Foreign policy in the programs of presidential candidates

Image: Lucas Vinícius Pontes


All candidates assume that it is possible to overcome the dichotomy that opposes economic development to environmental protection and human rights

In order to understand the foreign policy proposal of the candidates for the presidency of the Republic through the reading of the government programs presented, we must pay attention to the following points: (1) analysis of the structure and international situation and Brazil's role in the face of these two elements; (2) the main objective outlined for the foreign policy; (3) how these elements are connected with the development program and national sovereignty.


Jair Bolsonaro's plan

Candidate Jair Bolsonaro's (PL) government program is divided into four major sections in which he presents his government's values ​​and principles, strategic rationale, government plan and conclusions. Although aspects related to foreign policy and international relations appear at various times in the text, it is in section 3.6 “Security and Geopolitics” that there is an exclusive topic for foreign policy and national defense.

The plan starts from an analysis of the international situation in which the inflationary and energy crisis stands out, especially in view of the impacts of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, and a scenario in which the needs of sustainable development, in which preservation of the environment is connected and economic growth, are considered trends. The diagnosis of how Brazil finds itself in this scenario, however, is fanciful. The assessment exposed in the program is that both the domestic and international policies pursued by Bolsonaro in his first term have strengthened Brazil in this scenario.

The program assesses that Brazil's international profile in defending a foreign policy based on international law, acting in international organizations, with a universalist vocation and capacity to project the country based on assets such as democracy, agribusiness, food production , the clean energy matrix and natural riches were successful. It is ignored that the reality of Brazil's international performance has been marked, in recent years, by the deterioration of the country's external image due to environmental violations and in the field of human rights, as well as by the threats to democracy sponsored by Jair Bolsonaro, and by the back from hunger.

For the coming years, the ideas on foreign policy and international relations, as set out in the document, propose policies with a neoliberal orientation, but which are contradictory with other commitments assumed in the program. Let's see. The first point to be highlighted is the focus on bringing Brazil closer to developed capitalist countries. Despite talk of defending multipolarity and seeking to maintain as many partners as possible for the country in a pragmatic way, the main objective of foreign policy is Brazil's entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Area of European Free Trade (EFTA), two spaces integrated and directed by imperialist States. It is then assumed that either there is a perception that Brazil is part of this group of States, or a subordinate position is accepted in relation to them.

The document also highlights an uncritical view of the international order. Even when the country's performance in International Organizations (such as the UN) and other groups such as the G20 and BRICS is highlighted, it is not evident that the historical action of the State was often critical of the asymmetries of power in the international system. In Jair Bolsonaro’s plan, these actions are highlighted only as a fact of Brazil’s compliance with the external order, which appears in the document as a given reality, to which the Brazilian State must submit and pursue policies – paying the costs – in order to improve your position. The document does not attribute an important role to Brazil's relationship with the dependent States.

The program positively reinforces the fact that Brazil's incorporation into the OECD is linked to the adoption of new practices and internal conduct. That is: neoliberal reforms. This includes, in addition to improving the social security system, an administrative and tax system reform, a privatization plan and divestment of state-owned companies. In this way, the development program shows concern with the country's external credentials, envisioning Brazil's acceptance in the OECD as a sign of government legitimacy.

The continuity of liberalizing policies with the proposal of “leaving to the State only what it can accomplish” “concentrating its efforts in exercising its stabilizing function through immediate actions”, presupposes that the national development plan is linked to the attraction of foreign investment, especially in the area of ​​infrastructure aimed at improving transportation of commodities, and the strengthening of agribusiness and mining, highlighting the possibility of Brazil also becoming an energy exporter, but with no prospects for overcoming the agrarian export role that the country has assumed in recent decades.

A contradiction that appears in the program is related to proposals focused on Human Rights and the Environment. Both themes are important for Brazil's compliance with international institutions – something that the plan seems to consider important –, in the case of the OECD, for example, the environmental theme is relevant. It is also known that the policies adopted by Brazil in this sector have generated criticism from the United States and the European Union. It should be said that considering what is written, there is a commitment in the program to sustainability and respect for minorities (indigenous people, quilombolas and women are mentioned, other minorities such as LGBTQIAPN+ are not mentioned), however the reality of policies in recent years years speaks louder than the proposals of the government plan, thus pointing to a paradox that could make the international compliance that Jair Bolsonaro wants to sell as a solution to domestic problems unfeasible.

