Called one of the world’s strongest women, Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, has sworn to build upon the transformation her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, brought about in Brazil and to see the country possessing South America’s largest economy become a bigger political power on a global scale.
Rousseff is visiting Turkey for the first time since she assumed office at the beginning of this year, as she takes up foreign relationships from where da Silva left off and pushes through with strategic partnerships in even the furthest corners of the world. Turkey and Brazil, long-time friends and newfound allies, have been in close diplomatic contact with each other since the beginning of the Lula era, and Rousseff is here to ensure the ties remain close.
The fact that the countries have so much in common has been a reason for interesting partnerships arising between Turkey and Brazil, with the two ending up forming a bond on the margins of the international community in many cases, such as that of Iran’s uranium enrichment project, and they frequently compared notes regarding the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East. Now, at a time when world opinion is divided over the future of the Arab Spring countries and of Palestine, Rousseff argues, Turkey and Brazil yet again have had similar ideas for bringing peace to one of the world’s least stable regions.
Rousseff suggested in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman that Turkey and Brazil are both emerging world powers with a growing importance in global politics and that they share the common notion of integration and peace. She said Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors policy” parallels Brazil’s regional policy, as both countries aim at establishing integration, peace and stability with their neighbors in their respective regions.
Rousseff suggested in an interview with Today’s Zaman that Turkey and Brazil are both emerging world powers with a growing importance in global politics and that they share the common notion of integration and peace. She said Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors policy” parallels Brazil’s regional policy, as both countries aim at establishing integration, peace and stability with their neighbors in their respective regions.
Turkey and Brazil, both multiethnic and diverse countries, Rousseff stressed, see eye-to-eye not only in foreign policy but also in the way they handle their economies. The Turkish and Brazilian foreign trade volumes are not far apart, although Brazil’s figures surpass those of Turkey, and some domestic goals the countries have in common are to increase the efficiency and reach of social services, such as healthcare and education, as well as all other infrastructure.
As the first woman to open the UN General Assembly, Rousseff also staunchly supports equal opportunities for women in politics. Acknowledging that women are still the people struck hardest by poverty, Rousseff also added that violence against women is an issue Brazilian domestic policy is now concerned with and that the country has established special police stations for women and passed legislation to prevent violence against women before it happens, measures Turkey is also making an effort to enact.
Politics aside, Rousseff is also here to attend the Friday seminar of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), where she will address about 1,000 businesspeople from all over Turkey. The business seminar, Rousseff says, will be an opportunity to intensify commercial ties between the two countries, which have been growing steadily since 2002, with the flow of trade between the nations expected to surpass $2 billion by the end of 2011.
As chief of staff during Lula’s tenure and a political activist against oppressive military rule as a young woman, Rousseff has claimed the world’s attention as a figure of resistance and power. Having risen to heights most have not even imagined, Rousseff is a woman not afraid to break with convention as she follows the path towards a more democratic, equal and developed Brazil.
Madame President, you have claimed a lot of firsts since you entered the political scene: the first woman president of Brazil, its first woman chief of staff, the first economist to be president of Brazil and lately the first woman to kick off the UN General Assembly sessions. We can see how empowering your example is for all women, but what is your feeling about all that? What is the world’s utmost challenge for a strong, dedicated woman?
In spite of notable progress in the last decades, gender inequality is pervasive throughout the world. Women are still the ones most affected by extreme poverty, poor healthcare and education and violence. Their wages are on average much lower than those of men, and they are underrepresented in decision-making positions both in the political sphere and in private enterprise.
We have, therefore, a particularly high stake in building a more peaceful and just world. To that end, we must fight to ensure equal social and political rights to all women in every society.
In Brazil, we have been working actively to make this ideal come true. We have created a ministerial-level Secretariat of Policies for Women. We have established specialized police stations for women and passed special legislation to prevent and punish violence against women. And women are given priority in social programs, such as those that provide cash [incentives] and housing [loans].
How will your tenure change Brazil? Former President Lula was regarded as a milestone. How do you plan to build on that foundation?
President Lula’s main achievement was to change the way Brazilians were governed, leading us to believe more in ourselves and in the future of the country. Being a part of his government was one of the most vigorous political experiences of my life.
My mission is to consolidate this transformation and to advance along the path of economic growth with distribution of income. Since the beginning of the year we launched several initiatives to that effect, among which I would like to highlight “Brasil sem Miséria” (Brazil without poverty), a comprehensive national poverty alleviation plan that aims to lift more than 16 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty through cash transfer initiatives, increased access to education, health, welfare, sanitation and electricity, and productive inclusion — and “Brasil Maior” (Bigger Brazil) — a new industrial policy that provides incentives, financing and tax relief for national industries sensitive to the strengthening of Brazil’s international competition.
Despite the thousands of kilometers between them, Turkey and Brazil have become incredibly cooperative in many fields, most notably in foreign policy. What has caused this shift? What, in your opinion, has caused Brazil and Turkey to develop such similar visions and perceptions of the world?
Turkey and Brazil occupy positions of growing importance in international affairs. We are both included in the category of emerging countries, and in fact our economies are relatively comparable in many respects — $300 billion in foreign trade for Turkey in 2010; $380 billion for Brazil in the same period. We have established positions of preeminence in our respective regions, through democratic and inclusive models of growth. Turkey´s “zero problem” policy with its neighbors can be translated, mutatis mutandi, into Brazil’s vision of a fully integrated, peaceful and prosperous South America. Brazil has been a driving force in promoting bi-regional dialogues between South America, on the one hand, and Europe, Africa, Asia and the Arab world, on the other hand.
