Brazilian Embassy in Washington lays empty for the longest time since 1925

. Dec 20, 2019
Brazilian Embassy in Washington lays empty for the longest time since 1925 Brazilian Embassy in Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

In his first year in office, President Jair Bolsonaro’s foreign policy was marked by a near unwavering alignment with the U.S. The northern ally was so important to the president that at one point he wanted to appoint his son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, as Brazil’s ambassador to Washington. The move backfired, and President Bolsonaro never went ahead with nominating his son, settling instead for current chargé d’affaires Nestor Forster Jr.

Mr. Forster, however, won’t officially take office until March 2020. His confirmation hearing before the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee is only likely to happen at the end of February. If approved by the committee, he’d still have to face a Senate floor vote before being officially confirmed. By that point, the post of Brazilian Ambassador to Washington will have lain vacant for at least 266 days. 

</p> <p>This will be the longest vacancy period in the most-coveted post of Brazilian diplomacy since 1925. Back then, President Artur Bernardes nominated Sylvino Gurgel do Amaral, who took office on June 19, putting an end to a 471-day streak without a Brazilian ambassador in the U.S.</p> <p>Last week, Senator Nelsinho Trad, president of the Foreign Affairs Committee, took the rapporteurship of Mr. Forster’s nomination. “We have 15 days to present a report on the nomination and then we will give him a week to come to Brasilia for a hearing,” Mr. Trad tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. “So we are expecting to approve his nomination before Carnaval [at the end of February]. But the voting schedule on the floor depends on the will of Senate President Davi Alcolumbre,” he adds.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Senate went on vacation on December 18 and will only return to work on February 4.</p> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence on appointing his son caused this delay to fill the position left by former ambassador Sérgio Amaral, who left Washington in June 2019. One month later, the administration began talks to facilitate Eduardo Bolsonaro&#8217;s nomination among senators.</p> <p>Then, in October, the deteriorating relationship between the Bolsonaro family and their Social Liberal Party reached a point of no return—and Eduardo Bolsonaro decided to stay in Brasilia. He is currently battling his party in court—they want to suspend him for conduct detrimental to the party, but Mr. Bolsonaro has kept his position as party whip thanks to a court injunction. Eduardo also presides over the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house.&nbsp;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The problems of not having a &#8220;true&#8221; ambassador to Washington</h2> <p>Without a formally appointed ambassador, Brazil has faced difficulties with high-level decision-making in the U.S. Two experienced diplomats heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> argued that an active ambassador would have avoided situations such as the leak of Secretary Mike Pompeo&#8217;s letter <a href="">supporting only the entry of Argentina and Romania to the OECD</a>—which was promised to Brazil by U.S. President Donald Trump in March. </p> <p>“In August 2019, joint arrangements were made with the Argentine embassy, with the U.S. government, to define the OECD accession schedule. No consensus has yet been reached within the organization on setting dates for the start of pending accession processes, which also include Peru, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania”, explained Nestor Forster Jr., in a written <a href="">report</a> to the Brazilian Senate. </p> <p>Last month, the Embassy got another surprise from the White House, when President Trump announced on Twitter that he’d put an end to the exemption of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Brazil. In 2018, weeks after the announcement of 25-percent tariffs on steel and 10-percent levies on aluminum, the U.S. government announced exemptions for Brazil, Argentina, Australia, South Korea, and the European Union.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Brazil was affected by [the imposition of tariffs], which required efforts to control the damage. By working alongside the Brazilian private sector, the embassy was able to raise awareness among U.S. private actors, members of Congress and government officials”, said Nestor Forster. “As a result of this effort, a 25-percent surcharge on Brazilian exports was avoided. The process was concluded in March 2018, with the imposition of annual quotas for Brazilian steel,” he added.&nbsp;</p> <p>Back then, Ambassador Sergio Amaral was still in charge of the Embassy. Now, Mr. Forster’s staff are trying to convince President Donald Trump’s advisors once more.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The absence of a special envoy of the president, accredited to the head of state, impairs dialogue at the highest levels,” analyzed ambassador Paulo Roberto Almeida. He served as Minister-Counsellor at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington between 1999 and 2003. “When you have a charge d&#8217;affaires you have meetings with a secretary at the chancellery and not with the secretary-general or the chancellor himself,” he explains.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nevertheless, Nestor Forster’s period as the “number one” of the Brazilian Embassy marks a “very special” moment for Brazil-U.S. relations, according to one diplomatic source heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. It has been said that relations with the U.S. Congress, the private sector, investors and American media outlets were strong points of this period.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ideologically close to philosopher Olavo de Carvalho and Brazil&#8217;s foreign minister Ernesto Araújo, members of staff also praise him as an efficient boss.&nbsp;</p> <p>Two sources say that Brazilian diplomats in the U.S. were &#8220;very outraged&#8221; when President Bolsonaro nominated Eduardo Bolsonaro to the Embassy.

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André Spigariol

André Spigariol covers Brazilian foreign policy, politics, and economics. He has been published by several media outlets in Latin America, including Vortex Media, Spotniks, Congresso em Foco, La Tercera, CNN Chile, Radio Cooperativa, among others.

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