The second axis from which it is possible to read Jair Bolsonaro's foreign policy proposals is the field of values, in which there is a contradiction between, on the one hand, the commitment assumed by a universalist and pragmatic vocation and, on the other, the focus on basing external relations based on values ​​that are exclusive to several countries, including China, Brazil's main trading partner. The program makes it clear that Brazil will favor the development of relations with developed capitalist countries that have values ​​similar to the country: “For the next term, even greater interaction will be sought with countries that defend and respect values ​​that are dear to Brazilians and fit in with the democratic environment, such as free and transparent elections; freedom of association; of opinion and the press; legal security; equality and respect for the constituted powers and their constitutional independence”. In a contradictory way, however, it should be noted that in recent years, Jair Bolsonaro, isolated after the election of Joe Biden, has placed Brazil in alliances with conservative countries, including several that disrespect the values ​​assumed by him as important.

In the document, there is also a mention of the East when it is stated that it is the fact that “the population of the East is emerging from extreme poverty” that is “putting pressure on growth and costs in the West”, which indicates, on the one hand, that there is a thought that divides the world between West and East, and places Brazil in that spectrum and, on the other hand, that the East is seen in an outdated way of its potentialities, even from the perspective of poverty, contributing to the vision – clear in the document – ​​of that Brazil should focus its external relations on western allies and on developed countries.

The third axis of Bolsonaro's foreign policy proposals concerns national defense. More broadly, the text draws attention to the risk of Brazil becoming dependent on certain essential resources, which should be avoided. The difficulties that occurred during the pandemic are mentioned, with the lack of inputs, equipment, etc., necessary for the health system, and the lack of fertilizers in the context of the war in Ukraine. It is assumed that it is necessary for the country to study what is strategic and promote a plan to reduce dependence on what is considered in this way. However, the only sector for which the document makes proposals is for the development of an Industrial Defense Base, which shows a strategy of sovereignty based on an active defense policy, with increases in military investments, especially in salaries and remuneration of the armed forces, and in the search for the involvement of these sectors in domestic security (which, by the way, is a clear threat to democracy). The plan also assumes that the development of the defense industry should play a role in mediating Brazil's relationship with other countries, through the exchange and acquisition of knowledge, as well as Brazil's participation in the OECD should facilitate agreements.


Lula's plan

The government program of candidate Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) is very succinct and does not have a specific section to address foreign policy and international relations, presenting his proposals for these themes in an interconnected way with the more general challenges of national development.

In turn, the ideals of national development policy set out in the program are based on the premise of the need to reconcile economic growth and respect for socio-environmental issues, with recognition of the need to combat climate change and global warming, as well as respect human rights. . It starts from the assumption, as exposed in the program, that the current international situation has been characterized by the energy and digital transition and the emergence of new forms of production and consumption that are more socially and environmentally sustainable.

The program identifies that Brazil, due to its importance on the international scene, considering its history of leadership in environmental negotiations and multilateral politics, as well as its articulation with dependent States, can make a great contribution in this situation. However, it is noteworthy that the government of Jair Bolsonaro has acted against these international trends and mitigated the role that Brazil may have in this scenario.

In order to act to correct these directions, it is possible to perceive in the program three lines of action. The first is related to combating the structural asymmetries of the international system. It is considered necessary to have a policy that fights for a new global order committed to “multilateralism, respect for the sovereignty of nations, peace, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, which addresses the needs and interests of developing countries , with new guidelines for foreign trade, commercial integration and international partnerships”. By citing these elements, the program implies the assessment that the current system is not committed to them. However, Lula's proposal does not detail how Brazil will act to change this, nor does it mention the country's participation in International Organizations (such as the UN and the WTO, for example).

The second line of external action, which complements the first, is the resumption of a proud and active foreign policy, which presupposes Brazil's international role, based on prioritizing multilateralism and South-South relations, highlighting the strategic importance of Africa, the BRICS and, in a special way, Latin America and the Caribbean as possible international partners. In the program, it is highlighted that priority is given to relations with Latin America through Mercosur, Unasur and CELAC, which should be highlighted as platforms for Brazil's international insertion and be recovered under a new Lula government. It also highlights the need for Brazil to contribute to the articulation (and, why not, lead) of an integrated development, guided by the productive complementarity between the countries of the region.

