Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Ambassador's Remarks

Ambassador Shannon's Remarks at the Brazilian Center for International Relations - CEBRI

Ambassador Roberto Abdenur introduces Ambassador Shannon. (Photo: U.S.ConGen-RJ)

Ambassador Roberto Abdenur introduces Ambassador Shannon. (Photo: U.S.ConGen-RJ)

Remarks by Thomas A. Shannon, United States Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, May 5, 2010


It is with great pleasure that I return to CEBRI, this time as my country's Ambassador, to address the state of relations between the United States and Brazil.

As always, I am grateful for the warmth of your welcome, the kindness of your introduction, and the attentiveness of your members and audience.  I am honored to appear before you, and hope that my few words meet with your approval and satisfaction.

Today, I would like to look at the relationship between the United States and Brazil from three vantage points.

First, I would like to share with you my assessment of the current state of our relations.

Second, I would like to use that assessment to think about the future of our relationship.

And finally, I would like to reflect upon what the compelling nature of our relationship means for our larger world, and especially for that unique profession dedicated to the peaceful expression, coordination, and realization of national interests and aspirations:  diplomacy.


Before I begin, I would like to make a personal aside that will help explain the manner in which I think about Brazil.  As was noted in my introduction, I served in Brazil from 1989 to 1992.  This was my third tour in the United States Foreign Service, and my second overseas tour.  I worked at our Embassy in Brasilia as the Special Assistant for two great Ambassadors:  Harry Shlaudeman and Richard Melton.  My three years in Brazil had a profound impact on me, both professionally and personally. 

This was a time of momentous change and challenge in Brazil.  The political process of re-democratization had just begun.  Brazil held its first direct presidential election since 1960.  The elected government of President Collor de Mello undertook dramatic measures to address inflation, open Brazil's economy to the world, end its nuclear weapons program, transform its relationship with Argentina, and begin preparations for the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment.  Although I left Brazil before the impeachment of President Collor de Mello, I saw the political storm clouds gathering and anticipated that Brazil's new Constitution and its democratic institutions would face a difficult challenge.

Through it all, I was impressed by Brazil's commitment to its democratic future, the resiliency of its institutions, and by what Darcy Ribeiro called the Brazilian peoples' "avocation for joy."  I felt I was in the presence of a great birthing: Of the emergence of a people intent on taking back their country, determined to have a voice in shaping their national and individual destinies, and asserting for Brazil a larger place in the world.

Returning eighteen years later, I know that this was a successful birth.

Recently, I was reading parts of Juscelino Kubitschek's memoirs, and I came across a telegram that the British novelist Aldous Huxley had sent to President Kubitschek.  Huxley had just travelled from Ouro Preto to Brasilia, and he wrote, "Vim diretamente de Ouro Preto para Brasilia.  Que jornada dramatica, atraves do tempo e da Historia!  Uma jornada do ontem para o amanha, do que terminou para o que vai comecar, das velhas realizacoes para as novas promessas."

Today, those "new promises" are now a new reality.


As we look at the current state of the relationship between the United States and Brazil it is important to recognize that Brazil is not an emerging power.  It has already emerged.  It now occupies a place on the global stage that cannot be denied or ignored.

This fact has transformed the relationship between the United States and Brazil in two fundamental ways.

First, our relationship is now more than a bilateral relationship.  It is a global relationship.  We are encountering Brazil in places where historically Brazil has not been present; and engaging with Brazil on themes and initiatives that are new and innovative. From Haiti to the Middle East and Africa, from UNASUL to the G-20, from energy and food security to cooperative development assistance, we are working at close quarters in unique and challenging ways.  This creates important opportunities to deepen our collaboration and strengthen our relationship, but at times it also tests our ability to understand and respond to each other.

Second, our relationship is no longer just a relationship between governments.  It is now a relationship between societies and peoples.  Globalization, technology, and travel have connected American and Brazilian societies as never before.  Commercial and investment ties, the growing links between universities and laboratories, the dramatic growth in Brazilian tourism, and the fellowship between evangelical churches in Brazil and the United States are all examples of an ever-increasing network of relationships between our countries.  This network has emerged on its own, often with little thought from or engagement with governments.  As this network deepens and consolidates, however, it will become increasingly demanding of both governments, insisting that governments facilitate and promote the growing ties between our societies.

These fundamental changes have placed a premium on the quality, the constancy, and breadth and diversity of our dialogue.  Historically, the friendship and good relations that have existed between our two countries have been characterized by periods of intense engagement and cooperation followed by periods of disengagement and inattentiveness. This uneven engagement was the product of shifting priorities and distracting challenges elsewhere.  In today's environment, however, we can no longer allow our relationship to lie fallow.

We have to ensure that we have constant, high-level, high-quality dialogue and engagement.

Both countries recognize this, and both countries have worked to create the opportunities and mechanisms to make this happen.  Beginning with the 2003 Brazil-U.S. Summit meeting in Washington, both countries created an ambitious set of ministerial-level dialogues to drive a broad bilateral agenda.  Also, both countries worked on initiatives, such as the Biofuels Memorandum of Understanding, the Joint Action Plan Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination, and fight to eradicate malaria in Sao Tome and Principe, designed to give content to this agenda.

