Once Antonio Patriota starts talking about music, it’s hard to get him to stop. Brazil’s foreign minister references a Chicago blues guitarist as he walks into the Ritz hotel and is waxing lyrical about Radiohead as he leaves an hour later. In between he manages to turn his attention to Brazil’s growing economy, its rising diplomatic power and the country’s twin sportingextravaganzas due in the coming four years. One suspects though, he’d far rather be regaling you with tales about obscure b-sides and secret gigs. A career diplomat who started working at the awe-inspiring Oscar Niemeyer- designed Itamaraty Palace almost three decades ago, Patriota appears to have been given more of a free rein to direct foreign policy under President Dilma Rousseff than any of his successors enjoyed while serving the more charismatic President Lula Da Silva. As Brazil tries to refine its global image ahead of the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics, Patriota is likely to be at the forefront of those efforts. First though, he needs to work out what that image should be. Sun, samba and soccer can take a country only so far – what’s more, it makes the fifth-largest economy and regional superpower look a little lightweight.
Monocle: You started in the foreign ministry when you were in your twenties. How has Brazil’s role within the world changed in that time?
Antonio Patriota: It has changed quite considerably. If you go back a few decades, we were struggling with a very serious inflation problem and a debt problem. We were not a full democracy. We were still under a regime that had been a dictatorship. So there were numerous challenges. It was not a simple task to represent Brazil in the world although some of our strengths have been there for many centuries – the creativity of the Brazilian people, our love of freedom, our love of sports and art and music, the diversity within Brazil. I have seen Brazil emerge as a country that represents a successful model in many ways in reconciling economic strengths and social progress. Whatever the angle you look at today it’s an entirely different landscape.
M: And has that been a natural progression or has it needed to get a bit of a push from certain leaders?
AP: The foreign ministry today has at its disposal very powerful instruments, and this has come about gradually over the last few years. Under President Lula, there was a significant increase in the number of embassies worldwide to the point where, today for example, we have more embassies in Africa than the UK does. We have also increased the number of diplomats quite significantly.
M: Brazil has taken a leadership role in Haiti – do you consider it a success?
AP: Successive troop commanders have come from Brazil, with the largest contingent of the troops coming from the Brazilian Army. When the earthquake came in 2010 the country responded with great maturity and a sense of heroic stoicism. But the UN mission also helped to keep things in place. Now we are looking at ways to start phasing out the presence of foreign troops because obviously we all desire for Haiti to stand on its own feet. We’ve also been present in other peacekeeping efforts under the UN banner. Today we are in Lebanon and have taken up the command position for the Navy efforts under the UN flag.
M: Brazil’s joint attempt with Turkey to negotiate a deal on uranium enrichment with Iran ended badly. What have you learnt?
AP: I think it was a very valid attempt to create confidence because one of the most problematic deficits we need to deal with when talking about Iran is the deficit of confidence between Iran and certain members of the Security Council. The best way to create confidence is through dialogue, through negotiation.
M: Can Brazil play a bigger diplomatic role in issues of war and peace?
AP: You mentioned Haiti, I mentioned Lebanon and some other ideas but what we tried to accomplish between Brazil and Turkey and Iran, was maybe a sign of a stronger agenda for Brazil and diplomacy and conflict resolution and also I would stress in preventing conflict.
M: Brazil has the third-largest plane-maker in the world, Embraer, yet it’s not closely
associated with Brand Brazil. Why?
AP: All those who are interested in aircrafts are aware of Brazil’s very strong performance in this field.
M: Next time you get on an Embraer, ask the person next to you, “Who made this plane?” Chances are they’re not going to say a Brazilian company, are they?
AP: Well maybe because Brazil is not automatically associated with a strong industrial competitive component in our economy. But this is going to become more part of our image worldwide. We are placing very strong emphasis on science and technology and innovation. So, increasingly I think Brazil is poised to become a leader in many of these areas.
M: How much of a leadership role can you play within Latin America and how important is that for you?AP: Extremely important. South America is self-sufficient in food production, in energy, in water resources. It is potentially a basket to feed the world; we already export many products to the rest of the world, from the agricultural side of things. So, South America remains our number one priority. We have the possibility, and this is historically an opportunity that we will not let pass, to create a zone of cooperation, of development, of democracy. We are also a region free from weapons of mass destruction and are determined to remain so.