The Workers’ Party Contribution to the City Diplomacy in Brazil. A Local-global Ideology

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This study highlights the Brazilian case of city diplomacy, locating the essential role of the leftwing Workers’ Party “PT” and its ideology in the recent cities’ internationalization process. These political efforts result from a particular governance project directly connected to international democratic values agendas and solidarity efforts shared among global leftwing parties. These city diplomatic efforts reflect tendencies shaped by broader trends of public social participation and the democratic autonomy of local governments—both within Brazil and abroad. How did the national democratic environment created by the PT’s administrations (federal and local) influence international diplomatic relations? What were the primary motivations and characteristics of these efforts? What is particular about the PT that motivated its pro international relations position? Through an innovative and in-depth survey of the cities that have administrative International Relations structures and practices established over the past three decades, this study demonstrates how city diplomacy efforts under the PT differ from practices of public diplomacy characteristic of earlier periods of city internationalization in Brazil and suggest broader lessons for other countries.



In 2003, for the first time in Brazilian history, a leftwing party president was elected (Workers’ Party or “PT” – Partido dos Trabalhadores), getting international attention for a new development platform based, among other topics, on hunger eradication. At the end of the PT’s third term in 2014, Brazil had been removed from the UN Hunger Map1 and overtook the UK to become the world’s sixth largest economy2 and a global power player. The Ministry responsible for the Zero Hunger Program during the first Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva term, Jose Graziano, was elected director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)3, becoming the first Latin American ever to hold this position.

The Brazilian foreign policy presented in 2003 by Lula essentially sought a fairer international order with a greater Brazilian pride. The foreign policy project elected in 2002 (PT, 2002) stood for the maintenance of Brazilian sovereignty without specific diplomatic ties, a priority relation with South America, the multilateralism of Brazilian foreign trade, the centrality of South-South cooperation, the review of multilateral organizations, the interest in inter-bloc agreements, the candidacy of Brazilians for leadership positions of international organizations, the search for a permanent chair on the UN Security Council, the World Social Forum valorization, the establishment of an international fund to fight poverty, the eradication of hunger in Brazil and in the world, among many other ideals.

Since the beginning of Lula’s administration, the President placed the people and his will within the country’s foreign strategies, and in the same way, foreign policy became part of Brazilian democratic development. At the inaugural session of the National Congress in January 2003, Lula stated: the democratization of international relations without hegemonies of any kind is as important for the future of humanity as the consolidation and development of democracy within each state in the world.4

After 14 years at the Presidency, the PT had changed Brazilian geopolitical and diplomatic place in the world order; as well, the world order changed with the rise of Brazilian power. The expansion of G7 and constitution of G20, the IBSA bloc (India, Brazil and South Africa), the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) are all geopolitical structures in which Brazil had a prominent voice (Lima, 2016; Amorim, 2010; Burges, 2016; Prado, 2007; Dauvergne & Farias, 2012). This is enhanced by the Brazilian federative diplomacy and by the civil society participation on global debates including the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement, the peacekeeping, the New Urban Agenda, and the internet governance (Pereira, 2017; Patriota, 2017; Balbim, 2016; Santoro & Borges, 2017).

The main goal of this article is to analyze this internationalization process, focusing on the particular structure of governance recently created to encourage and facilitate the international cooperation between cities. This innovative strategy of Brazil’s insertion in world geopolitics was called Decentralized Cooperation during the PT’s term (2003-2016), replacing the Cardoso’s government Federative Diplomacy5 (1995-2002). This last one could be considered as coordination and control policy, while the PT’s policy is recognized as coordination and incentive, being a point of change of relationship between the central government and the phenomenon, as affirmed also by Meireles (2016) based on empirical analyses of the two periods.

Decentralized Cooperation consisted in promoting the international cooperation of subnational entities, particularly cities, guaranteeing both the autonomy of these entities and the reinforcement of the “active and proud” national foreign policy. Decentralized Cooperation corresponds largely to what is commonly called city diplomacy or paradiplomacy.

The strategic actions of local governments on the international scenario have been based on the terms paradiplomacy or city diplomacy more often than not, while local diplomacy and federative diplomacy appear in the scenario with explanatory limitations. Local diplomacy, for example, has a wide scope, referring to all forms of diplomacy exercised from a local scale. The term federal diplomacy, however, brings with it the limitation of making reference exclusively to federative countries. Although there are no intentions here to revise the terms, contributions to this conceptual precision will be addressed later revealing the practical Brazilian positions in this debate, for the instance is enough recognize some authors whom lead with the subject, among others: Pluijim, 2007; Moita, 2017; Abraham, 2015; Acuto, 2017.

The first hypothesis leading to this article is that there is an important correlation between empowerment and internationalization of local governments and leftist ideologies. We envision that the city internationalization degree is directly related to the democratic environment, the social participation and the autonomy of local government. The creation of bureaucratic structures in local governments to deal with International Relations “IR”, analyzed by the different political parties in power, is the main empirical indicator of the city diplomacy ideological linkage in Brazil. It is not the intention to analyze the effectiveness of these structures, a topic that deserves specific research, nor is it to evaluate qualitatively the ideology (value judgement) that drives this process6.

