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This week was the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake and I came across a few picture essays about the country. I wish I could work out how to get some of the pics up here but I can’t so I am going to post links. (The pics shown here are mine.)

Two of the essays are from Foreign Policy, a magazine more used to publishing longer written works than photos. But hey, Haiti is so photogenic (as I posted here in my amateur slideshow in December) so it makes sense.

Here are a couple of links from the professionals.

The first is startling for its subject matter, the 1 per cent of richest Haitians. Startling not just because of their wealth, but because they are so unembarrassed about posing for pictures in a country where up to 80 % of the people live on less than $2 a day.

There’s something obscene about being so rich when so many around you are so poor. The subjects in these pictures might contribute in many ways (one of them is the new president) and they might not be responsible for the state Haiti is in.

But one of them bought the land around his house so poor people wouldn’t squat on it and sully his views and that tells its own story. It all makes me a bit uncomfortable. All credit to the photographer for making it happen.

The second essay compares Port-au-Prince today with the day after the earthquake and tries to show where progress has been made and where things haven’t changed (or worsened). Ben Depp, who took the pics for my Chronicle of Higher Education piece, took the new pics for this one: Ben’s website is here.

There are a couple of written pieces too. Foreign Policy has a piece urging the US to help Haiti recover by accepting more Haitian immigrants. (Brazil recently closed its door to the influx of Haitians but agreed to help out the several thousand already here.) The piece says:

“As we approach the second anniversary of the devastating Haiti earthquake, which killed around 150,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, there has been mixed progress.  About half of the rubble has been cleared (if that sounds slow, consider it took five years to remove far less rubble in Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami). About half a million people are still living in camps in Haiti — but that is down from closer to 1.5 million two years ago. Meanwhile cholera, introduced by U.N. peacekeeping troops, killed over 7,000 people in the aftermath of the crisis — the infection rate has abated but the disease remains endemic.

Progress after a disaster is always slower than hoped.  For all the benefits that the donor community has provided in reconstruction, one reason for the lack of progress is the often snail-like pace of heavily bureaucratized assistance efforts in the chaotic post-catastrophe conditions of weakly governed states.  For example, only about half of the cash promised by donors to Haiti for 2010-2011 had been disbursed by last month — and the figure for U.S.-given aid is only about 30 percent.  There is still a huge gap between donor disbursement and impact on the ground; a lot of the resources have been disbursed only as far as implementing agencies like NGOs and international agencies, many of whom have yet to spend the cash.”

And here’s an excellent piece in Rolling Stone from August based around Sean Penn’s role and the convoluted decisions taken by aid workers and authorities.

Penn didn’t like it one bit, and wrote this long response. But I think the story is detailed and well researched and well worth a read if you have the time.

I just wrote a piece in the Christian Science Monitor about who Brazil, and the developed world, would like to see as the new head of the International Monetary Fund.

My main interview was with Oliver Stuenkel, an assistant professor in International Affairs at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a leading Brazilian business school (visit his blog here).

The piece was short and there wasn’t a lot of space for analysis but Stuenkel’s points were so interesting that I’m going to reproduce a few more of them here.

Stuenkel, who is half German and half American but lives in Brazil, made two main observations. One was that while the emerging nations talk a lot about a new world order there are still national rivalries at play and those rivalries, along with a lack of organisation, is a hinderance to any consensus candidate from the developing world.

“There is a lot of tension between the BRICs and it is an illusion to say they can get together and pick a candidate amongst themselves as they are rivals. This episode shows the limitations of the alliance that Brazil is seeking to develop with India and China in the emerging world. It would have been a beautiful moment to say this is our BRIC candidate.”

When asked why Brazil hasn’t thrown its weight behind Mexican candidate Augustín Carstens, Stuenkel said:

“Mexico is a potential rival. (Brazil) is thinking, Mexico didn’t support us when we wanted to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. There is national interest and at the same time let’s make the world order more democratic. The whole emerging power rhetoric crumbles when push comes to shove.”

