On February 9, President Lula da Silva, following the tradition that characterized his two previous governments of visiting the United States in his first months in office, landed at Saint Andrews Air Base, in the state of Maryland. From there, he went with his official entourage to the residence of the presidential guests, the Blair House, located in Washington D.C. This is the third international visit of the Brazilian president in 2023, after Buenos Aires and Montevideo. It is clearly part of the beginning of a journey that will seek to reposition Brazil on the international stage.
Lula and his US counterpart, Joe Biden, discussed a broad agenda that officially highlighted issues of mutual interest such as: “the revitalization of the economy, environmental issues, the strengthening of democracy and human rights.” In addition to being the perfect occasion to highlight that in 2023 the 200th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between two of the largest democracies of the American continent and the world will be celebrated.
The Brazilian delegation was made up of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira; the Minister of Economy and Finance, Fernando Haddad; the Environment Minister, Marina Silva; the Minister of Racial Equity, Anielle Franco; the Special Adviser for International Relations, Celso Amorim; the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce, Marcio Elías Rosa; and Senator Jaques Wagner (Worker´s Party-PT). This entourage, led by Lula, met on February 10 at the White House with President Biden and their respective counterparts.
Also, in what could be considered as side B of the Brazilian President’s agenda, but is actually a fundamental part of Lula’s own characteristics as a leader and statesman, there was a meeting with Representatives of the US Congress, including Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, and Ro Khana; as well as spokespersons for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest and most important labor union in the United States and Canada.
Among the issues that we can point out, is, first of all, the rejection of what happened in the Capitol, in January 2021, and what happened at the headquarters of the three powers in Brasilia, on January 8, 2023. In the Joint Statement, both leaders maintained:
“We continue to reject extremism and violence in politics, condemning hate speech and reaffirming the intention to develop social resilience to disinformation…”
Other outstanding topics were climate change and environmental rights in the Amazon and in other important biospheres in the world. As previously happened with Norway, France, and, more recently, during the visit of the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz to Brasilia, the reactivation of the Amazon Fund, created by Lula in 2008, is imminent. Funded mainly by Norway and Germany, the Amazon Fund had been suspended in 2019 due to the advance of deforestation in the Amazon region encouraged by the Bolsonaro government.
Now, while the United States and Brazil have ratified their support for the negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, they also have committed to relaunch the High-Level Working Group on Climate Change between the two countries, with the purpose of examining areas of cooperation. However, Biden did not announce any specific financing or contribution to the Amazon Fund, as the previous mentioned countries did, but instead announced that he would take this decision to the US Congress.
In terms of Human Rights, the Brazilian government encompasses issues related to indigenous populations, a considerable part of them in Brazil whom, by the way, lives in the Amazon region; the rights of the LGTBI+ community and women; as well as the fight against racism that, in the South American giant, mainly affects Afro-descendants and native peoples. In this regard, Brazil and the United States assumed the commitment to “revitalize the Joint Action Plan for the elimination of ethnic-racial discrimination and the promotion of equality, for the benefit of marginalized racial, ethnic, and indigenous communities, including people of African in both countries.”
Additionally, the Brazilian First Lady, known simply as Janja, and the Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco (sister of the Rio de Janeiro councilwoman, Marielle Franco, assassinated in 2018, who became a symbol of the community LGTBI+ and of the black communities in Brazil, as well as of the fight for Human Rights), visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington D.C. Within this framework, Janja spoke of the initiative to create a museum on the history of slavery in Brazil, in Casi do Valongo, Rio de Janeiro, since this was the main landing and trade point for enslaved people in the Americas, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It should be noted that more than 70% of the deaths registered due to the use of firearms in Brazil affect the black population. This country is also one of the most violent in Latin America and the Caribbean, where police violence against the black population grows alarmingly every year. In the case of the United States, the UN has raised its voice about the state in which people deprived of liberty are found, the prisons in the North American country are also mostly populated with Afro-descendants and Latinos. It is no coincidence that Brazil and the United States have active strong Black Lives Matter movements for decades, demanding justice, equality, and equity for the black population, a population that -it is always important to mention- has been and is a fundamental pillar in the development of both societies.