The second hypothesis debated is related to the specific Brazilian case. In Brazil, the city diplomacy, after overcoming erratic advances of the theme during the 1980s and 1990s, began developing as a direct response to the incentives of the Federal Government based in a foreign policy called “active and proud” by Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Lula government.

The analysis of state capacities in promoting the internationalization of cities is limited here to the national and municipal governments, not being considered the state government level. This analytical option is due to a series of factors, the main being the autonomy of the municipal entity in the Brazilian federation and its capacity to establish direct relations with the national government and, in a relative way, with international entities. Also, since the 1988 Constitution, Brazil has deepened a process of decentralization of responsibilities, not necessarily accompanied by the transfer of the necessary resources to face all of them, which places municipalities in a prominent position in several public policies, besides being one of the plausible explanations for a greater internationalization of cities seeking investments.

Mainly, when analyzing the capacity of the states to promote international relations, it is clear the absence of federative policies towards the local governments from the state level. Of the 27 Brazilian states, at least 22 have some bureaucracy exclusively dedicated to International Relation7, while few are the states that count on personnel, budget and long term dedicated projects. The analysis of the state governments web-pages, of some states secretariats programs, of decrees, laws and reports8, reveal that none of the states’ structures refers to the promotion of international relations in the municipalities. That means, contrary to what happened in the federal government, which supported the decentralized cooperation, the IR structures at the state level are dedicated exclusively to the activities of the states themselves. However, running mathematical regressions, Meireles (2016:93) confirm our hypothesis showing the fact that the governor’s party compose the allied base of the federal government during the PT’s turns increases by 15.57 times the chance to create a structure of international relations.

Internationalizsation of Cities

The current internationalization of cities process is relatively recent. Although it is becoming more intense and fast, involving several cities that do not necessarily have singular importance in the global scale and accrediting authors to design scenarios of a new world order in which cities and corporations would respond for an important dimension of the global organization. For some, this new order could follow the model of what would have happened when the Hanseatic League was formed9.

This transformation started in 1913 when the first international network of cities emerged. l’Union Internationale des Villes arose from a search for ‘intercommunal cooperation’, raising the ‘flags of local democracy, solidarity and peaceful relations among peoples’ (Balbim 2016, p. 141). For the first time the constitution of a diplomatic space of cities on the international level was verified. However, there was very little progress in this field during the two world wars, pushing the transformations to a later date in history.

With the end of War in 1945 and the need to rebuild cities and establish new bonds of solidarity among people, the international relationship of cities gained importance for the nation states’ diplomacy. The creation of new forms of cooperation played an important role in the soft-diplomacy constitution. Such examples include the sister cities, the technical cooperation between cities and more recently the constitution of City Networks (Perpetuo & Cerqueira, 2018), and the recognition of NGOs and social movements as actors in the global scale.

The internationalization of cities is used here as a synonym for city diplomacy, which we define as the intentional action of the local public authority to project the city abroad, to promote its attractiveness through capital, science, innovation and culture in search of investments; to exchange experience and knowledge; and, on a level of greater importance, to assert the city’s influence in international networks and in multilateral organizations, thus participating in global governance. City diplomacy is strictly instituted by heads of local government and city representatives, with legal prerogatives more or less established in order to enforce legally or non-binding international agreements of various kinds with other subnational powers.

However, this process can also be initially established between non-governmental corporations and organizations that work as ambassadors. Due to the proximity between the public authorities and the groups that coexist in the production of the urban space, the internationalization of cities involves a wide range of agents, both public and private.

The internationalization of cities can happen in multiple ways, starting with different agents and far surpassing the individual capacity of the local government. Internationalization can be intrinsic to the city, that is, constituent of its social and spatial foundation. Or the city internationalization strategy can be the result of local, national, regional and global movements and interests combined.

To better understand the dimension that we analyze, let’s look at Rio de Janeiro. Rio became international with the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808, with an outbreak of urbanization that sought to transform the colonial city and its aesthetics and practices into a new Metropolis. To that end, new inhabitants, visitors, knowledges and practices arrived. Rio quickly modernized (infrastructures) and internationalized (opening of the ports) itself as a result of the arrival of the royal family. Since then, this city has always been internationally oriented, for instance, having hosted the Third International Conference of American States in 1906, the International Exhibition of the Centennial of Independence in 1922, or the Football World Cup in 1950.

However, it was only in 1987 that the city’s administration began to establish a clear and continuous strategy creating a public administration area dedicated solely to international relations. In 1993, as a result of global commands (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development – UNCED – ECO92), the Municipal Secretariat of International Relations emerged. That is, even though Rio had been internationalized since the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is only in the last decade of the twentieth century that the city began to strategically project its internationalization.

