Too bad Barack Obama isn’t running for office in Brazil – the real Barack Obama, that is. The US president is so popular there that more than a dozen candidates at last month’s municipal elections adopted his surname to try and differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. One candidate, according to CNN, even called himself “Barata Obama”, which literally translates as “Cockroach Obama”.
Nationwide, as indeed through all of Latin America (and indeed the Latin population in the US), Obama is the contender that most Brazilians would vote for, hands-down. According to a BBC World Service poll, 65 per cent of Brazilians favour Obama, while only 6 per cent favour Mitt Romney.
The reasons for this aren’t all that obvious. There are few substantive differences between the two candidates’ Brazil policies. Brasilia has also often lashed out at the policy of quantitative easing, which it has dubbed a “currency war”. The two countries, both respective leaders in their hemispheres, sometimes rub each other up the wrong way. Obama hasn’t even endorsed Brazil’s quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as he has for India.
Yet Obama, as a person, goes down particularly well in multi-racial Brazil. The country’s instincts are towards the political left, so that is a further relative plus. He also hasn’t talked about boosting US military spending – another bonus in Brazil where a policy of non-intervention is deeply engrained.
And while Mitt Romney’s talk about striking trade deals with the region might sound good, which countries would it be with? All those that might do a trade deal, already have done so. And, meanwhile, Brazilian-US trade is already growing at a good clip.
None of these differences might sound decisive. Indeed, they’re not. But then both candidates have spent so little time talking about Latin America – even though it accounts for more trade than with the EU and, arguably, the narcotics trade that stems from it is more of a security threat to the US than from many other places – that it doesn’t take much to swing a difference.