Turkey and Brazil have expanded the range of their foreign policy, and, in particular, they have enhanced their relationship with Africa, through economic cooperation and humanitarian assistance.
We have similar views on the limited scope for using force as a means of resolving conflict in today’s increasingly complex and integrated world.
Turkey is where the West meets the East, and where both continents encounter Africa. Its cultural diversity and multiethnic society echo those of Brazil. We are both “melting pot” societies, and the many commonalities that can be established between our nations bring us together naturally.
In recognition of this, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a Plan of Action for the Brazil-Turkey Strategic Partnership during his visit to Brazil in May of 2010. The plan provides an institutional framework for cooperation between the two countries in nine broad fields of common interest. This partnership is built on shared values, such as the full respect for human rights and the promotion of sustainable development with social justice.
When Turkey and Brazil stood up to the rest of the world and signed a declaration with Iran, people thought that was a crazy foreign policy alliance. How will commonalities between Turkish and Brazilian diplomacy unfold in the future?
Brazil-Turkey relations are going through a very dynamic phase, marked by a series of high ranking bilateral contacts and a rapprochement at the level of business and tourism, thanks, in part, to the establishment of direct regular flights between İstanbul and São Paulo.
We are ready and willing to take on a more active role at the decision table within global governance structures, including those of the multilateral financial agencies. We share many views with respect to the international financial crisis in the G-20. And we have similar positions with respect to the situation in the Middle East, supporting the formal recognition at the UN of the State of Palestine, a necessary step towards the two-state solution, which will bring lasting peace to one of the least stable regions of the world.
The pursuit of peace and security is not the exclusive responsibility of only a handful of powerful states, but a commitment of the international community as a whole, in accordance with the agreed principles, objectives and mandates of the United Nations. In this spirit, Brazil and Turkey have legitimately acted in coordination with one another with a view to finding a balanced and fair solution to the issue of uranium enrichment in Iran.
What is Brazil’s take on Syria? What is your personal view on the current turbulence in Syria and other Arab Spring countries, based on your own experience of political conflict? Having been on both sides, do you feel for the resistance, or the administrations in power?
Brazil is the adopted homeland of many immigrants from the Arab world, who came to our country in search of peace and opportunity — like so many other immigrants from different parts of the earth. Brazilians of all origins wholeheartedly support the search for an ideal that belongs to no culture, because it is universal: the ideal of freedom.
All nations must, together, find a legitimate and effective way to aid those societies that call for reform while keeping their citizens in the forefront. We vehemently repudiate the brutal repression of civilian populations. Yet we remain convinced that for the international community, the use of force must always be a last resort.
Both Brazil and Turkey have emerged as rising global powers in recent years. How do you think that could translate into economics and trade between the countries? Have you set any trade goals for the countries in the near future?
Since 2002, the flow of trade between Brazil and Turkey has been growing systematically. It has expanded considerably, having exceeded $1.6 billion in just the first half of 2011. It will possibly reach and even exceed the range of $2 billion by the end of the year.
Brazilian exports to Turkey products such as iron ore, soybeans, wheat, coffee, tobacco and wood, among others. From Turkey we buy automotive accessories, iron bars, nuts, machine tools, fertilizers, tractor accessories, transformers and dried apricots, among other products. We have a very diversified trade, but it certainly has room for improvement.
We need to increase reciprocal investments. Groups such as Sabancı Holding and Aktaş in Brazil, and Petrobras, Embraer and Metalfrio in Turkey, are leading the way, and I am sure other important companies will follow. Turkey has a good legal structure and customs policy, and various export processing zones to promote joint ventures. The signing of the bilateral agreement to avoid double taxation, in December 2010 in Brazil, should encourage reciprocal investments. The opening in 2009 of direct flights between İstanbul and São Paulo has also proved a useful tool to expand trade and tourism between the two countries.
You will be visiting the TUSKON forum on Friday Oct. 7, where almost a thousand businesspeople will be waiting to hear you speak. What will be your core message? What are the fields in which you think Turkey and Brazil have the greatest potential to increase their economic cooperation?
The business seminar sponsored by TUSKON provides an opportunity for the intensification of economic and commercial ties between the two countries. The Turkish market offers very interesting opportunities to the Brazilian private sector in fields such as oil and energy, transport and commercial aviation, food and beverage, infrastructure and construction, information technology and communication, and chemicals.
Today Brazil offers great investment opportunities arising from the decision to expand and modernize the infrastructure, in particular with a view to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. There is also enormous potential for the exploitation of tourist activities.
You have put up a fierce fight throughout most of your political life, and now that you are head of state you have reached heights many people do not dare imagine. Which feels more satisfying or productive to lead, a political movement or a country?
It is, of course, a great honor to have been elected by the majority of my fellow citizens to be the president of Brazil. But, quite frankly, I do not feel, on a personal level, that my experience as a young political activist has been any less fulfilling than my tenure as head of state. In these two stages of my life I have fought hard — as I have as a civil servant in the intervening years — for a more democratic, equal and developed country.
05 October 2011, Wednesday / CEREN KUMOVA, ANKARA