The strategy of internationalization of a city doesn’t respond to transnational reasons only. It is also associated with gains and changes in local, national and/or regional policy. Rather than simply taking part in and influencing processes and decisions on a global scale, local authorities – mayors and others – engage in these processes because they see gains, often symbolic, in the internal scenario of their countries and regions.

For example, regarding the French decentralized cooperation momentum in the 1990s, Trevas (2015) explains that several mayors at that time had national political aspirations and, therefore, motivated by the instruments of the European Union, fostered international relations in their cities to consolidate their names on the national level.

Along these lines it can be seen that internationalization of cities can be established as a response to local, regional, national or international commands, whether combined or not, reflecting multiple interests both at the internal and external political levels.

Brazilian Conceptual Contributions. Paradiplomacy, Federal or City Diplomacy

Influenced since the early 1970s by the studies of Nye & Keohane (1971), many authors of IR argue that cities, as well as corporations, unions, churches, political parties and NGOs, have been breaking the state-centric paradigm of the international relations, creating a sort of paradiplomacy. Successively, paradiplomacy of cities has been playing an effective and prominent role in the international geopolitical scenario since the 1990s, associated with major UN conferences on human rights, environment, urbanism and social issues.

The most frequently used term to refer to city internationalization, paradiplomacy, encompasses myriad of actors, both public and private, engaged in diplomatic negotiations, gathering under the same conceptual umbrella distinct motivations, instruments and actors, generating analytical inaccuracies. This sparks a debate about the most appropriate terminology to embrace what we understood as different phenomenon (Balbim 2016, p. 140).

The growing role of cities in the international arena is one of the elements that accredits the use of a specific term for their own diplomatic activity. This can be evidenced by analyzing the central role of cities in promoting large investments, impacting even the national level. For example, the dispute between US cities to receive the new headquarters of the giant Amazon corporation, or disputes to receive plants of automotive companies in Mercosur cities. We can also cite the international competition to host the Olympic Games, which is strongly associated with the symbolic capital of each chosen city.

In addition, as states Pluijim (2007), the use of paradiplomacy evidences a main system and a parallel system, which according to Santos (2017:33) contradicts the current reality in which cities often exceed the Nation State in different areas of diplomatic activity, such as trade agreements.

The relative autonomy of cities on specific global issues also allows the use of the term City Diplomacy. An example of this are the North American cities that oppose the national government in relation to the Paris Climate Agreement10. As Abraham (2015, p. 37) points out, when a national government does not reflect local interests, they legitimately place themselves as operative agents alongside transnational bodies, other cities, countries and even corporations. In this sense, Borja and Castells (1997) propose the understanding of the local scale as a territorial manager of the global forces, exercising an effective, active and relatively autonomous diplomacy.

In Brazil, more than to merely coordinate local interests, the national government created new governance structures and agreements with other countries to encourage and stimulate partnership and diplomacy between cities. As a result, the internationalization of cities is placed in a complex federative diplomatic field, which assures the local autonomy by the fact that in the light of their interests, or even their inability or incapacity to intervene, the national state sometimes coordinates, regulates, encourages, or only accepts its autonomy.

However, the term federal diplomacy brings with it the limitation of making reference exclusively to federative countries such as Brazil and Argentina (Junqueira & Mariano, 2017; Riggirozzi & Grugel, 2015; Banzatto, 2015; Prazeres, 2004; Rodrigues, 2008; Vigevani, 2006). In Brazil, this term was officially used in 1995 when then-Chancellor Luiz Felipe Lampreia, in a speech at the National Congress, referred to the international actions of states and municipalities (Rodrigues, 2008). Two years later, in 1997, the Advisory Council for Federal Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) was created. The Council sought to coordinate and harmonize the actions of subnational governments, states and municipalities, with the actions of the MRE; thereby constituting the first specific national policy to subnational international action.

Brazilian City Diplomacy Background

The specific study of city diplomacy in Brazil goes back to the time of sister cities in the 1950s, and from there it is an evolutionary line that is institutionally fragile and scarcely diversified (spatially and thematically). During this first period, there was an intense rapprochement with Europeans cities for one side, and for the other side with local governments of the so-called “Free World”, strongly encouraged by the Sister Cities program created by the Eisenhower administration in September 1956 (Santomouro, 2018).

With the process of democratization and decentralization in the late 1980s, followed by the Brazilian insertion into the neoliberal logic and modernizing discourse of globalization in the 1990s, and the relevance of cities to implement international agendas, some cities began to diversify their international actions and outline strategies and public management structures for internationalization. Between 1993 and 1996, the first experiences could be related to global rationalities. In 1993, an international bureaucracy at the municipal level in Porto Alegre was created in response to the World Social Forum. In the same year, another was created in Rio to deal with the developments of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Earth Summit or the ECO 92.

In addition, the UN Conference on Human Settlements Habitat II (1996), empowered cities on the global stage, recognizing that local agendas could ensure the implementation of agreements and thereby enhancing local government action in global processes. Moreover, the national and international recognition of PT’s programs and projects, facilitated by the participation of PT’s Mayors at Habitat II, is an example of how these successful and paradigmatic experiences expressed an alternative way of governing cities (Trevas 2002, p. 51).

