by Kenneth Maxwell
The decision of the US Air Force to cancel the $355 million contract, to buy 20 Super Tucano Single engine turboprop planes from the Brazilian company Embraer, has been meet with dismay in Brazil.
The story has been headlined in the Brazilian press. The Brazilians have attributed the decision to the political pressures that arise in the US during a presidential election year. As well as the law suite brought in the US Count of Federal Claims by Hawker Beechcraft, the Kansas based competitor of Embraer. They also blame the political pressure galvanized by politicians, who claim to be defending “American jobs,” in a period of general economic distress.
The decision could not have come at a more sensitive moment. Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, is scheduled to visit Washington in April. The Brazilian government, moreover, is currently in the final stage of making a major decision on the purchase of a new generation of jet fighters. Boeing’s Super Hornet is one of the competitors. Former president Lula favored the French Desalt-Rafale. The third candidate is the Swedish Saab Gripen NG.
President Rousseff postponed the decision on taking office. The Brazilian Defence minister, Celso Amorim, however, who was Foreign Minister throughout Lula’s two terms as President, and is not known to be a great friend of the US, has recently visited India, which recently completed a deal with France to purchase a fleet of Rafaels. Celso Amorim has just been in France.
A jet aircraft deal with Brazil would be worth some 10 Billion dollars.
Commentators in Brazil have long worried about the reliability of US suppliers in the military field. They have been worried that political or business pressures would upset deals. Or, as importantly, place limits on the exchange of critical technical information. What has happened with the repudiation by the US of the Super Tucano contract only confirms that fear.
Brazilians have also been very aware that the US is the world largest military market. And Embraer has tried very hard to gain a foothold in the US military markets., just as it has done in the civilian aircraft market in the US.
The Super Tucano deal was entered into in association with the Sierra Nevada Company, and the planes were to be built in Jacksonville, Florida.
Florida is also were Embraer has it US headquarters. Several major Brazilian corporations are also based in Florida. Brazil is Florida’s largest overseas trading partner. Brazilians spend more in Florida than any other group of foreign visitors.
But politics complicates the Brazilian side of the equation as well. President Dilma Rousseff decided to visit Cuba before she visited the US.
Brazil has economic interests in Cuba, most especially, in the port of Mariel. Cuban human rights activists hoped that as a former victim of the military regime in Brazil, when she was imprisoned and tortured, Dilma Rousseff, would use the occasion of her visit to speak up for human rights.
Instead, doubtless looking to please her Worker’s Party political base in Brazil, and evidently not thinking of the reaction of Cuban Americans, she instead chose while in Havana, to criticize US activities at Guantanamo Bay.
Brazil and the US have a lot going for one another. But sensitivity to each other’s aspirations is not one of them.
Professor Maxwell is one of the world’s leading experts on Brazil and writes a weekly column in Brazil’s most important newspaper.