Beginning in 2009, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have consolidated and advanced these gains in the relationship.  President Lula was the first South American leader to be invited to the White House, and President Obama has kept up a regular and frequent agenda of meetings, phone calls, and letters with President Lula.  At the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama met with South American presidents under the auspices of UNASUL, the first time a U.S. President has so acknowledged UNASUL.  This was the product of the President's engagement with President Lula, and a show of respect for an integration project of Brazilian design.

More recently, our engagement has accelerated in important ways.  Over the last three months, we have had five U.S. Cabinet Secretaries visit Brazil:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  We have signed five Memorandums of Understandings that stretch from Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women to Climate Change to Trilateral Development Assistance to Education to Highway Infrastructure.  We have signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement, the first since the 1950s.  We have launched a Global Partnership Dialogue to better structure engagement between the State Department and Itamaraty.  We have co-hosted two major international conferences in Brazil:  the World Urban Forum and the International Drug Enforcement Conference.  We have completed, after years of negotiation, a Tropical Forest Conservation Agreement.  We just concluded a major trade mission, "Tradewinds," that brought 130 U.S. companies to Brazil interested in working with Brazilian business.  We have identified Brazil as a priority country within the President's National Export Initiative, and yesterday held our Bilateral Commercial Dialogue in Brasilia. We have concluded a Tax Information Exchange Agreement, an important step toward a Bilateral Tax Treaty. And, we have identified a path towards a solution of a long-standing trade dispute over cotton that threatened to harm our commercial relationship.  While doing all this, we have also worked closely in coordinating the international response to the earthquake in Haiti, both on the ground in Haiti and at the UN in the run-up to the Donors Conference.

This is a strong record that underscores the commitment that both countries have to our relationship.


The steps both countries have taken to expand and improve the relationship are a clear indication that the United States and Brazil are consciously and systematically creating a partnership designed to meet the special challenges of the twenty-first century.

For this partnership to continue to grow successfully, however, it must hew to a few fundamental principles:

First, it must be a partnership based on facts.

Ideology and rhetoric are no longer adequate tools to understanding the reality of the world we live in, and much less to define our engagement or our cooperation.  We need common understandings.  This will require greater exchange of information, more transparency, and the respect that emerges from attentiveness to our needs and interests.

Second, it must be a partnership dedicated to results.

We cannot let ourselves be mesmermized by process or procedure.  The effectiveness of our partnership has to be measured by what it achieves.  This is especially important in a world in which change is a constant.  Unlike our ancestors, we cannot hope to create, by agreement or warfare, a world order defined by stasis or tranquility.  We will always be adjusting to new challenges, and our confidence in each other will grow as we develop practical and effective means to meet those challenges.

Third, it must be a partnership based on common interests and values.

Despite our different national histories, we share political values and economic understandings.  We both have a profound commitment to democracy, and to the individual freedoms and tolerance that define our open societies.  We are committed to market economies, to regional economic integration, and to trade driven economic growth.  We are committed to the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.  We are also committed to providing our citizens with the security, education, and health care necessary to take full advantage of economic opportunity. 

In this regard, we both understand that our common objective is not to defend or preserve a present or restore a past, but instead to create constantly a future in which our people can prosper. 

Finally, it must be a partnership that can address differences.

Intimacy, in any relationship, does not mean the absence of dispute.  It means a shared perception or comprehension of each other that supersedes difference.  How differences are handled is important, but more important is how our partnerships are constructed.

Hans Morgenthau, the intellectual father of American realism, wrote that great nations do not understand themselves or their challenges only in terms of competition with other nations.  Instead, great nations understand that challenges arise from their awareness of their own failings and the understanding of their purpose.  The degree to which the United States and Brazil understand the common interests and values that bind us, the better we will be at managing differences.


The Partnership for the 21st Century that Brazil and the United States are constructing has obvious value for both countries.  But it also has value for our hemisphere and our world. 

Creating prosperity through a strong commercial relationship, enhancing the safety of our citizens by facing the threat of transnational crime, terrorism, and weapons proliferation, improving human well-being through food and energy security, promoting dignity by overcoming racism and ethnic and gender discrimination, and extending democratic development into Africa through collaborative assistance programs, are all things Brazil and the United States are working on today.  We are creating international public goods through our diplomacy.  And we are recognizing that the effectiveness of our diplomacy is dependent on its ability to reach real people and to change their lives.

We live in a world in which for the first time, peoples have broadly emerged as protagonists and actors, and are no longer relegated to be history's subjects.  Our diplomacy understands this, and seeks to be relevant by building social content into our cooperation and collaboration. In this regard, we are dedicated to keeping human beings in full view as we conduct our partnership.

As we have sought to restore the vitality and purposefulness of our dialogue and common endeavor, we have come across a bigger reality.  We stand at a threshold.  We can retreat into the world we know, or we can advance with openness and attentiveness into something new. Our diplomacy can be more of the same, or it can be an act of dignity, comprehension, and transformation.

Darcy Ribeiro once wrote that Brazil's creations were "human conquests" manifested in "...the building of Brasilia, the architecture of Niemeyer, the music of Villa-Lobos, the painting of Portinari, the poetry of Drummond, and the novels of Guimaraes Rosa." It is my hope that Brazil can add its diplomacy with the United States to that list.