Meeting With Condoleeza Rice in Bahia, Brazil

Condoleeza Rice says that she has wanted to come to Bahia for a long time. “Personal reasons”, she confirmed, with a smile that many describe as sweet, and so it is. She never seems to lose that highly academic and professorial air of wanting to be present to her students.

This way, in general, that she defends perspectives that many–especially her academic colleagues-–consider utterly indefensible. The war in Iraq, for example. Or the idea that the Bush administration is NOT considered among the worst of recent decades.

She is an avid reader of history and has clearly included herself alongside those who think that time will make things right (Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “history will absolve me,” seems a fitting joke, but no sarcasm intended).

Condi enjoys a good intellectual debate, as she made quite clear in an “off the record” chat with a small group of journalists here in Salvador.

What’s right is right, the rules of the game must be respected (this is true in Brazil and the world over), but there is no need to worry. Condi is one of those characters of the global political realm who expresses only infinitesimally on the record what she actually says off the record. In other words, she doesn’t insult Chavez outright; she doesn’t say that the war in Iraq is, in fact, a disaster or that Bush has caused a great deal of damage to American foreign policy (she even offered a wager as to who would be found correct in ten years time, her or her critics).

Enchanted by the red tape of Senhor do Bomfim* tied to her arm, she was surprised when they told her that it couldn’t be removed, not even when made dirty and tattered from taking a bath. “I’m going to look nice in the dress I’m going to wear tonight,”she commented with her ever-captivating smile.

All who have had dealings with Condi, whether American or not, are impressed with her gentle demeanor, her kindness, and her simple way of conducting herself. In fact, the contrast is even greater if we remember (and yes I’m old enough to remember) such figures as James Baker III, or Madeleine Albright herself. Condi is a trait of America (“Oops, look, we’ve taken the name of the entire continent”, she says as though seeking an apology), which she feels everyone should see.

A government, she exclaims, which has quadrupled its aid to Africa, doubled its aid to Latin America, takes pains to promote social justice in the region. It doesn’t matter if the governments of Latin America are right or left wing (“just as long as they’re democratic”). One more government, as we say, that is not perceived as such, and not only in Latin America.

She doesn’t even seem surprised. Good-humored, she makes a point to convey mainly certainly and she learned a long time ago not to engage the speculative questions of journalists, especially those with whom she is not familiar. Condi always appeals to the emotional dimension within the speaker (“I went to a tent in Africa where the women told me how they would be raped whenever they went out to fetch water”). Personally, she just offers answers with a smile on her face, as always. No, she doesn’t want to go into it about government. From what we’ve seen, she’s come to Bahia at just the right time.

*[Editor’s Note: The red tape of Senhor de Bomfim is a Brazilian wish bracelet from Bahia that one must tie onto one’s wrist three times, make a wish and wait for it to fall off on its own. Once it falls off, the wish is granted.]

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