A relevant aspect of the program that certainly has an impact on the possibility of resuming a proud and active policy, as well as for the country to be able to project itself externally with legitimacy in the fight against asymmetries in the international system, is the concern with the development of a rights policy human rights that is compatible with respecting, protecting and encouraging minorities, and that affirms protection of freedom of religion and worship, as well as freedom of the press.

Attention is also given to environmental policies, affirming not only compliance with the international commitments assumed by Brazil at the 2015 Conference in Paris, as well as the need to protect and recover devastated areas, with respect for local communities. Also noteworthy are policies aimed at food sovereignty (based on the purchase and regulation of stocks, and incentives for family farming), aimed at ensuring that there is no hunger in a country like Brazil, which is an agribusiness powerhouse. It should be remembered that these areas: the environment and human rights, and the fight against hunger were important assets of Brazil's external projection in the PT governments, but were destroyed by the Bolsonaro government.

Another essential element that will impact the viability of the proud and active policy, which the program is concerned with, is the recovery of the State's role as an actor capable of inducing and coordinating development. To this end, the program presupposes an active role by the State with the strategic use of investment and public procurement to play a countercyclical role and encourage economic growth. Investments in infrastructure are projected, the resumption of public investment in Science & Technology, the search for the strengthening of industry and agriculture, a plan for the nationalization of strategic sectors (openly opposing the privatization of Petrobras, Eletrobras and Correios), and an energy policy that generates funds for investment in public policies, highlighting the resumption of Petrobras' role in exploration, production, refining and distribution, as well as its performance "in segments that are connected to the ecological and energy transition, such as gas, fertilizers , biofuels and renewable energies”.

In international trade, it is proposed that there be an improvement in taxation in which products with greater added value and embedded technology are progressively exempted. The plan makes explicit that such policies aim to “overcome the neoliberal model that led the country to delay” (a commitment is also assumed with the repeal of the spending ceiling and labor reform, as well as the proposal of a tax reform that increases taxes for the richest).

The third line of action that we noticed in the program, related to foreign policy and international relations, focuses on security and defense. In a broader dimension, the program articulates security and defense not only the action of the Armed Forces, but the recovery of State sovereignty, which the proposed policies we have mentioned so far should have the role of contributing to strengthen, especially the policies that aim at the development of S&T, food and energy sovereignty and the recovery and modernization of national industry, especially in strategic sectors.

In a more specific dimension, the program connects the defense of national sovereignty to the “integration of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, with a view to maintaining regional security”, reinforcing the recovery of the region’s priority in foreign policy to from a multidimensional view and not just economics. The program also highlights the need for Brazil to invest in the defense industry, promoting its development as an element linked to its own sovereignty and as a dissuasive strategy.

As for the role of the Armed Forces, the proposal emphasizes that its role is to guarantee territorial, air and maritime sovereignty, “strictly complying with what is defined by the Constitution”. Without directly citing the FAs, the program mentions that it is “necessary to overcome authoritarianism and anti-democratic threats” and repudiates “any kind of threat or guardianship of representative institutions”.


Cyrus and Tebet's plans

Candidate Ciro Gomes' (PDT) program is the most difficult to read from the perspective of proposing policies aimed specifically at Brazilian international relations. The candidate presented a lean program, divided by themes, in which foreign policy and national defense do not appear, as well as there is no information on what type of reading is part of the international situation.

In general terms, it is stated that economic and diplomatic negotiations will follow the principles of defending national interests and the country's sovereignty. To this end, a national development program is based on public investment in social policies (education, health, etc.), on the active role of the BNDES, in addition to seeking to change the country's tax composition and Petrobras' pricing policy. (all points also mentioned by Lula). It also includes the fight against hunger and inequality. The idea of ​​placing culture as an affirmation of national identity is also defended, changing the country's international aesthetics and valuing local customs through new languages ​​that can be enhanced with the use of technologies and the search for new symbologies and a unity around the idea of ​​nation.

