Obama and Family in Brazil: Lots of Ceremony, Little Else

Obama and RousseffWith American president Barack Obama and his family aboard, Air Force One touched down at exactly 7:31 this morning in Brasília. Obama and his committee (estimated to be a total of one thousand) will spend the day in the capital of Brazil and leave for Rio de Janeiro this evening around 6:30 pm.

Sunday the president will be in Rio, with a very busy schedule, then goes on to Chile (Monday) and El Salvador on his first swing around Latin America since taking office.

At 10:27, the US president stepped out of his car in front of the Palácio do Planalto, Brazil’s White House. He passed the presidential guard in review, the American flag was raised, and then he walked up the ramp to shake hands with president Dilma Rousseff and Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.  National anthems were played, there was a 21-gun salute.

A group of 20 young students from a public school waved flags of Brazil and the United States. Security arrangements placed the public at a distance of some 300 meters (across the mall near the Supreme Court, on the other side of the Congress building).

While the president was reviewing the troops, Michelle Obama entered the palace through a side door and was also waiting for Obama at the top of the ramp beside Dilma and Patriota. After the greeting ceremonies and visiting an exposition of paintings by Brazilian women, Michelle left for events that are part of her own separate schedule in Brasilia.

Meanwhile, Dilma and Obama got down to work with a private meeting, followed by another wider meeting with ministers and aides. These meetings should decide the fate of various agreements, treaties and memorandums the two governments are negotiating.

Dilma and Obama should make joint statements. The presidents will then go to the Itamaraty Palace (Foreign Ministry) for a series of events with business leaders and lunch.

At the Foreign Ministry (Palácio do Itamaraty), Dilma and Obama will participate in the closing of a meeting of Brazilian and American CEOs. There will be lunch for 150 guests. Following the lunch, Obama will speak at a summit of the Brazil-United States Business Forum. It is expected that the US president will focus on bilateral trade and international commerce in general (Brazil is now running a trade deficit with the US).

Presents at Arrival

The first image was that of a smiling president of the United States, waving as he rapidly descended from Air Force One at 7:45 am this morning at the Brasília airport. Beside him, his oldest daughter, Malia, 10, followed by his wife, Michelle, and the youngest daughter, Sasha, 7.

Bringing up the rear, Obama’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. Greetings were exchanged on the tarmac, more smiles and waving. Then everybody climbed aboard the presidential car, known as “the beast,” and drove off to the GoldenTulip Hotel.

There the family got green and yellow flip-flops, T-shirts with symbols of the city – the Congress, Cathedral and Palácio do Planalto – and for the girls, a set of colored pencils with other images of Brasilia.

At the airport Obama was met by two female diplomats who are the leaders of the official Brazilian reception committee. They are: Vera Lúcia Barrouin Crivano Machado, the deputy general secretary for Political Affairs at the Brazilian Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty), and Maria de Lujam Vinkler, the head of Protocol at the ministry.

“It is a clear demonstration of the fact that women hold key positions in the Brazilian diplomatic corps and government,” explained the Itamaraty spokesman, Tovar Nunes.

Before meeting with Rousseff, followed a tradition walking up the ramp of the Planalto Palace, flanked by members of the presidential honor guard, known as the Dragões da Independência – actually the 1st Cavalry Regiment of Guards of the Brazilian Army, a unit that dates back to 1808. They wear uniforms based on those of 19th century Imperial Guardsmen.

The first order of business for Obama and Dilma (like most people, the president is referred to by her first name in Brazil), was a visit to an exposition of 20th Century Paintings by Brazilian Women Artists at the Palácio do Planalto (Obama will be the first visitor to this exhibition that will open to the public only on March 23.

Probably the most famous painting being shown is “Abaporu” (1928) by Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973), a symbol of Brazilian modernist art (the title is an Indian phrase meaning “man eats,” that Tarsila’s husband, Oswaldo de Andrade, suggested as part of a nationalistic movement he led called the “antropofagia” period, when the idea was to get Brazilians to “eat up” foreign influence (like Brazilian cannibals famously did to a bishop in the 16th century), eliminating it, in order to create a truly native Brazilian culture of art and style).

A Taste of Brazilian Food

Special attention is being paid to the culinary arts as Brazil prepares for the visit by the president of the United States, his family, plus some one thousand aides, assistants, business leaders and security personnel.

The menu for lunch on Saturday, March 19, in Brasilia at Itamaraty (the Foreign Ministry Palace) includes a special cut of beef (known as “picanha”), farofa (made from cassava flour or meal) and a famous dish from the Brazilian backlands (“sertão”), “baião de dois,” made with rice, beans, pork sausage, and cheese curds.

The Obamas will be able to try some Brazilian fruit: manga, passion fruit (“maracujá”), carambola (also known as starfruit) and papaya, among many others. There will also be Brazilian wine from southern Brazil (state of Rio Grande do Sul).

For vegetarians there will be baked vegetables. A number of different tropical juices will be served. The table will be decorated with Brazilian flowers. Around 150 people will have lunch at Itamaraty with Dilma and Obama.

