It's difficult to quantify the success of Obama's Brazil visit, but in the end, I think the results were mixed.
Although the visit was intended to be largely symbolic, at some point there has to be something concrete to provide evidence and build trust that there's potential for change and for things to move forward. In Brazil, Obama's symbolic diplomacy fell flat for some, as very little was decided. Despite last minute rumors, he did not in fact publicly and definitively support Brazil's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and the ten bilateral accords that were signed were not ground-breaking, or were mostly formalizing mutual interests. (Needless to say, Obama did not lift the tourist visa requirement).
In Brasília, a few things didn't go as the US organizers had hoped. Before Obama's arrival, Brazilian officials canceled the press conference where reporters would be able to question Dilma and Obama directly. In the end, though, I think Dilma's admistration was shielding Obama as much as it was Dilma from tricky questions that would have taken away from the air of cooperation and diplomacy the Brasília events were meant to foster. But Obama and Dilma did speak briefly, and Dilma, for her part, did an excellent job laying the groundwork for some of the baseline goals Brazil has for a better relationship with the US.
Then, at another event, Brazilian ministers were annoyed when American security officials subjected them to a search, after a supposed official agreement was made that ministers would not be subjected to being searched at Obama's Brasília events. Four of the ministers failed to pick up translation devices, so when the event began in English, they got up and left. The snafu had many up in arms, complaining of humiliation, being treated as inferior, and even infringing on Brazilian sovereignty, though some were amused by high level government officials being treated like normal people. Between this saia justa and the cancellation of Obama's public speech, it seemed to show serious discord and miscommunication between Obama's security teams and event organizers, and in the end, diplomacy was left behind in the name of security.
Finally, Lula did not attend any events and did not meet with Obama during his visit, which some claimed was a snub. It may have been, but Lula has been very careful to make sure not to step on Dilma's toes and to make sure he doesn't overshadow her. Another theory (thanks Julia) is that Lula was angry that Dilma didn't personally invite him, instead of being invited by Itamaraty. Either way, I think it probably worked to Dilma's advantage.
The other major problem, which has been one of the biggest problems with Obama's administration in general, is that his rhetoric simply didn't match his actions. While he spoke of cooperation and equality, and forging ties to work together in an effort to build trust with Brazilians, no major agreements were made (see above) and the US launched an offensive in Libya, which Brazil opposed. After cancelling Obama's public address at the last minute, it seemed like par for the course - the US government reneging and failing to live up to its promises, not daring to pursue a new, albeit riskier course of action.
There were protests in Rio, which appeared to be the usual left wing, anti-American, the oil is ours type crowd, but there were also anti-war protesters given the military action in Libya. While there was the usual "go home gringo" BS, there was also plenty of skepticism, which was warranted.
In Rio, Obama seemed to fare a bit better. He visited City of God without incident, although after community members had complained about security teams, many wound up disappointed as Obama and his family spent only a half an hour in the favela, where he watched a private, rather demure children's performance, played a bit of soccer, and then promptly left, hardly speaking to anyone in the community. (This, after extensive last minute efforts to "clean up" just to receive him) Last on the agenda, Obama and his family finished the visit with a night pit stop at the Cristo Redentor. Cariocas were understandably miffed with the terrible traffic caused by the visit, though others cautioned that with such bad traffic on a Sunday, transportation in the city would really need to change before 2014.
Obama's heralded Rio speech had mixed results. Those in attendance found themselves under Obama's spell of charisma and powerful speaking skills, though a few noted it seemed like pandering. Blogger Julia Michaels, who scored tickets to the speech, told me she noticed that the speech didn't entirely fit the audience, since it was moved from a speech for the masses to one for a very elite crowd. His reference to Vasco was not exactly fitting for his audience (you can hear booing in the video), and the Paulo Coelho quote was extremely ill advised. (The Paulo Coelho bit made me think he didn't run the speech by a Brazil expert, or if he did, he or she was too afraid to tell him to change it) Julia did note, however, how important it was for Obama to be in Brazil and to get things right, especially after ridiculous occurrences with past American presidents (see: Reagan and Bush).
Still, much ado was made about the success of the visit. BBC declared "most people seemed happy to see the US president visiting Brazil and acknowledging the growing importance of the South American country on the world stage," citing the visit's "symbolic success." A headline from Globo about Obama's speech proclaimed "Obama says the US and Brazil must be equal partners." Others saw the visit as an opportunity to prepare for upcoming international events.
One missing element was that Obama made very little reference to the importance of his African heritage, which is one thing that has helped make him popular in Brazil. It would have been really interesting if Obama had had time to go to Salvador, the heart of African culture in Brazil, to work his diplomatic charms. (In other news, a local NGO in Bahia put up a funny sign in honor of Obama's visit, even though they knew he wouldn't be up north.) Though some black Brazilians (including, for example, actor Lazaro Ramos and Obama's Brazilian look alike) were able to attend Obama's Rio speech, many more were shut out when the venue was changed.
In short, the visit could have gone better, especially if American agencies had all been on the same page, and had coordinated better with Brazilian authorities. But in the end, rhetorical diplomacy was not enough. There needs to be a lot less talking and a lot more action to gain trust from Brazilians and to make a legitimate break from the past. Otherwise, it will just be more of the same - which, sadly, has largely been the case here in the US under the Obama administration. At the same time, the visit did seem to indicate that there's a lot of opportunity for those of us working with both countries to do more to bridge the gap, and how important it is to share information and knowledge as we work on those efforts.