Commentary: Brazil take place as Latin America leader

Bye, bye, Mexico. As of this weekend, Brazil will become – whether by design or default – the de facto spokesman for Latin America in the United States, and the most important player in U.S.-Latin American relations.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is scheduled to visit Washington on Saturday, and to become the first Latin American leader to meet with President Barack Obama since the U.S. president's inauguration. The two are to discuss bilateral, regional and world issues, including the upcoming April 17 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which will be Obama's first meeting with almost all Latin American leaders.

While Brazilian officials reject claims that their country is trying to become Latin America's regional leader – they proclaim that there is no such thing as "Latin America," but only a collection of countries with very diverse interests – a quick look at Brazil's diplomacy in recent years leaves little doubt about that country's regional ambitions.

Over the past decade, Brazil has been the driving force behind the creation of several South American diplomatic and economic groups that, by geographic definition, have in effect left Mexico out of the picture.

Earlier this week, 12 South American countries officially inaugurated the South American Defense Council, a new group that had been proposed by Lula da Silva to cooperate on military issues and avert potential conflicts.

More important, Brazil was the founding father of the South American Summits, which started in Cuzco, Peru, in December 2004, when 12 South American presidents signed a two-page statement vowing to create a South American Community. Mexico and Panama were invited, but as observers.

In May 2008, Brazil took that organization a step further, signing the constitution of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Brazil.

To read the complete column, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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