Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s Foreign minister, says that the visit by the American president Barack Obama represents a significant reset in bilateral relations. What Brazil wants, declared the minister, is to be treated as an equal, in a more seamless relationship without confrontations.
“The world is ready for this kind of relationship. Brazil is a solid democracy,” said Patriota, adding that the country, in line with the need to protect the planet and use clean energy, gets 45% of its energy from renewable sources.
He also pointed out that the government is actively engaged in various global issues that have resulted in relations with other countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
“We are engaged with our neighbors and the developing world. There are multiple opportunities for cooperation with the modern Brazil. We seek multi-polar cooperation, not rivalries or conflict,” said the minister.
Patriota declared that there are hopes that Obama will declare support for a reform of the United Nations Security Council and a permanent seat for Brazil. Even so, he admitted that there were other obstacles, including some countries that were opposed to any reform of the council.
A favorable declaration by the US will not make a dramatic difference in the situation, the minister said, as he observed that real reform will require intense negotiations at the UN and a favorable vote by two-thirds of the members of the Security Council (or, as there are fifteen members, the votes of ten nations). However, Patriota emphasized, American support would be significant.
Patriota put the Obama visit in historical perspective pointing out that he was the ninth US president to visit Brazil, but that this moment was certainly the most propitious for Brazil.
“We are in a good phase. Solid economic conditions, a stable political scene and with our international standing high. We are active diplomatically with a truly global reach nowadays,” said the minister.
Cidade de Deus and Christ the Redeemer
White House spokesman, Jan Carney, confirmed that president Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, will visit the Christ the Redeemer (“Cristo Redentor”) statue in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday morning, March 20.
“It is a familiar image that everyone knows and remembers when they think of the city of Rio. It is just one of those must-sees,” said Carney.
The Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio is recognized as the second biggest Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in the world as it stands over 39 meters high (in 2010, a 190-meter high statue was inaugurated in Poland).
The Rio statue, made of concrete and sandstone, was built over a nine-year period and inaugurated in 1931. In 2007, it was voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The Brazilian government recognizes it as a national heritage site.
Later in the morning the Obama family will go to Cidade de Deus, one of Rio’s many hillside slums, which up until two years ago was ruled over by drug lords. However, the local government began a program of literally taking back the slums – initially by force with an invasion of armed police, followed by a permanent stationing of police and government officials in the area (the program is known as UPP – Police Pacification Units).
Cidade de Deus, in Jacarepaguá (“Zona Oeste”) is where a film, “City of God” (“Cidade de Deus”), was made that was nominated for four Oscars in 2003. The US president will be welcomed by the band of a local public high school “Pedro Aleixo,” with a mix of Brazilian and international music (which is being billed as everything from samba to hip hop).
In his autobiography Dreams From My Father, Obama mentions a 1959 film that his mother really liked (“Orfeu Negro”) that was filmed in another Rio slum and it was thought he wanted to go there.
It is reported that trip was not approved for security reasons – the slum is in a hilly area, with very narrow streets. Cidade de Deus is on a kind of plateau with wider streets. Security during the visit will be by US Secret Service and Brazilian Federal and State police.
Initial plans called for a public speech by Obama on Sunday in the center of Rio at a large plaza known as Cinelândia; the official name is Praça Floriano Peixoto, named after the man who lived from 1839 to 1895 and became the second president of Brazil in November 1891 (holding office until 1894). The outdoor speech, it was announced later, would be moved to a safer location indoors.
Peixoto became president after the first president, Deodoro Fonseca, resigned. Both Peixoto and Fonseca were army marshals who participated in the War of the Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay) against Paraguay (1864-70) and led the rebellion that overthrew the monarchy and established a republic in Brazil (1889).
Cinelândia is in the center of the city, surrounded by important buildings, such as the National Library, the Municipal Theater and the Rio de Janeiro City Legislative Assembly (“Câmera dos Vereadores”). It is a kind of Brazilian Hyde Park – a traditional location for political demonstrations and speeches – and Times Square.
