When Barack Obama sat down Monday evening for dinner at the White House with his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, it was a meeting of two world leaders in two very different situations.
Obama is coming off a week of favorable Supreme Court decisions upholding ObamaCare subsidies and legalizing same-sex marriage across the country which helped boost his approval rating to 50 percent for the first time in two years.
Rousseff, on the other hand, faces political isolation at home as she deals with a flagging economy, low growth and widespread allegations of corruption at the Brazil’s state-owned oil giant, Petrobras – all of which has driven her popularity rating to an all-time low of 11 percent.
Her visit to the U.S. – coming almost two years after she cancelled an official state visit in the wake the National Security Agency spying scandal – is seen by many observers as a crucial test to her second term in office, even if it is expected to do little to lift her on the home front.
"Dilma needs some big wins to boost her popularity," Jason Marczak, deputy director at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told Fox News Latino. "Dilma's trip here is not going to reverse her presidency, but what it can do is start a steadier stream of good news that could reverse her presidency."
Under Rousseff, Brazil’s attitude toward the U.S. has been driven more by the situation at home. The cancelled 2013 trip, for one, was just as much about Brazilians’ outrage at being the top Latin American target for the NSA as it was about the billions of emails and telephone calls scooped up in the NSA’s nets.
In hindsight, however, some experts are saying that Rousseff might have prevented some of her current difficulties – at least in terms of foreign investment from the U.S. – by having made the official state visit two years ago.
"She didn't come two years ago because she was worried how it would be perceived at home, and now she's coming to the U.S. because she's in trouble," Chris Sabatini, a professor with Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), told FNL. "This all could have been handled much better two years ago."
Brazil’s inflation rate is running at 8.8 percent annually despite high interest rates, with the benchmark rate at 13.75 percent. Economists are also forecasting an economic contraction to occur this year.
In an effort to change the economic tide, Rousseff is spending most of her U.S. trip outside of Washington – she was in New York City on Monday, meeting with businesspeople about infrastructure investments, and later in the week will head to California to discuss the tech sector with investors in San Francisco.
The Brazilian leader is hoping to assuage concerns from American investors about her country's struggling economy and the corruption investigations into Petrobras at a time when she headed the company.
The Petrobras scandal – which involves allegations of price-fixing and corruption during a time when Rousseff was the head of the company – has widened to include a slew of other Brazilian companies.
Some of the dozens of businesspeople arrested in the scandal have claimed that Rousseff’s political campaign received a portion of the illegal funds. The Brazilian leader has denied these claims.
"It was under my [presidential] administration that these [arrested former Petrobras executives] were removed from office – way before the scandal came to the fore," Rousseff told the Washington Post. "These people did commit crimes, or at least that is what the public prosecutor's office is saying."
The U.S. is Brazil's second-largest trading partner after China, exchanging $62 billion in trade. The U.S. announced Monday that it will allow imports of fresh beef from 14 states in Brazil, something the South American nation had long sought.
The Obama administration plans to focus much of the talks around climate change. The U.S. already has announced a 2025 deadline to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.
Brazil, the worlds seventh largest economy, is one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases that has not presented pollution-control targets. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, who is traveling with Rousseff during her U.S. trip, has said that developed nations bear more responsibility than the developing world because of their emissions in the past.
While Rousseff's trip only can be a positive in terms of relations between Washington and Brasilia, experts agree that it is likely to do little to help her popularity when she returns to Brazil later this week.
The best Rousseff can hope for, they say, is that this trip will serve as an impetus for outside investment and provide a boost to the country's miasmic economic situation.
"The problems within Brazil are more bedeviling to Rousseff than anything going on abroad," Sabatini said. "The Brazilian public is wary on many fronts."
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