Most controversial issues
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Lula´s visit to Washington was the fact that Lula for the first time has officially acknowledged that Russia invaded Ukraine and therefore that Moscow violated the territorial sovereignty of this country. In fact, Lula declared that Russia, being a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, should have had the authorization of the Security Council to be able to advance or not on Kiev. In the Joint Declaration, Lula and Biden agree: “Deplore the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia and the annexation of parts of its territory as flagrant violations of international law,” they also advocated for “a just and lasting peace. They expressed their concern about the global effects of the conflict on food and energy security, especially in the poorest regions of the planet, and expressed their support for the full operation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.”
Nothing was said – at least in the Joint Declaration – about NATO’s threats to the Russian Federation, nor about the weapons being sent to Ukraine. Seen this way, it would seem that Lula is on the same line as the United States. Yet nothing is further away from the truth. The Brazilian president is trying to position himself as a neutral actor in the conflict, an actor who can talk to the parties involved and build trust in them. In this sense, Lula refused to send weapons to Ukraine because he believes that peace cannot be built if one contributes to war. On this, he stated:
“If I send arms, I would be entering the war. And what I want is to end the war. I think that, in the case of Ukraine and Russia, it is necessary to have someone to talk about peace. It is necessary to create interlocutors to try to talk with the parties. That is my thesis. In other words, we need to find interlocutors who can sit down with President Putin and show the mistake he made by invading the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and we have to show Ukraine that more dialogue is necessary to prevent this war from continuing. It is necessary to establish a group of countries to negotiate peace,” Lula said in an interview for CNN Washington.
Likewise, the Brazilian president defends -in part- the role of the Security Council (quite questioned, by the way) because Brazil has been seeking to occupy a chair there, representing Latin America, for a long time. In any case, Lula is well aware that there are other actors with greater negotiating weight than Brazil in the search for a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine. However, he offers to enter from another latitude and from another type of leadership, one less questionnaire and more recognized in the international arena.
Another issue of concern to the United States and Brazil is the presence of China in the region. These three actors’ have different strengths and weaknesses. Brazil would have the political advantage, China the economical, the United States would be relegated because -in addition to the internal crisis it has been facing- its former best friends (Mexico and Colombia) are no longer led by complacent governments. However, it is undeniable that -for different reasons- the advance of China in Latin America, as it has been happening in the rest of the world, is something that somehow bothers Washington and Brasilia.
Unlike the United States, Brazil is not going to confront China. On the contrary, deploying an “active and haughty” foreign policy means asserting the interests of Brazil and Latin America, without contributing to deepening or increasing international conflicts.
Trip to Africa
During his stay in the United States, Lula announced that he was organizing a tour of Africa, initially through Angola, South Africa and Mozambique, in what he described as “a demonstration that Brazil will reestablish its strong relationship with the African continent.”
The Brazilian president has always recognized that his country has African peoples among its cultural roots, and has even spoken of a historical debt. In this regard, he expressed: “It is a debt that cannot be paid in cash, it must be paid through the exchange of science and technology, so that Brazil can help Africa from the point of view of development in various areas. And we are going to do it, because it is Brazil’s historical and humanitarian obligation to maintain a beautiful relationship with the African continent.”
Other future commitments of international relevance that the government of President Lula will have, are: his participation in the II Summit for Democracy, organized by Biden, in the month of March; its participation in the next meeting of the G-20, will be held in New Delhi, India (in 2024, Brazil will assume the presidency of the G-20); Also in March, Lula’s visit to China is planned, precisely to discuss investments, amount others economic and financial issues.
The United States and Brazil unfortunately share the advance of the extremist, neo-fascist right-wing movements and even the idea of white superiority. Therefore, rejecting political radicalization, terrorism and hate speech to strengthen democracy and Human Rights is a common duty (clearly this would not have happened if Trump and Bolsonaro were in the White House and Planalto). In this sense, the defense of Human, Political, Social, Labor-Union Rights bring Biden and Lula closer, without their positions towards them being exactly the same. Surely, it is an important progress to celebrate, however, both countries also share low political education, in the sense of building critical thinking to face the effects of the capitalism, all of which makes us believe that there will be new manifestations of political extremism.
Finally, Lula had already affirmed his intention to position Brazil back in the world, through an “active and haughty” diplomacy, as he did in his first two terms. This is precisely what he is doing. In this regard, Lula is taking the first steps to consolidate himself as a leader with excellent negotiating skills in a global governance, that is, a voice in a multipolar world. Lula feels that he and his government have a responsibility towards humanity and nature, where he prioritizes the most impoverished populations in Brazil and the world, as well as the most important biomes, like Amazonas. Here lies the political power of Brazil commanded again by the first worker president in its history.