Brazil’s Long Shadow Vexes Some Neighbors – by Simon Romero (New York Times – November 4, 2011)

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Sandal-clad indigenous protesters have excoriated their president, calling him a “lackey of Brazil.” Angry demonstrations in front of Brazil’s embassy here denounced its “imperialist” tendencies. Bolivian intellectuals lambasted the “São Paulo bourgeoisie,” likening them to the slave hunters who expanded the boundaries of colonial Brazil.

Such heated words used to be reserved for the United States, which has wielded extraordinary influence across Latin America. But as American dominance in the region recedes and Brazil increasingly flexes its newfound political and economic might, it has begun to experience the pitfalls of the role as well: a pushback against the hemisphere’s rising power.

“Power has shifted from one side of Avenida Arce to the other,” said Fernando Molina, a local newspaper columnist, referring to the street in La Paz where the Brazilian ambassador’s residence sits opposite the towering embassy of the United States.

Brazilian endeavors are being met with wariness in several countries. A proposal to build a road through Guyana’s jungles to its coast has stalled because of fears that Brazil could overwhelm its small neighbor with migration and trade.

In Argentina, officials suspended a large project by a Brazilian mining company, accusing it of failing to hire enough locals. Tension in Ecuador over a hydroelectric plant led to bitter legal battle, and protests by Asháninka Indians in Peru’s Amazon have put in doubt a Brazilian dam project.

But perhaps no Brazilian project in the region has stirred as much ire as the one here.

Financed by Brazil’s national development bank — a financial behemoth that dwarfs the lending of the World Bank and has become a principal means for Brazil to project its power across Latin America and beyond — the plan was to build a road through a remote Bolivian indigenous territory. But it provoked a slow-burning revolt; hundreds of indigenous protesters arrived here in October after a grueling two-month march that took them up the spine of the Andes, denouncing their onetime champion, President Evo Morales, for supporting it.

“Llunk’u of Brazil,” read one of their placards, calling the president a minion of Brazil, in Quechua, an indigenous language. Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president and an avowed environmentalist, suddenly found himself at odds with an important part of his political base, defending a Brazilian project that could increase deforestation. He eventually yielded to the protesters’ demands and ruled out the road though the territory.

Companies from other countries, notably China, are also expanding rapidly in Latin America and occasionally confronting hostility. But Brazil is the region’s largest nation, with a population of about 200 million people, and the size and boldness of its rise over the past decade help explain some of the tension it has generated.

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilian immigrants and their descendants have settled in Paraguay, often buying up land for large-scale agriculture in a country with a much smaller population. Called Brasiguayos, they have been both celebrated for helping Paraguay’s economy boom and demonized for controlling large tracts of land, at times leading land activists to burn Brazilian flags.

More than a century ago, before it became a republic, Brazil was an empire with occasional designs on neighbors’ territory, often serving as an arbiter in disputes in Latin America.

Brazil now relies on a sophisticated diplomatic corps, rising foreign aid payments and the deep pockets of its development bank, which finances projects not just in Latin America but in Africa as well.

“When Kissinger came to Brazil more than three decades ago, he warned his hosts that they could end up being feared rather than loved by their own neighbors,” said Matias Spektor, a professor at Brazil’s Fundação Getulio Vargas, an elite educational institution, referring to the former American secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger, and his efforts to forge stronger ties with Brazil in the 1970s.

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