The official relationship between Argentina and Brazil is at its weakest and most delicate point since the democratic transition in both countries. A year ago, in an interview after his presidential inauguration, Jair Bolsonaro said that Brazil would seek "to have supremacy in South America. At the end of 2019, in an article published on the Itamaraty website, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo stated that a communist threat was looming over Latin America and was seeking to "strangle" Brazil. A kind of communism that "seeks to illuminate nations like Argentina with its darkness". In August 2019, after the Argentine primaries, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said that "if (Cristina Fernández de) Kirchner arrives and wants to close their economy, we will leave MERCOSUR". And in October, Bolsonaro said, before the first-round election, that a victory by Alberto Fernández "could put MERCOSUR as a whole at risk.”
In 2020, the following must be taken into account. 1) We are facing a hyper-ideologized Brazil, that is returning to old hegemonic aspirations in South America, reinvigorated with an agro-business sector of growing influence in comparison with the industrialist sector, more neoliberal in the economic field and civilizing crossover in the political-cultural field. This Brazil is not going to change suddenly. 2) The situation is intricate and negative for a remarkably vulnerable Argentina, urged by huge internal and external challenges and with diverse social actors prepared to push the level of internal polarization to extremes. This Argentina must not deepen its decline but reverse it with much effort and for several years. 3) Over time, Argentina has been losing (because of its action, omissions or negligence) influence, assets and is becoming less relevant, in different areas, for Brazil. If they stay on their current path Brazilian-Argentinean relationship may lose its strategic significance for both countries; this being more harmful for our country.
Based on this diagnosis, it is important to admit that our political, business, labour, party, academic, social and military leaders have spent long periods of time without seriously reflecting and acting on the real state of Argentine-Brazilian relations. Based on this diagnosis, it is important to admit that our political, business, labour, party, academic, social and military leaders have spent long periods of time without seriously reflecting and acting on the real state of Argentine-Brazilian relations. Likewise, it is necessary to emphasize that, as in other aspects of foreign policy (investments, the IMF, Trump, etc.), the government of Cambiemos believed that its very existence was synonymous with harmony, and with the case of Brazil, this means not noticing the deep transformations that have taken place in the two countries. It is also necessary to remember that conventional diplomacy of an inter-state nature means today insufficient to address the enormous challenges generated in bi-national relations. For this reason, it is urgent to vindicate, stimulate and deepen citizen diplomacy.
Today, Argentina needs, perhaps more than ever, a renewed citizen diplomacy towards Brazil.
Although, as Kristian Herbolzheimer points out, this is a relatively recent concept with no single, universally accepted definition, it is generally assumed to be part of a strategy aimed at solving problems, particularly at mitigating difficult relationships and/or situations. I understand citizen diplomacy as a type of diplomacy in which unarmed non-governmental groups play a complementary role to that of the state, assume a legitimate dialogue with different partners abroad and develop innovative alliances with the civil societies of other nations in bilateral and multilateral spheres. In essence, this is a process of transnational social intertwining that does not replace contacts and agreements between States and from States at international forums.
Citizen diplomacy has been expanding since the 1980s, but it became more prominent in the 1990s. The dynamics of democratization, globalization and integration facilitated it. Its main focus is on influencing governments and inter-governmental organizations through lobbying and negotiation. This diplomacy requires in-depth knowledge of the public agenda (domestic and international), the ability to act beyond national borders, the ability to mobilize resources, a certain degree of autonomy and the credibility required to engage with various partners.
Citizen diplomacy proves that the monolithic and ambiguous notions of national interest are wrong: various interests are expressed both within and outside countries and can be strengthened or weakened. In this sense, it is essential to understand the configuration and scope of the political economy in force in each country. It also confirms that asymmetrical power relations between nations can be compensated, in some way, by mobilized and active citizens who complement traditional diplomacy and elevate the weaker party into a position of manoeuvre.
Successful citizen diplomacy is one that builds cross-border networks and coalitions, creates strong social relationships overseas, influences public opinion at home and abroad, expands cooperative ties with counterparts in other nations, and helps rebuild and/or improve links between states.
Today, Argentina needs, perhaps more than ever, a renewed citizen diplomacy towards Brazil. Politicians, businessmen, workers, scientists, NGOs, young people, women, universities, and communicators could organize themselves more domestically and project themselves better bilaterally to contribute to a re-channeling of bi-national ties. It is important to understand the magnitude of what is at stake in the present and future of relations between Argentina and Brazil. And in that sense, the Argentine government should commit itself to actively support the attempts to update and increase citizen diplomacy. Conventional diplomacy alone is no longer sufficient to regenerate the culture of friendship between Brazilians and Argentines.