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Biden invites Brazil's leader to pay a high-profile visit

May 31, 2013|By Vincent Bevins
  • Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia on Friday to meet with Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer.
Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia on… (Beto Barata / AFP/Getty…)

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Vice President Joe Biden praised Brazil as a rising power and extended an invitation to better relations with the U.S. during a three-day visit that ended Friday.

“We’re ready for a deeper, broader relationship across the board on everything from the military to education, trade and investment,” Biden said after meeting Friday morning with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, the capital.

The most significant announcement made, analysts said, was that Rousseff will be welcomed at the White House on Oct. 23, for the first official state visit of President Obama’s second term.

Brazil has long craved the recognition that such a visit would confer, with the state dinner offering fresh evidence that relations between the two nations have improved under Rousseff compared with her predecessor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, says Peter Hakim, president emeritus at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

“That has definite symbolic value,” Hakim said. “And there is extra gloss on the state dinner since it’s the only one that will be hosted this year.”

But Biden’s visit to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia was not marked by the announcement of any deals that would advance trade or economic ties. Instead, he praised Brazil’s development and its progress combating poverty over the last 15 years.

“You have demonstrated to the world that there need not be a false choice between development and democracy," Biden said. "You see in Egypt, in Venezuela, in Bahrain, across the world, that debate and dilemma taking place. That’s the magic of what you did.”

Rousseff took office in 2011 and has kept a lower profile than her predecessor, refraining from taking positions that often ruffled feathers in Washington, as Lula sometimes did, notably on Iran. And though Brazil disagrees with the U.S. on a number of foreign policy issues – maintaining friendly relations with Venezuela and Cuba and opposing American military interventions, for example – the Obama administration has signaled it wants closer relations with the large Western democracy.

Biden visited Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, touring a slum, speaking on shared energy goals and acknowledging that many  Brazilians may be skeptical about the role of the U.S. in Brazil. The United States backed a coup in 1964, and the subsequent military dictatorship killed hundreds of Brazilians and tortured dissidents, including a young Dilma Rousseff.

“Look, I know many in Brazil -- for many in Brazil, the United States doesn’t start with a clean slate,” he said. “That skepticism still exists and it’s understandable. But the world has changed. We're moving past old alignments, leaving behind old suspicions and building new relationships.”

Biden also called for a sharp rise in trade between the two countries, saying they should increase annual flows from $100 billion to $500 billion a year.

“That just shows how little Biden knows about how much Brazil trades,” said Hakim. Brazil’s total trade to all countries in the world in 2012 did not reach $500 billion.

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