The worldwide projection of local Brazilian policies such as participatory budgeting and land regularization, which have been awarded best practices in Habitat II, has internationally projected several of the first cities that have formed international bureaucracies. In addition, the receipt of international technical cooperation, particularly from Europe, as well as programs of investments in multilateral bodies in urban policies, such as the program “Habitar Brasil BID” financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, placed the need to deal with international relations on the local administration agenda.

In 1995 the MRE created its regional representation offices throughout the country to advise the subnational entities in their possible actions in the international scenario. In the same year the Mercocities network was created and strongly contributed to the advancement of IR in Brazilian cities, despite the national government position.

More than just promoting the interest of Brazilian cities in IR, Mercocities and other networks and initiatives are instruments of cities international projection around the world, permitting cities to participate in investments and policies of multilateral agencies. The URB-AL (contraction of Urban and America Latina) programme, a European project created in 1995 to foster decentralized cooperation between Europe and Latin American cities, invested resources to fund thematic city networks and meetings and reached great achievement (Robin & Velut 2008, p. 167). In 2001, the URB-AL financial support was responsible for funding and giving technical support to create the IR Municipal Secretary in São Paulo (Trevas, 2015). Also, we note that the Mercocities initiative, as well as Eurocities, was supported by international political party networks such as the Socialist International11, with strong reliance on PT’s leaders12.

In 1997 the President of the Republic created the Federal Relations Office in the MRE, recognizing the relevance of the theme but being faithful to the prevailing national state vision, political position that lasted until 2002. In contrast, in the period from 1997 to 2001, Santo André, São Carlos, São Paulo and Maringá leftist municipal administrations created their IR areas due to the PT’s internationalist history and in particular their association with the European leftist parties and their internationalist ideology (Godoy, 2013; Trevas, 2015).

In 2004 the first world organization of local governments (United Cities and Local Governments, UCLG) was created from the merger of the two major associations of local governments, IULA and FMCU – ideologically opposed during the Cold War (Salomom 2018, p. 25). At that moment, the strong diplomacy of São Paulo city resulted in the appointment of the mayor Marta Suplicy to co-chair the UCLG in its first management.

In 2007 FONARI (National Forum of Secretaries and Municipal Managers of International Relations) was created, revealing the strength dimension that city diplomacy acquired in the country. That same year, after several years of informal decentralized international cooperation, the Basic Agreement for Technical Cooperation between Brazil and Italy was signed, authorizing Brazilian states and municipalities to sign agreements with local Italian governments, overcoming previously existing legal obstacles. The following year, a similar document was signed between Brazil and France.

The strong participation of the country in the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals has also contributed to city diplomacy. In both cases the PT’s policy was to encourage the decentralization of these international agendas. As a result of this, virtually all eight millennium goals were implemented. This strategy has been repeated for the SDG implementation, with Brazil establishing a National SDG Commission with 32 representatives from civil society and the three levels of government.

The increase of organizations dedicated to IR in Brazilian cities is also closely linked to their participation in specific projects that involve financial resources, mainly through international agencies (AFD French Development Agency – CIDA Canadian International Development Agency – AECID Spanish International Development Agency – GTZ German Technical Cooperation Agency – FMDV Global Funds for Cities Development – JICA Japan International Cooperation Agency) and their initial offers of technical cooperation which were encouraged by the decentralized cooperation strategy of the national government.

The City Diplomacy Legal Framework

In Brazil, the Federal Constitution defines foreign policy as a nation exclusivity activity (article 21), signed by the President (article 84) and approved by the national Congress (article 52). In the absence of a formal expedient, the legitimacy of cities to formalize international cooperation seems to be ambiguous. Seeking to resolve the ambiguity, a proposal to amend the Constitution was presented in 2005 (PEC 475). This amendment would allow subnational entities, under the federal government’s authorization, to establish international partnerships. The bill did not pass, and in 2006 the congressmen presented a new bill which also was not approved.

However, according to a federative analysis made by Rodrigues (2011, p. 8) for the National Front of Mayors (FNP), even if foreign relations are the exclusive competence of the Union, international relations – as relations with the world – are not a central government’s monopoly. In this vision, there is a large range of IR in which the federated entities can and should act. In addition, in a federation, the principle of internal cooperation converges with that of international cooperation, materializing in the principle of subsidiarity.

It was in this space of legal understanding and federal covenant where the city diplomacy strengthened. City Diplomacy does not deny the diplomatic field of the nation state; on the contrary, together they were involved in the creation of a singular diplomatic framework and field. Cities and the Division for Federative Affairs (SAF), created by Lula, increased the Decentralized International Cooperation13, or just Decentralized Cooperation (DC), as a way to achieve mutual goals.

