Brazilian Chancellor Sacks Critic and Puts Friend as Head of US Embassy

The US State Department has already received the agrément from the Brazilian government with the name of the new Brazilian ambassador in Washington. He is Antônio Patriota, the Foreign Ministry’s (Itamaraty) general undersecretary for political affairs.

Patriota, 52, a close friend and aide to Foreign Minister Celso Amorim replaces Roberto Abdenur, 64, who was apparently taken by surprise by the announcement.

And Abdenur hasn’t been the only one surprised. The whole Brazilian diplomatic establishment expected a more seasoned professional for a post, which has been traditionally occupied by veteran career diplomats. Abdenur, for example, is one of Brazil’s most experienced diplomats.

The change should occur only after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s inauguration on January 1st.

While most of the current ministers still don’t know if they will be kept in Lula’s second mandate, Amorim has already been assured that his place is secure. He is wasting no time and firing the current ambassador to Washington was his first major act. 

Patriota’s ties with the foreign minister go back to the 1990s at the time when Amorim was the chief of the Brazilian UN Mission and the diplomat was the head of that mission’s political sector. The new ambassador to the US is considered a bright rising star who has ended first in his Rio Branco Institute (the state-owned school that trains diplomats in Brazil) class.

From there, he went with Amorim to Geneva, where he would acquire vast experience on multilateral economic deals, an important skill in a moment when Lula wishes to increase bilateral economic relations between Washington and Brasí­lia.

Even though the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) seems dead Brazil is engaged in two important negotiations with the US right now: the Doha Round, where Lula wants to see Americans cutting their agricultural subsidies and the GSP, the Generalized System of Preferences, a list of preferential partners from which Brazil doesn’t want to be excluded.

Patriota’s good relations with Nicholas Burns, the number two in the US State Department, and the rapport he established with John Danilovich, when the American was Washington’s ambassador in Brazil have also contributed to him being chosen to the prestigious new post.

In response to rumors that the chancellor was favoring a friend, Amorim himself told reporters in Brasí­lia: "The removal was a routine change and resulted from the end of the ambassador’s term to stay overseas. It wasn’t a political but an administrative action."

The explanation didn’t convince however. Analysts in Brasí­lia say that Abdenur was on the cut list since the beginning of the year when he opposed Amorim criticizing his decision to recognize China as a market economy, arguing that is impossible for Brazil to have a strategic partnership with Beijing.

Abdenur was sacked just two days after Lula’s second-round victory for a second term in office. He might have been expecting the news, but it still was a surprise when the ambassador called his staff to tell them about the dismissal.

In an emotional meeting he told his subordinates that he would move back to Rio, his hometown, apparently ending his diplomatic career.

His unceremonious dismissal caused malaise among the diplomatic community. But this is not news at the Lula’s administration. The president is known to have fired his Education Minister, Cristovam Buarque, in a phone call to Portugal while Buarque discussed government matters in that country.

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