Stuenkel also pointed out that their inability to produce a convincing name puts pressure on the emerging powers to come up with a consensus candidate when the World Bank elects a new head next year.

“The emerging powers are going to scramble like crazy to get a non-American head for the World Bank. They need to get their act together because the established powers are a lot better organised. The task for the emerging powers is to agree on a candidate for next year.”

I just got back from a symposium entitled “Brazil as an Emerging Power: Challenges and Choices.”

The forum was organized by Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and held at the Fecomercio building in São Paulo.

It featured presentations from Rubens Barbosa, Brazil’s former ambassador to the UK and the US; Pamela Cox, the World Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean; Roberto Setubal, the CEO and President of Itaú-Unibanco; and Stephen Bosworth, the Dean of the Fletcher School and a former US diplomat.

The presentations were brief and not particularly enlightening. All four speakers covered the usual ground, about how Brazil needs to invest in infrastructure and education. How an increasingly powerful Brazil will adapt to its role in the new world order was also an issue all the speakers came back to.

But there were two points that surprised me.

One, was that no one even mentioned the word corruption. To me, fighting corruption is one of Brazil’s biggest challenges.

I tried to ask the panel why they never mentioned it but we ran out of time for questions. But what I planned to ask was this: Did they not mention corruption because they think it is diminishing? Or was it because they see it as less of a challenge than the other factors they mentioned? Or did they see corruption as inevitable?

Whatever the reason, it was a bit worrying to see so many important figures ignore the issue.

The second point was the surprise admission by Roberto Setubal that he doesn’t think Brazil needs reforms.

Setubal said that in as many words, before realizing what he said. He then corrected himself and said Brazil would be better off with micro-reforms rather than major reforms that need constitutional changes or large Congressional majorities.

The moderator called him on it, and quite rightly, as there is a general consensus among progressives in Brazil that the country badly needs political, tax, labour and union reforms, amongst others.

The generous reading of Setubal’s remarks would be that the financial sector has already undergone broad reforms and is now as modern and efficient as any in the world.

A less charitable reading might be that Itaú made R$ 6.4 billion profit during the first six months of 2010, more than any other bank in Brazil’s history. It couldn’t care less about reforms for the future. It’s doing fine just as things are.

One of the simplest and best questions that an editor asked me this week was why would Brazil want to get involved in the Middle East. I tried to answer it in this Los Angeles Times piece that is due to appear in Saturday’s paper.

It is still too early to say how things will play out in Iran. But even if the Brazilian accord does turn out to have been a false dawn, the Tehran agreement shows that Brazil can play a role in international affairs. It provides ammunition to those who think it should be given more of a hands on position in world diplomacy.

The answer to the question posed by my editor was best answered by experienced former diplomat Rubens Ricupero.

“Brazil wants to be recognized and it wants more power and that reflects the growing power of the country,”  Ricupero told me. “It showed it is capable of diplomatic initiative. It was impressive. Le Monde said it was a historic day because the southern nations showed they can be autonomous.

He added: “It is a show of the polycentrism that Obama has talked about. That today you have actor who does not to be from the great powers, but from the intermediate powers, but who are nevertheless capable of taking initiatives on their own that were once reserved for the five big powers of the Security Council. You should see this initiative through that prism.”

Lula believes the United States is needlessly confrontational – he once asked why Obama didn’t just pick up the phone and talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and he saw his deal as a victory for growing nations like his own who are tired of being told what to do. In one sense, Brazil looked at Iran and saw Brazil, as I touch on this Time story from last November.

More importantly, though, Brazil, with a large and stable economy, a host of vital commodities, and a global presence that is growing almost daily, is no longer happy to be known for its singers and soccer players – even as it gears up to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It wants respect and is campaigning hard for a new world order and a leading role in it.

The fact that the US moved quickly to neuter the accord Brazil brokered does not alter the fact that Brazil is more and more important. The US will have to pay it more attention in the future. And it is stupid if it doesn’t. The more people involved in resolving problems, as analyst Oliver Stuenkel points out here, the more likely it is one of them will find a solution.