The term was officially used to refer to the cities’ diplomatic actions developed with the tacit or strategic support of the federal government. This instrument, widely used by European countries14, is directly related to the historical internationalism of the left-wing parties, as well as to the structuring of municipalist movements that seek the decentralization of power as a form of democracy. The European vision for decentralized cooperation is passed on through the funding provided by the EU Decentralized Cooperation Programme (Salomon 2018, p. 31).

As results of these efforts, part of the DC activities in Brazil is now derived from bilateral treaties and protocols signed by Brazil and Italy in 2007, and by Brazil and France in 2008. In both cases Brazil recognizes the individuality and autonomy of local governments’ international relations, whether established or unestablished, in the terms of internal cooperation, subsidiarity and convergence of efforts.

Also, as part of the local initiatives of cities and social organizations in the framework of Mercosur, the Consultative Forum of Municipalities was created in 2004, which means that local governments began participate actively in the Southern Common Market. Nevertheless, the Brazilian national government played a leading role in the formulation and institution of the Forum via SAF (Salomón, 2008:02), reinforcing the particularities of decentralized cooperation during the PT’s governments.

From the Brazilian city diplomacy, the nation’s support for these initiatives overcame legal obstacles and proved the legitimacy of local government internationalization. In this way, since 2012, there has been a debate involving decentralized cooperation stakeholders and the Presidency for the publication of a Decree, aiming to establish the Legal Framework for Decentralized Cooperation.

The Worker’s Party Contributions

This section aims to answer the following question as a way to clarify the existence of a deliberative political coordination action by the PT to improve the internationalization of cities and social movements. In this sense it is important to know: what is particular about the politics and goals of the PT that motivate its pro IR position?

The PT was created at the beginning of the Brazilian (re)democratization process in the 1980s and among its main cadres were political exiles by the dictatorship who had close relations with party internationalism, such as the Socialist International, represented in Brazil by another political leftist party, the PDT (Democratic Labor Party), responsible for the creation of the first bureaucratic structure of decentralized international relations in Rio de Janeiro during Leonel Brizola’s rule in 1983 (Rodrigues, 2004).

The strong international ties of the PT and the ideals of social participation and decentralization of power enabled the party to hold the World Social Forum and globally spread the idea that “another world is possible”, where cooperation and direct democracy are some of its flags.

The change in Brazilian diplomacy during the period in which the PT was at the head of the Presidency has been portrayed and analyzed by several authors (Amorim, 2010, Burges, 2016, Doctor, 2017, Lehmann, 2017, Marcondes & Mawdsley, 2017, Milani et al. 2016, Patriot, 2017, Pereira, 2017). During Lula’s Government, the significance of the expansion of cooperation “should not be underestimated: ABC’s budget for technical cooperation projects with developing countries increased by a factor of 70 between 2001 and 2005” and between 2005 and 2009 this value grew over to $1.43 billion US (Marcondes & Mawdsley 2017, p. 683). Apart from creating bureaucratic structures, Lula’s administration innovated creating the so-called triangular decentralized cooperation15 which involved countries from the north, south and Brazil.

President Lula, at the beginning of his administration in 2003, transformed the administrative structure of the country’s foreign policy, reflecting what is commonly called in Brazil the PT’s governing model. Analyzing PT’s local administrations until 1998, Tarso Genro, who was mayor of Porto Alegre, governor of Rio Grande do Sul and President of the Party, made explicit the PT’s internationalist ideology taking the city as a first order political agent.

The process of economic integration under the financial monopolies auspices has not only changed relations between states (reducing legal barriers, establishing universal connections through the domain of capital) but has also opened up new cities’ and regions’ functions. The city has been obliged to launch itself into the world and to become a new political and economic subject, not only capturing resources, articulating with NGOs, but also dialoguing and contracting with other governments and shaping a new political leadership type (the city diplomacy), credited to make major strategic disputes that only nation state could do (Genro 2002, p. 15).

The PT’s governance model that recognizes and fosters IR in local administrations has been adopted by the national government. The government program that elected Lula in 2002 makes clear the party transformative positions in IR and reveals the importance of a democratic diplomacy with federative and decentralized bias. In paragraph 54, the document calls for the recovery of the values of cooperation in international relations, saying that is decisive to use Brazil’s international weight to mobilize and articulate parties, governments and political forces that fight for their identity and autonomy. In paragraph 70 it is clear that the Brazil popular changes must be based on the construction of a wide range of international support (PT, 2002).

In general, the analysis of Brazilian foreign politics in its PT way of governing agrees with many transformations that have occurred, without necessarily agreeing with the causes. There are authors who conceive the achievements of the PT era in a larger framework that encompass the country’s historic logics, such as migration. In this sense, Lima (2016, p. 1) states: ‘the plurality, diversity and heterogeneity of actors and agendas that directly or indirectly take part in foreign affairs are perhaps the most impressive feature of Brazil’s new face to the world’. In her opinion, this is due to the expansion of Brazil’s investments abroad; the presence of NGOs, including social movements; ‘the growing number of Brazilians living abroad; the new sub-national diplomacy; and the numerous public policies it has exported to countries of the Global South, in particular Latin America and Africa’ (idem).

