Posted by Santiago Sosa on Sep 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Brazil and Mexico: The retreating giants

The United States is not the only powerful country retreating from Latin America. Indeed, although Mexico and Brazil have shown great economic power and a relative international leadership, their domestic issues have them inward focused and they seem to be losing their powerful stance in the region.

In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff faces a great battle with corruption. Just a few days ago, the minister of tourism became the fifth member of Rousseff’s cabinet to resign because of corruption allegations. Some argue that these resignations prove that she is committed to eliminating corruption, in contrast to past leaders that tolerated it.

In addition to the corruption scandals, the Brazilian government is struggling with high inflation and an overheating economy. Indeed, it has had to resort to budget cuts, which have affected the lawmakers who now have openly boycotted Rousseff’s legislative agenda.

With all these issues at home, Brazil’s international leadership seems to have diminished. The domestic arena now has more importance and the country doesn’t show itself as internationally active as it was in Lula’s term. In the end, either Brazil’s ambitions need a charismatic leader and speaker in order to make gains in the global arena or its domestic problems have posed a serious threat to those ambitions.

Mexico, on the other hand and in contrast to Brazil, has shown great economic progress lately. In fact, Calderón’s policies have had such results in infrastructure and public finances that the country greatly improved its competitiveness. Of course, the obvious issue is the security concern: ever since Mexico’s crackdown on drug traffickers and organized crime, violence has escalated to great levels. In fact, this has been such an important issue to the Mexicans that it may just be the most controversial (and vote-earning) topic in the upcoming presidential elections.

Although Mexico continues to have certain leadership in Central America and is active in reaching the region with great initiatives like Proyecto Mesoamérica, the political cost of the war on drugs and the pressure of the coming elections have meant that, at least politically, Mexico is inward focused as Brazil now is.

For Colombia, the most important aspect with these two countries is that economic ties continue to be boosted and security cooperation continues. Despite the relative retreat from the global arena, the two countries will still be very active in these two activities. The question is how long will they be focused on their domestic issues and what other country will try to exert influence in the region until then.