The candidate Simone Tebet's program (PMDB/PSDB) points out that the country needs a broad and comprehensive reconstruction, which includes structural changes. The situational assessment contained in the plan is that Brazil has an unstable government, not very inviting to investment, and that democracy and the national economy are going through a difficult time. It is also assumed that the country is currently a global embarrassment, especially due to the environmental policy adopted, based on the destruction of the national ecosystem, mainly the Amazon and Pantanal, which causes international shame and isolates the country.

The development guidelines are divided into four axes: combating inequalities, commitment to the green economy, building a government that partners with the private sector, and combating prejudice and discrimination. There is no exclusive section on foreign policy in the document, but proposals for the sector appear at various points in the text. It is essential that Brazil seek protagonism and international relevance and abandon policies that isolate it from the world. We highlight three main fronts of Simone Tebet's proposals.

First, it defends policies aimed at enshrining the neoliberal structural changes that the country has been adopting since the Temer administration. The text includes a view of the State as an actor that should aim to “provide better conditions for private investment to take place, with stability and responsibility. The government has to provide a stable, predictable, peaceful environment with institutional, legal and regulatory security”. In this vein, the continuity of the policy of concessions, privatization and privatization is defended. There is also an argument for investment in logistics infrastructure, but based on the assumption that there will be a large contribution from the private sector and external investments. In this sense, the role of the BNDES is conceived from the point of view of restoring its role within the National Privatization Program.

In commercial terms, the plan considers that there is a need to “expand the degree of trade openness and internationalization of the Brazilian economy”, including to enhance Brazil's participation in global production chains. To this end, a plan to gradually reduce customs tariffs should be implemented, eliminate non-tariff measures and encourage “commercial negotiations, with an emphasis on market access”. It is assumed that the country must “negotiate new trade agreements and seek greater participation in international trade”, it is explicitly mentioned that the “Brazil cost” is one of the main factors that limit the country's economic performance in the external scenario. To combat it, it would be necessary to deepen the liberalizing reforms which would be consecrated with the advance in access to the OECD, “conceived as an opportunity for a general review of national public policies, aiming at their improvement in the light of the best experiences and practices”. Such measures would restore investor confidence in the country, essential for the proposed policy to be put into practice.

The second front of Simone Tebet's proposals for Brazilian international relations focuses on the search for an international role for the country based on the international sustainability agenda, based on the green economy and on a structured and well-developed carbon credit market. For this, the deforestation agenda must be fought and new measures for sustainable development must be sought. The importance of resuming the Amazon Fund and strengthening its governance is cited, as well as the role that the country can play in the energy transition by having a clean, renewable, safe and cheap matrix. A contradiction, however, is the premise assumed by the candidate that the “Brazilian productive sector – and the agro in particular – already produces with sustainability and responsibility”, which clashes with the Brazilian reality.

The third front of the candidate's proposals highlights regional integration and multilateralism as strategic aspects for Brazil's international insertion. A commitment is made to “Strengthen Latin American integration, deepening existing agreements and negotiating new agreements”, with emphasis on the need to promote “physical integration and investments in infrastructure in South America”. However, ways to do this are not indicated, remembering that the role of the BNDES, which could contribute to financing this proposal, does not contemplate such activities in Tebet's plan. Regarding Mercosur, it is noticeable that it is understood as an important aspect for Brazil that must be consolidated and deepened based on “actions aimed at the liberalization of trade in goods and services and the movement of people and capital among the bloc’s partners” .

With regard to multilateralism, the text highlights the importance of Brazil’s role in the WTO to foster a “more open and less discriminatory multilateral trade system”, the need for the country to “engage in the discussions of plurilateral groups in which Brazil participates”. , such as the G-20 and the Brics, with a view to strengthening multilateralism”, and the country’s urgency to “recover the prestige of Brazilian diplomacy in the various international forums, intensifying the country’s participation in the work of the United Nations” is listed. , highlighting actions aimed at “(1) mitigating climate change;(2) promoting sustainable development; (3) ensure international peace and security; (4) combat arms and drug trafficking, corruption, terrorism and cyberwarfare, among other global issues; and (5) reform the UN Charter and expand its Security Council”. In such proposed actions, the understanding is clear that Brazil must focus on its universalist vocation of the PEB and the defense of multilateralism.