Sean Burges (2018, p. 972) in his review of Fraundorfer’s book Rethinking Global Democracy in Brazil, summarizes the book’s core argument which portrays the PT’s diplomatic strategy. ‘The more global governance institutions and forums follow ‘people-power’ norms, the more intrinsically democratic they will be and the less exploitative the international system will become. The three principles underpinning this argument are the promotion of human rights and transnational solidarity, mechanism of participation and mechanism of accountability’.

One can identify factors of the political change between the government prior to Lula, the Cardoso presidency (PSDB) and Lula’s term (PT). In general, with Cardoso the valorization of federative diplomacy began central in the MRE. The objective was to prevent any threat to Brazilian foreign policy by placing federative diplomacy in a subsidiary position of traditional diplomacy.

In the PT’s government, the decentralized international cooperation establishment becomes a local government’s exclusive activity, which counts on the purposeful action of the Division for Federative Affairs (SAF). For its part, the MRE saw the merger of all the former structures to lead with decentralized cooperation at the Special Office for Federative and Parliamentary Affairs (AFEPA), which had the purpose of articulating the MRE with subnational governments, advising on local external initiatives. The responsibility of establishing international cooperation was not among the duties of this Office (Decree n. 4.759, of June 20, 2003).

In 2003 Lula also created the post of Special Adviser on International Affairs within the President’s Cabinet. This post was responsible for the cross-border relations with civil society actors (trade unions, NGOs and social movements) with a focus on south-south cooperation. The post was occupied by Marco Aurelio Garcia during the entire PT governments term. The words of Celso Amorim, Chancellor during Lula’s term, about their companion shows the multilateral and diverse way of PT’s international diplomacy.

‘Marco Aurélio, in addition to his intimacy with the President – who was almost an international relations alter ego of him – was responsible for PT positions in foreign policy and was deeply knowledgeable of political parties (not just the leftwing) in Latin America and Europe’ (Amorim, 2017).

Both new structures acted alongside the MRE supporting new foreign policy dynamics which, at least symbolically, helped Brazil to rise in power in the international scenario. Thus, since the beginning of PT’s term, the protagonist of social movements and local representatives were reinforced. The federal government administrative innovations were also in accordance with the internationalization practices of PT’s local governments (Meireles, 2016; Rodrigues, 2008; Godoy & Santamoro, 2015).

Even analyzing other sectors of foreign policies, such as business, there seems to be a relative agreement with the fact that ‘by bringing societal actors into the foreign policy equation, state actors hoped to assure an active engagement with the PT’s project for increasing Brazil’s influence in international affairs’ (Doctor 2017, p. 646).

The analyses of Brazilian local foreign politics during the PT’s governments, and particularly the state bureaucratic constitution created to support its ambitions, illustrate the ‘adaptation of foreign policy techniques to new realities and the search for leverage based on soft power, norm diffusion, and better integration of domestic and international agendas’ (Margherits 2017, p. 584). Godoy (2013) warned that this effort was not merely to seek technical and financial project inputs, but that it was also a strategy to strengthen inclusive development agendas, thus symbolically and materially complementing an anti-hegemonic discourse, giving visibility to the public policies developed at the local level.

This movement reinforces once again the hypotheses raised at the beginning of this article regarding the correlation between strategies of internationalization and local democracy, as well as social participation, one of the banners of the leftist movements and parties in Brazil.

City Diplomacy in Brazil. State of the Art

In Brazil, there is a relative consensus regarding the strong correlation between political party and structuring of management mechanisms and policies internationalization. As revealed by Godoy (2013), Milani & Ribeiro (2011) and the exhaustive study of the CNM (2011), a significant part of this structuring of international relations was created during the PT’s cities administration in the early 1990s. In turn, in the 2000s, the multiplication of the number of cities that now have IR management mechanisms (Secretary, Departments, Coordination, Advisors) is linked to the federal government’s support of the matter, starting with PT in 2003. For example, only between 2004 and 2008, were municipal structures set up to manage the subject in 16 of the 30 cities that are part of the CNM’s pioneer survey (2011).

The effectiveness of the internationalist and decentralized PT’s policies must to be precisely verified. To do so, we carry out an in-depth survey of the cities that have administrative IR structures. As for the political party correlation, we pointed out the year of creation of these administrative structures and then relate the political party that was in charge of the city at that moment.

This survey is innovative since it relates internationalization actions and strategies with partisan ideology, taking as an indicator the administrative structure of Brazilian cities. The research was exhaustive in both primary and secondary sources. Among the primary sources are the CNM’s research (2011) and the Profile of the Brazilian Municipalities (IBGE, 2014), which annually survey the administrative capacity of the 5,562 Brazilian municipalities and, in 2012, dedicated a special chapter to raise the capacity of local governments to establish IR policies.