Patents Agreement

The Brazilian government has decided that further analysis of the patent agreement between the country’s Industrial Property Institute (“Inpi”) and the American patent office (USPTO), is necessary. As a result an agreement will not be signed this weekend during the visit to Brazil by US president, Barack Obama.

The agreement would have allowed the Inpi to enroll in the US program known as the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH), a kind of fast track for patent approval or denial, that eliminates duplication of work and reduces backlogs in the countries where it is operational.

However, the Brazilian organization, Brazilian Network for People Integration’s Work Group on Intellectual Property (“GTPI/Rebrip”) was strongly opposed to the agreement saying it was detrimental to Brazil. A lawyer for the organization, Renata Reis, claims the quality of patent examinations would fall under the terms of the agreement.

“GTPI/Rebrip has serious doubts regarding the advantages that Inpi says would occur,” said Reis, pointing out that 30% of all patent requests in Brazil originate in the US, while the opposite is not true (Brazil submits few patents to the USPTO for approval).

 “What will really happen is Brazil will be swamped with patent requests under the PPH, while the situation in the US will be completely different. There is also the tendency at Inpi to follow the lead of the USPTO where American patent requests move to the front of the line and those from other countries are subject to long delays. The more foreign patents we accept, the more we are hostage to multinational corporations,” said Reis.

Jorge Avila, the Inpi president, declared that there was no reason for the agreement to result in less exam quality and denied that it would privilege the US. He pointed out that the number of patent requests was rising worldwide and cited the example of Prosur, an organization set up by nine South American nations as a joint patent office in order to speed the exam process up. He also revealed that Brazil has similar proposals from Mexico, Chile and Spain.

Rio de Janeiro Pics

As for the exchange of gifts between the presidents, a traditional part of the protocol of state visits, Dilma Rousseff, in the name of the Brazilian government, will give the president of the United States, Barack Obama, an album of artistic photos of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

However, another part of the protocol of state visits is that the actual handing over of the gifts is not always by the presidents. So, today, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol, Maria de Lujam Vinkler, will give Obama’s gift to an American diplomat.

The photo album was selected over various other choices: an album of landscape paintings, engravings, artisan handicrafts and a collection of recordings of Brazilian popular music.

While Obama is in Rio a number of local soccer teams – Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco, among others – have offered to give him team shirts. In July 2009, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gave Obama an autographed official team shirt for the Brazilian national team that played in the 2008 World Soccer Cup.

In September 2009, at a G-20 meeting, Obama gave Lula a crystal sculpture by Hans Grado Frabel (born in 1941 in Germany, Frabel has lived in the US since 1965 where he is a pioneer in lampwork glass art, also known as torch-worked).

Instead of an outdoor speech to thousands in one of the city’s most famous plazas, Barack Obama’s security team and Rio de Janeiro authorities have decided on a speech at the Municipal Theater. Yesterday they sat down together and reworked out the policing and traffic arrangements.

Brazilian army general, Fernando Sardenberg, one of the officials in charge of security, told reporters he did not know what the reason was for the change. “As far as I am concerned, there was no threat [to having the speech in Cinelândia where some 35,000 people were expected].”

The Rio de Janeiro “Teatro Municipal” is modeled after the Paris Opera building. Its construction was part of a vast urban modernization program in Rio at the beginning of the 20th century. Construction began in 1905 and the theater was inaugurated on July 14, 1909. It is elaborately decorated with works by many famous international artists. It seats over 2,200.

UN or Not UN

The Brazilian government is in a state of anxiety. One question overshadows president Barack Obama’s visit: will he or will he not come out publicly in favor of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for Brazil? Some Brazilian authorities have said that the answer will determine whether the visit is considered a success or a failure. It is that important.

At the moment, two of the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, France and England, have come out in favor of reform and a permanent seat for Brazil. So far, China and Russia have not expressed much enthusiasm for the matter, although the United States did nominate India for a permanent seat a few months ago.

Brazilian Foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota, says he believes the US will give a favorable reply to the question.

“An expression of support for Brazil will not make any sort of dramatic difference in the situation. Reform at the United Nations will involve approval by two-thirds of the 191-country members of the General Assembly, as well as ratification by the permanent members of the Security Council. But a favorable position of the US will be significant,” declared Patriota.

Brazil is in favor of expanding membership in the Security Council from 15 (five permanent and ten rotating members) to 25 (where the number of permanent seats would be increased by six – two for Africa, two for Asia, one for the Americas and one more for Europe). Non-permanent or rotating seats would include one each for the regions of Africa, East Europe, Asia and Latin America.

This week, on March 17, the UN Security Council approved military action against Libya. Five countries abstained in the vote – including China, Russia and Brazil.

The governments of Brazil and the United States will sign ten documents – agreements, treaties and memorandums – as a result of the visit of Barack Obama.

The ten documents cover trade and economic cooperation (setting up a high-level commission on economic and commercial cooperation), air transportation, peaceful use of outer space, support for large sports events (the World Soccer Cup and the Olympic Games), research in biodiversity, development of a biofuel for aviation and technical cooperation with other countries.

Agreements on patents, duplicate social security contributions and the end of visa requirements for Brazilian travelers to the US will have to await further negotiations.



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