The large plaza was originally in front of a convent (“Convento da Ajuda”) built around 1750. At the beginning of the 20th century an urban modernization movement took place in Rio. The convent was demolished (in 1911) and a wide avenue was built (now Rio Branco) along with a series of skyscrapers that all had movie theaters on the ground floor, hence the name, Cinelândia. Of course, most of the cinemas have closed, but the area remains a vibrant and busy area.
In this speech, similar to other public speeches he gave in Berlin (2008) and Cairo (2009), Obama is expected to send a message not only to his listeners in Brazil, but to the world. He will certainly emphasize the fact that Brazil and the United States are large, diverse democracies with shared historical experiences and similar dreams for the future. He will hold the two countries up as positive examples of what democratic government, economic freedom and progressive social policy can achieve.
The speech was scheduled for Sunday afternoon (March 20). One possibility for the cancellation is the matter of security. The fact is that security in Cinelândia has always been an issue (it is a very large open area surrounded on almost all sides by skyscrapers).
Security concerns boiled up again after the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action in Libya. Consulate officials said that the speech would take place but in an undisclosed location indoors. The most probable location would be the Municipal Theater, which is located near Cinelândia.
Agreement on Patents
A pilot cooperation agreement on patents will be signed this weekend during Obama’s visit to Brazil. A “pilot” agreement has limitations: this one will last 12 months or 500 analyses, whichever comes first. Jorge Avila, the president of the Brazilian Institute of Industrial Property (“Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial – Inpi”) explains that if the experiment is successful it will become permanent.
And that will allow Inpi to participate in the Patent Prosecution Highway (a kind of fast track) at the US Office of Patents and Trademarks. The advantage, says Avila, is that it will eliminate overlapping and duplicate work by patent offices in both countries.
“We will be creating an environment where patent registration will be more timely, benefiting Brazilians and Americans. Our patent offices, the Inpi and the USPTO, will be working together in examining patents,” said Avila, adding that there is a large backlog of American patents awaiting approval in Brazil, while, on the other hand, there are many Brazilians who would be happy to have their patents registered in the US.
Avila goes on to explain that both patent offices will remain independent, that is, a patent approved in the US will not be approved automatically in Brazil.
“In practical terms, we will eliminate the need in one patent office to reexamine parts of patent applications that have been denied in the other patent office. That will reduce the workload in both offices by around 10% to 15%,” said Avila.
Patents take an average of 8.3 years to be approved in Brazil. The goal is to cut that time in half by 2015. But reducing the time is not the only objective, says Avila.
“We want to set up similar agreements with Japan and the European Union. Besides reducing the time frame, we will be ensuring a higher level of quality and reliability in our work.”
Last Minute Details
Final details on a series of agreements and memorandums that will be signed during the visit by Obama, on March 19 and 20, were still being worked out earlier this week. People close to the negotiations report that the last-minute rush is normal in such cases.
A Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement, known as TECA, which will create an advanced legal framework for relations, is in an advanced stage. It will reduce trade and investment barriers. Sanitation rules on fruit and meats are being worked out, along with measures to simplify customs and other technical rules.
The agreement will also establish permanent communications channels for dispute resolution. Brazil is very interested in trade as its international commercial relations have undergone a huge transformation.
With the United States there has been an unusual reversal of fortune over the last five years: in 2006, Brazil had a trade surplus with the US of almost US$ 10 billion; last year it had a trade deficit of over US$ 7.7 billion.
At the same time, the Chinese have become the country’s biggest trade partner, importing soy, iron ore and petroleum, while it floods Brazil with manufactured goods. The Brazil-United States trade negotiations do not include changes in import tariffs and surtaxes at this time.
The two countries will also set up partnerships for the 2014 World Soccer Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games based on American experience.
Another agreement is on social security. It will permit Brazilians who work in the US and make social security payments to use those payments towards receiving benefits in Brazil if they decide to return to Brazil.
It is estimated there are between 500,000 and a million Brazilians who could take advantage of this agreement. Obama’s day in Brasilia (Saturday, March 19), will be divided into four parts: in the morning at the Palácio do Planalto, lunch at Itamaraty (Foreign Ministry), an afternoon meeting with business leaders, and in the evening an intimate dinner with president Dilma Rousseff.