is surely in need of renovation and new ideas.
Though Rousseff's eventual victory will cheer Brazil's social movements and probably provide a sense of relief in Caracas, La Paz and Quito, her assumption of power may have negative consequences for the environment. Rousseff formerly served as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at Petrobras, Brazil's state oil company, and also worked as Lula's Minister of Energy. Yet, perhaps in the wake of the first round of the presidential election, the Workers' Party candidate will come to her senses and recognize the central importance of environmental politics.
If she is wise, she will try to court Silva and Brazil's new green constituency in the run up to the next round and even beyond. Fundamentally, the Workers' Party candidate should improve upon Lula's very mixed environmental record. While the outgoing president has put forth some positive environmental initiatives, he has caved in far too often to the cattle industry, agribusiness and sugarcane ethanol which together exert pressure on the Amazon. Indeed, it was Lula's own corporate bent which led Marina Silva to quit her job as Environment Minister and join the Green Party in the first place. Brazil's booming PR sector, including CDN, SECOM and Fleishman are working overtime to build up the South American nation's green image, yet such efforts have been severely undermined by Lula himself.
Take, for instance, the president's handling of the Belo Monte hydro electric dam affair. A dangerous boondoggle, the project stands to flood indigenous areas in the Amazon and increase methane emissions. To his credit, Hollywood director James Cameron traveled personally to the Amazon, took up the cause of indigenous peoples fighting Belo Monte, and wrote personally to Lula, urging the president to block the project. In a sense, Belo Monte was Lula's teachable "Gulf of Mexico moment." Like Obama, who might have taken advantage of the BP oil disaster to advance an ambitious environmental agenda, so too did Lula have a historic opportunity to change course over Belo Monte. Lula might have said, "in light of severe environmental concerns over hydro power, I am going to support a moratorium on further dam construction and have Brazil pursue other, alternative energy strategies."
While such a strategy would have surely upset influential lobbies in Brazil including the hydropower industry, agribusiness and construction, Lula might have recruited powerful international allies by taking such a courageous stand. What's more, if Lula had met personally with Cameron, Hollywood's highest grossing director, the Brazilian leader might have raised his environmental profile. It is easy to imagine how other celebrities and singers would have followed Cameron's lead, eagerly flying to Brazil to meet with the president. Moreover, by opposing Belo Monte, Lula would have been in a more advantageous moral position to make demands of the Global North. "Brazil has done its part in the Amazon, now it is time for the developed countries to speed up clean energy transfer," Lula might have said.
Unfortunately Lula took no such action, preferring instead to back Belo Monte. In a reference perhaps to Cameron, Lula declared that Brazil did not need advice from pesky foreigners. "No one is more worried about protecting Amazônia and the Indians than we are," he said. When I met Brazilian Environment Minister Isabella Teixeira at Fleishman's midtown Manhattan offices, I asked her whether Lula had read Cameron's letter. Turning the tables, Teixeira declared that the director should spend more time pressuring the United States to observe the Kyoto Protocol.
Lula and his team have done much to advance Brazil socially, economically and politically and for this they deserve some credit. Yet, ask most anyone what Brazil stands for internationally and they are bound to shrug their shoulders. Perhaps, in the wake of the recent election, the post-Lula generation will seek to make Brazil a world class leader on the environment. You never know: as a motto and branding strategy "Rainforest Republic" might catch on internationally.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America's Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010) and Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). Visit his website, www.nikolaskozloff.com