Other points

One aspect that draws attention in all government plans is that all four assume that it is possible to overcome the dichotomy that opposes economic development to environmental protection and human rights. All candidates present proposals that presuppose that it is possible, on the one hand, to respect minorities, local communities and recover and preserve ecosystems and, on the other hand, to promote economic growth and the exploitation of minerals, agriculture and other natural resources, as well as the development of the industrial productive structure.

However, no candidate – apart from stating that this conciliation is possible – actually says how he will do it. This is an important point, because in the proposal of all the candidates it is clear that there is an expectation of exploring internationally the role that Brazil can have for energy change and as a leader in environmental negotiations.

Another point missing from the candidates' plan is to specify how Brazil should act in relation to specific partners. In particular, it is noted that the plan of none of the four candidates dealt with Brazil-China relations, which are the subject of debate and struggle in the country. Being the main commercial partner, and having a strong presence in Latin America today, competing with Brazilian products and companies, and advancing in investments in strategic sectors such as the energy sector and infrastructure. It is essential to think about how to deal with this State, which, despite this disadvantageous situation, is an important partner in the defense of multilateralism and in the construction of a multipolar order, especially since it can contribute towards South America achieving greater room for maneuver in relation to the United States.

In general, the candidacies of Jair Bolsonaro and Simone Tebet bet on a neoliberal program, based on privatization and Brazil's accession to the OECD, whose goal (already frustrated in the 90s and since 2016) is to attract foreign investment via trade agreements ( disadvantaged), assuming that the role of the State is merely a coadjuvant in development. Simone Tebet differs from Jair Bolsonaro by defending sustainable development in a more innovative and profound way, and by the fact that against Jair Bolsonaro's plans weighs the disbelief, based on the reality of his four years in government, that minimally of the paper.

Lula and Ciro Gomes, on the other hand, seem to be closer in terms of a national development strategy based on public investment, social policy and the defense of national sovereignty. Ciro does not give much prominence to foreign policy, while Lula emphasizes the resumption of the proud and active foreign policy that generated so many laurels in his government. In particular, she defends multilateralism and the search for cooperation and productive complementarity in South America, aspects that are also highlighted in Simone Tebet's program.

The difference is that Lula seems to see regional cooperation from a more multidimensional perspective (including security issues) than Simone Tebet, who has a more economic focus. With regard to multilateralism, Lula's recognition of the existence of structural asymmetries in the international system is greater than that of Simone Tabet, who seems – like Jair Bolsonaro – resigned to the fact that Brazil must act in accordance with this system, bearing the adaptation costs at least with regard to international economic integration. In the political field, however, Simone Tebet distances herself from the conformity pursued by Jair Bolsonaro by openly defending the UNSC reform.


Final considerations

The core of the issue is the adjusted perception of local and international realities and Brazil's role in this context. It is possible to imagine two strategies that are located in opposite fields: on the one hand, one of subordination and alignment with imperialism following international guidelines; on the other, the search for autonomy, protagonism and investment in the construction of a new international order in which Brazil and South America can play another role.

Looking at the candidates' strategy, Lula's – and perhaps Ciro Gomes's (the judgment of his strategy is hampered by the lack of information about what he intends to do in terms of international relations) – would be closer to a search for autonomy, both envision the recovery of the role of the State, its mechanisms of public intervention, state-owned companies and strategic sectors that can act to reduce the vulnerability and the need for subordination of the State to foreign interests, at least to the extent that this is possible for a country dependent like Brazil. Lula, in particular, intends to use multilateralism and south-south relations as a way of circumventing international asymmetries.

The plans of Simone Tebet and Jair Bolsonaro would be located to a greater extent in terms of subordination and alignment with imperialism. Both have a vision of the State based on neoliberalism and which internationally must aim to act in accordance with the current international system. Worthy of mention, however, is the fact that Tebet's plan provides for less international compliance than Bolsonaro's, by proposing that Brazil should act as a leader in the environmental agenda, both multilaterally and in South America.

Finally, it should be noted that foreign policy should not be seen as a secondary area within government programs, despite occupying very little space in them, as it is closely connected to other policies (economic, social and environmental) and is guided by a strategic vision of international insertion, sovereignty and development of the country.

*Tatiana Berringer Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

*Ana Tereza Marra de Souza é Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).


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