In addition, since the theme of paradiplomacy, decentralized cooperation and city diplomacy has been gaining relevance in the Brazilian national scenario, recent empirical research on the subject, including academic theses, were related and considered. We highlight here Milani & Ribeiro (2011), Junqueira and Mariano (2017), Junqueira (2015), Banzatto (2015), Rodrigues (2008) and Prado (2007). Along with these sources, administrative records and information from this author’s participation in the federal government during PT administrations were used, particularly from the Urban Central Areas Rehabilitation Program of the Ministry of Cities, which established decentralized international cooperation with France, Italy and Spain, among others. Finally, after this exhaustive research and cross-checking data, a thorough check of the information obtained from municipalities’ web pages was carried out, and then related to the year of creation of administrative structures with the party in charge of local administration in this time.

The result of this research summarizes up to 78 cities that carry out International Relations activities and have a formal administrative structure (secretariat, department, advisory, board or coordination). This number is lower than the 113 cities which had implemented IR initiatives until 2012 (IBGE, 2014). The difference is due to the number of cities that carry out these activities but do not count on an instance to do so, often the Mayor himself is in charge of these activities.

The dates of creation of these structures were identified in 40 of the 78 cities and consequently the political party that ruled each city at these times. It was thus possible to identify the relevance of the PT’s internationalist ideology, responsible for the creation of IR structures in 23 of these 40 cities. Another 7 different political parties were responsible for the similar initiatives in the other 17 cities, revealing that there is no one ideological political position favoring the diplomacy of these cities.

When the creation of these administrative structures is analyzed per year, it is possible to verify that 30 of the 40 cities had administrative structures of IR created during the PT’s national government (2003-2016). Just in 2005, IR structures were created in 15 cities. This clear PT’s government action was also highlighted in the pioneering study of CNM (2011) and by several authors (Junqueira, 2015; Godoy, 2013).

In order to make clearer the aptitude of each party to promote city diplomacy, its greater or lesser adherence to an internationalist and decentralizing ideology, we propose an indicator that consists of dividing the number of prefectures that each of these parties occupied in the last three elections16 (from 2004 to 2016) by the number of prefectures that created administrative structures under the party government in question. Thus, the smaller the number, the greater is the aptitude. Once again, the strength of the PT is confirmed. The leftwing party created one IR administrative structure to each 63 prefectures that it governed. Diversely, in light of the respect fractions, this indicator reveals no adherence among the other political parties: PDT (331), PPS (372), PSDB (380), PFL/DEM (520), PMDB (1083) and PSB (1164).

The history of city diplomacy in Brazil brings elements that allow us to question the view that in the federal states there would be a greater possibility to leverage any kind of paradiplomacy in relation to unitary states (Junqueira, 2015). The analysis of local diplomacy leverage by political periods in Brazil reveals that this action is more related to the ideological context of each government than to the state model itself. On the other hand, examples of unitary countries that authorize and stimulate decentralized international cooperation, such as France, Italy, and particularly Spain and its autonomous regions, also support this view.

The shifting of Brazilian foreign policy under the PT’s administration was not only to reinforce the traditional preference for multilateralism, but also to set a more inclusive and participatory approach as we seek to show from the city diplomacy analyses. The participation on foreign policies of social movements, NGOs, universities, councils and especially local governments brought to global governance the idea of ‘people-power’ norms, the symbolic power of democratic process. And as Lula preconize in his first speech as President, the more imbricated is the countries’ democracy with international relations, the less exploitative the international system will become.

Final Considerations

The internationalization of cities is a process that will multiply and deepen rapidly in the coming years due to the existence of the necessary means to do so and the increasing interests (corporate, humanitarian and environmental) in the regulation of the use of territory, of the daily life and of the human scale of processes, particularly aiming market’s increase and control.

From a conjunctural perspective, despite having enormous potential of expansion, the scenario of the internationalization of cities in Brazil, does not seem to be a promising prospect. The now existing IR were mainly constituted in a political moment with a leftwing party in office and a foreign policy active and proud was installed. Both situations have changed radically in recent years.

According to the aforementioned surveys, most cities that have a formal IR structure do so from a single person who works as a Mayor advisor, or even the Mayor himself. Only in the largest municipalities can one find teams dedicated to this task. None of these studies, however, have carried out a qualitative analysis of the effectiveness of these structures. Moreover, as could be seen, since city diplomacy has a strong correlation with political ideologies in Brazil, a study of the effectiveness and efficiency of these structures could reveal the causes of the logic of stop and go that often mark public policies in the country.

As we saw, the correlation between empowerment and internationalization of local governments and leftist ideologies was clearly demonstrated by an expressive number of cities that created formal structures of IR during PT’s governments and as a response for its national incentives, or the incentives related to the PT foreign policy.

While the context and the circumstances examined here are highly specific to Brazil, we suggest that there are also broader lessons for other countries and cities to improve their diplomatic experiences toward a more democratic and multilateral world order. In this sense, at least three assertions can be made: a) nation states can work together with the subnational entities, respecting their autonomies, in search for a greater internationalization; b) as Lula pointed out in his inaugural speech, social participation and the decentralization of power can contribute to the democratization of IR; and c) political and ideological ties that organize city diplomacy could help overcome a relative neoliberal hegemony (Brenner & Theodore, 2002) or business orientation on city international cooperation (Moita, 2017; ALDA, 2016), particularly in city networks, of which many are now dedicated exclusively to pursuing business opportunities.

