Disappointed Hopeful? Lula’s Return as Brazilian President Brings International Irritation

news 10-Jun-2023 World News

High hopes on Lula’s return to presidency With the return of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as Brazilian president, high hopes were attached. However, his position on the Ukraine conflict has sparked international concerns, and potential domestic confrontations are also looming.

Brazil aims to regain leadership on the world stage Brazil is back on the world stage and wants to regain leadership – as the voice of South America, as an advocate for climate action, and as a mediator in conflicts. This was the message of President Lula after his win against Jair Bolsonaro. Since then, he has undertaken seven foreign trips, but disappointments have followed high expectations.

Lula’s neutral position on the Ukraine conflict draws controversy Lula’s neutral position on the Russian aggression in Ukraine has sparked controversial discussions. Brazil’s president has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine shares responsibility for the conflict. Additionally, he accused NATO nations of fueling the violence with arms supplies instead of pursuing peace.

Lula underestimates negative perception of his comments in the West Oliver Stuenkel, an expert on international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, believes that Lula underestimated the negative perception of his often casual comments in the West. Stuenkel suggests that during Lula’s presidency from 2003 to 2010, the world was different, and a middle ground could be found. However, given the current geopolitical tensions, remaining truly neutral today is much more difficult, and neutrality can often be misunderstood.

Brazil’s stance on neutrality between blocs Brazil has a long tradition of neutrality between major global blocs, and Lula aims to avoid being drawn into conflicts between superpowers to maintain Brazil’s maximum autonomy and capacity for action. Russia is an essential and long-time partner, particularly for Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector as a fertilizer supplier. Additionally, there is a latent anti-Americanism among the left in Latin America due to painful historical experiences, making China’s rise and Russia’s new role as a challenger to US hegemony viewed positively.

Lula’s controversial approach with Maduro Despite increasing aggressiveness from Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese leadership, Lula holds fast to his convictions with a good measure of diplomatic stubbornness. This was evident at a meeting of South American Presidents in Brasilia in May, where Lula invited authoritarian Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, whom he defended by rolling out the red carpet. Lula suggested that Maduro had been unfairly labeled as antidemocratic and authoritarian and had been a victim of biased narratives. However, this approach disturbed not only Lula’s own advisors but also the presidents of Uruguay, Chile, and Colombia, the latter two of which can be classified clearly within the Left. The crisis situation in Venezuela has resulted in millions of Venezuelans fleeing their homeland into neighboring South American countries due to hunger, crisis, and persecution.

Lula’s dealings with Venezuela’s President Maduro caused irritation in South America.

Brazil Remains an Important Partner despite Challenges

Resuming Talks with Venezuela Weakens Lula’s Position Political scientist Guilherme Casaroes argues that the decision to resume talks with Venezuela is necessary to contribute to political peace in the country, but it weakens Lula’s position as the undisputed voice of the region. The signals Lula has given disqualify him as a partner or mediator in the conflict while upsetting other leaders, such as those of Chile and Uruguay.

Brazil as an Essential Partner Despite Lula’s challenges with his green agenda, Casaroes and other analysts believe it would be a mistake to overlook Brazil’s critical partnership. Brazil remains an essential partner for Germany, particularly regarding the fight against climate change, that cannot happen without Brazil. The country is part of the G4 group that aims to promote reform in the UN Security Council.

Disagreements Within Lula’s Cabinet Lula’s green agenda has encountered considerable resistance in Brazil’s Congress. The Lower House passed a controversial law that would complicate the expulsion of indigenous protection areas. The competencies of the Ministries of Environmental Protection and indigenous peoples have also been substantially limited. The conflicts between environmental activists and the powerful agribusiness lobby span Lula’s entire cabinet. If Lula confronts the influential agribusiness faction, it could lead to a stand-off and if he gives in, he risks alienating his ministers who stand as guarantors of Lula’s “zero-deforestation promise.”

Importance of Involving Brazil Expert Stuenkel describes why Brazil’s inclusion and economic involvement is vital. He emphasizes that it’s essential to establish economic benefits for Brazil and involve economic elites, making it difficult for future presidents to reverse environmental policies. Stuenkel recommends that cooperation with Brazil needs to continue and be strengthened, particularly with wiser economic partnerships, climate change and sustainability. When the German president, chancellor, and four ministers’ visit to Brazil ended, both German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock and Labor Minister Hubertus Heil will continue to advocate for economic cooperation, climate protection, and sustainability on the ground.

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