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After Lula: Brazil’s New President signals foreign policy shift

With a more austere approach, Dilma Rousseff has already criticized the same Iranian government that her predecessor was eager to reach out to.

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Anointed by her wildly popular predecessor, Dilma Rousseff's victory in November as Brazil's first female president promised near perfect continuity from the policies of the past eight years. And on the domestic front, the 63-year-old economist is showing all the signs of continuing in the footsteps of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's social and economic development programs, aiming to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015.

The new president may be set to mark a subtle, but potentially important, shift away from Lula on foreign policy. Not only is Rousseff expected to be generally more low-profile and pragmatic, she appears to be shifting Brazil's stance on the ongoing US-Iranian diplomatic standoff.

Rousseff was active in resistance groups fighting against Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1960s, and between 1970 and 1973 she was imprisoned and tortured. As a result of her experiences, she looks set to be less tolerant of governments accused of human rights abuses than Lula, who was on friendly terms with such autocratic leaders as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In an interview with the Washington Post in December, Rousseff distanced herself from Brazil's abstention in a recent United Nations resolution condemning Iran's human rights abuses, including the stoning of people convicted of crimes. "I am not (yet) the president of Brazil, but I would feel uncomfortable as a woman president-elect not to say anything against the stoning. My position will not change when I take office. I do not agree with the way Brazil voted. It's not my position."

Since her election, Rousseff has already publicly criticized Iran for its "medieval" treatment of women. The Iranian government has voiced its displeasure at her repeated references to Iran's human rights situation, in a first sign of tension between the two countries following years of friendly relations during Lula's tenure.

In another sign of a possible policy shift, Rousseff has appointed Antonio Patriota, ambassador to the United States during the Lula administration and married to an American woman, as Brazil's foreign minister. Patriota has a close relationship with Celso Amorim, foreign minister under Lula, so many of his actions will be consistent with the previous government's. But Patriota's appointment may be an indication that Rousseff hopes to reinforce a relationship between Brazil and the U.S. that has cooled in recent years, in part due to Lula's willingness to negotiate with Iran over a nuclear energy deal in 2010.

Still to be determined is the influence that Lula may or may not try to exert over foreign policy decisions, as he is likely to remain involved in international issues, according to Brazilian economic journal Valor. During Lula's tenure, his foreign policy was focused on asserting Brazil's role as a regional leader on the international stage, and was marked as much by his charismatic presence as his administration's policies.

Lula was also known for public comments that occasionally crossed the standard lines of diplomacy. Many of his ‘one-liners' were lost in translation before ever reaching the international community. But a few, including 2009's assertion that blond, blue-eyed people were responsible for the financial crisis, did clear the language barrier to receive worldwide coverage. As one Brazilian reporter wrote earlier this year, "Lula's foreign policy actions leave no doubt as to his disposition to handle delicate global problems with a lightness of vocabulary capable of giving even the most trained diplomat heart palpitations."

Still despite the differences in style and substance, Rousseff's government has largely similar foreign policy goals as Lula's, including obtaining a permanent seat on the U.N."s security council, as well as serving as mediator on key international issues such as the Middle East peace process. Rousseff's lack of experience or the flair of her predecessor may keep her out of the limelight in the early months. But Brazil is simply too big a player for her to stay quiet for long.

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