I got into a heated debate on Facebook yesterday about Brazil and the US. I took issue with a Brazilian who criticized ‘expansionist’ US foreign policy and suggested that she might be better off criticising and resolving her own country’s problems first (or looking at China, which is arguably a bigger future threat.)

In her defence, she has criticised Brazilian institutions as well, and a lively discussion ensued.

To me, such debates are part and parcel of life. You talk, you discuss, you disagree (or agree) and if you’re lucky you might learn something.

The problem in Brazil is that to disagree or challenge someone is seen as rude. This happened yesterday, when Brazilians monitoring the debate waded in calling me names because I didn’t agree that the United States is the Great Satan and because I dared suggest that Brazilians should be concentrating on their own problems.

As Sergio Buarque de Holanda put it in his classic book Raizes do Brasil, Brazil is a society that puts cordiality above almost everything else. You can’t question anything here, especially not people, without being called rude, bad mannered or aggressive.

It is a major pain because it means you have to measure every word and in many cases either lie or omit. At best, you need to put caveats on everything you say so as not to hurt people’s feelings. Telling it like it is is often not an option. The slightest thing can provoke slights, as I noted here in a previous post.

This is becoming increasingly relevant to Brazil as a country.

I spoke the week before last with Oliver Stuenkel for this piece about Brazil’s emergence as a world player. Stuenkel, who is a visiting professor at the USP, pointed out that Brazil was still not used to being criticized.

As a nation, Brazil wants more of a say but it hasn’t yet grasped that with more responsibility comes more attention. As Stuenkel said, if Brazil wants to be a player, it has to develop a thicker skin.

“Brazil doesn’t like to offend anyone,” Stuenkel said. “In taking important decisions you often offend someone. And that is a process that most of the countries – and Brazil especially – has to learn.

“They want to be at the centre but a lot of people here aren’t aware that being one of the 10 most powerful countries in the world will cause a lot of criticism. Brazil is also torn between who it is going to defend. That is an important transition of identity that the country is going through. It is getting used to what it means to be engaged in major policy making.”

“Right now it is like the kid in the back of the car throwing popcorn.”

Brazil and the US signed a defence deal yesterday.

The deal, which this Christian Science Monitor story says is the first between the two nations since 1977, opens the door to more interchange on research and development, logistics support, education and training, as well as making it easier to buy and sell defense products and services.

Although the ramifications of the deal are not yet clear, it behooves Brazil to form closer defence ties with the US.

In doing so, Brazil creates a link with the US that counterbalances some of the wackier things it has been doing in foreign policy field, such as cozying up to Iran and needlessly getting involved in Honduras.

And not only is the US the world’s biggest producer of weapons and armoury, it is also a valuable ally. As Fernando Arbache, a lecturer in anti-terrorism at Brazil’s Naval Headquarters told me in an interview: “With this accord Brazil is aligning itself strategically with the US, like the European nations have done with NATO.”

It’s a sensible bit of pragmatism on Lula’s part.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today on the United States’ waning influence in Latin America. There’s nothing much new in it but there was one particularly interesting quote from Moisés Naím, the editor of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Talking of Lula’s meeting with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and of Brazil’s role in Honduras, Naím said: “The world was hoping that it would become a responsible global player and stakeholder, but instead Brazil is behaving like an immature developing country with a chip on its shoulder.”

Brazil might have a chip on its shoulder (see my previous post about how Brazilians are thin-skinned). But it cannot be blamed for developing its own foreign policy. What’s more, if the US was smart, it’d be working behind the scenes with Brazil to help engage the Irans and Venezuelas of the world.

As one academic told me last week, “Brazil is perhaps the least disliked nation in the world.” Because of football, samba, and images of sun-kissed beaches and beautiful women, everyone loves Brazil. Brazil can use that influence.

The question that Naím should be asking is, What is Lula saying to the likes of Ahmadinejad and Chavez behind closed doors? And what is Obama telling Lula when they talk on the phone?

As the US gets weaker, it is having more and more trouble making smaller countries fall into line. As Brazil gets stronger, the US should be more diligent in courting it as a credible and helpful ally.

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