U.S. officials would not comment on the record, but sources familiar with the U.S.-Sao Paulo agreement told me that the U.S. State Department has set up the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs in 2010 to help forge connections between U.S. and foreign local governments.
Washington has signed agreements with China in 2011 and with Brazil in 2012 to encourage deals between local governments, and it was under this umbrella that the U.S. Government signed a non-binding cooperation agreement with the state of Sao Paulo in March, the sources said.
My opinion: It’s not going to be easy for the U.S. State Department to engage in “sub-national diplomacy” in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador, whose leaders embrace anti-Americanism as a state religion, and would never follow Brazil’s steps of considering that what is good for a local government, is good for the country.
But, whether governments like it or not, “sub-national diplomacy” is a reality, and may indeed gain ground in coming years. U.S. critics will have a hard time accusing Washington of foreign intervention for signing cooperation agreements with local governments, not only because it will be hard to criticize deals that benefit their population, but also because countries across the political spectrum are doing it all the time.
In July, Cuba’s national government signed a health policy cooperation agreement with the left-of-center government of Mexico City, and in 2011 signed a similar deal with Mexico City to help eradicate illiteracy. “Sub-national diplomacy” may be here to stay, and everybody is likely to take advantage of it.