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Brazilian President Begins New Term With Tough Road Ahead


In Brazil today, a somewhat lukewarm inauguration for second term president, Dilma Rousseff.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rousseff barely won re-election because of a sputtering economy. And now she begins her new term with a massive corruption scandal surrounding the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. As she took to the podium, she promised to defend the integrity of the Brazilian constitution.


DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joining me now is Paulo Sotero. He is the director for the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center. He's speaking to us from KGNU public radio in Boulder, Colorado. Paulo, happy New Year.

PAULO SOTERO: Happy New Year to you, too, Lourdes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you, so a new term for President Rousseff - a new year, but a tough road ahead.

SOTERO: Yes, the challenges are enormous. The Petrobras is a corruption scandal of epic proportions. And she faces a stagnant economy where unemployment is about to go up. So Dilma will have to really harness all her political skills. But I believe that she is capable of doing the job as an honest politician - an honest leader.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about Brazil and U.S. relations. They experienced a breakdown after documents from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. was spying on President Rousseff, her cabinet and others. President Biden was in attendance today at the inauguration and the president has just appointed the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. as her foreign minister. So does that show that there is a reconciliation in the works?

SOTERO: I think there is an effort in that direction. I think the presence of President Biden at the inauguration of President Dilma was very important. It is the highest level of American representation at such an event in Brazil in more than 20 years. I think there is not only the desire on both capitals to overcome the difficulties that were created by the spying episode and let President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a state visit to Washington. There is also the need for that. Why? Because of the economy, and President Dilma Rousseff and obviously President Obama know that very well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot has been made of President Obama's new position on Cuba, the opening up of diplomatic relations, of course. One of the reasons that they said that they did this was to have a closer relationship with Latin America and that this had been a stumbling block. Do you think that Cuba has played a role in perhaps this reconciliation between Brazil and the United States?

SOTERO: Not directly, but I think it will help now because in Brazil and in the region, there has always a type of anti-Americanism that has been fed by this failed policy of the United States to isolate Cuba. This policy has now been removed. I think that those that have used that in order to create difficulties in the relationship between Brazil and other countries with the United States have less space now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Rousseff in her previous term, unlike her predecessor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has not actually wanted to engage in the international sphere as much. Do you think that she will be forced to at this particular point with so much trouble at home?

SOTERO: She will have to because this is an important part of her domestic effort to show that Brazil is an active participant in the international economy and also in certain important relations, such as that with the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute. Thank you so much.

SOTERO: Thank you very much, Lourdes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 1, 2015 at 11:00 PM CST
We mistakenly refer to Vice President Biden as President Biden, and then our guest makes the same mistake. Additionally, the original transcript incorrectly inserted the title vice where it had not been used.
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