Finally, the importance of local autonomy and social participation for the strengthening of the Brazilian IR seems to have become clear. The state capacity improvement at the national level with the introduction of participatory processes, the signing of new international agreements where the cooperation between the Brazilian federated entities was made explicit, besides the evident relation of the Workers’ Party with the participative democracy and how it was raised including the international level (Internet governance, MDGs, SDGs, New Urban Agenda, e.g.), have placed Brazil and its cities on a new level of international diplomacy. Ojala the Brazilian cities in their diplomatic excursions can contribute to the reinforcement of democracy currently so devalued in the country.


1 http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/
2 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/mar/06/brazil-economy-worlds-sixth-largest
3 http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/80713/icode/
4 http://www.biblioteca.presidencia.gov.br/presidencia/ex-presidentes/luiz-inacio-lula-da-silva/discursos/discursos-de-posse/discurso-de-posse-1o-mandato/view
5 The term was first used by Chancellor Lampreia in his speech to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies on April 5, 1995. Under the direct guidance of the President, the Chancellor presented this form of diplomacy as a coordinating mechanism to ensure cohesion and consensus. The main actors of this articulation with the Ministry of Foreign Relations would be the states’ governments and the National Congress. “This new and dynamic dimension of our diplomacy requires a permanent effort of dialogue, exchange of information and consultation between the Federal Executive and the Regions, States and Municipalities, so that there is greater coordination and harmony as possible at the various levels of international relations of Brazil.” (Lampreia, 1995:115)
6 The meaning of the term ‘ideology’ as used in Brazilian’ foreign policies is often negative and associated with the active and broader positions that go beyond the exclusive views of foreign trade and sovereignty. This is not the meaning in this context. For us, it is clear that all the political field is ideological. Regarding the end of ideology in Brazil’s foreign policy, see: Rodriguez-Dominguez, 2017.
7 Meireles (2016) made an exhaustive research and found IR structures in 20 states. We have actualized and reviewed this research in September 2018.
8 Between 2013 and 2015, the Presidential Division for Federative Affairs (SAF) promoted six Decentralized International Cooperation Meetings involving at least 15 states and several municipalities. Eight of these states have made formal presentation (reports) of their IR activities. This material can be found at the Portal Federativo webpage (www.portalfederativo.gov.br)
9 In reference to what happened in the vast coastal area of the Baltic Sea, since the end of the Middle Ages, on a proto-capitalist experience in which, in the absence of a unifying political power, the management of that zone was assured by an alliance between cities (Lübeck, Bergen, Hamburg, Riga…) and a merchant league, the Hanseatic League (Moita 2017, p. 9) which grew from a few North German towns in the late 1100s and dominated Baltic maritime trade for three centuries.
10 http://icleiusa.org/u-s-mayors-step-up-as-key-advocates-for-climate-change-action-during-un-conference-in-paris/, https://www.citylab.com/environment/2018/06/one-year-after-trump-left-the-paris-agreement-whos-still-in/561674/
11 See: Charter for Cities Governed by Socialists (http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticlePageID=1188)
12 See: Socialist International Meetings at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre (http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=1027)
13 ‘In brief, decentralised cooperation is the one that gives to local and regional authorities (elected and in a framework of local democracy) and their communities a full role in development policies and international cooperation’ (ALDA 2016, p. 1).
14 The European Union’s interpretation of DC can be first found in Lome´s Convention IV – 1995
15 In 2011 Brazilian government launched the first “Convocation Call for Franco-Brazilian Projects of Trilateral Decentralized Cooperation to Benefit Haiti and the African Continent”. See: http://www.brasil.gov.br/editoria/cidadania-e-inclusao/2011/04/edital-inedito-vai-permitir-cooperacao-entre-cidades-brasileiras-o-haiti-e-paises-africanos
16 http://infograficos.estadao.com.br/politica/eleicoes/2016/graficos/evolucao-partidos/?cargo=prefeito&local=brasil


I would like to express my appreciation to the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy of UCI, where the article was researched and written.

I would like to thank Marie Valentino for all her help making this moment easier and enjoyable.

I would like also to thank the reviewers to all the critics that made possible to improve the arguments presented.


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About the Author:

Renato Balbim

Renato Balbim is a Visiting Scholar and Professor at University of California at Irvine, Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy, where he develops research about social metropolization and city networks. He holds a PhD in Human Geography from the University of São Paulo (2003). He is Senior Research and Planning Advisor – Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA, 2009-2018), former Director of Urban Planning – Ministry of Cities (Brazil 2007), Coordinator of Urban Rehabilitation – Ministry of Cities (Brazil 2003–2008), Senior Consultant at Cities Alliance – World Bank (Brazil, 2005). He has several publications including editor and author of ten books on urban development and several articles in journals and books.