Lula Watch: Focusing on Latin America’s New “Axis of Evil” – Vol. 2 – No.2

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Just over one year ago, our first analysis of the administration of newly elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva concluded with a cry of alert:

Once in power, the left is showing itself determined to transform Brazil, with its very important geo-strategic position, into an ideological powerbase to oppose American influence and interests, and hopes to rally other hemispheric nations around the South American giant. The political rapprochement with the Cuban regime and President Hugo Chavez is indicative of this design, as is Brazil’s announced nuclear weapons program.

Looking at the administration’s first year in power only confirms that assessment. Using words like “pragmatic,” “independent,” “haughty” and “proactive” to describe its diplomacy, the Lula da Silva government has tried in vain to camouflage its leftist ideological orientation. Today observers agree that Brazilian foreign policy under the Workers Party (PT) administration is clearly and boldly out in left field.

At the inauguration of Ecuador’s president, Mr. Lula da Silva proclaimed his wish to build a “new South America” and openly stated his desire to lead the whole continent. He also resurrected the “Third World” movement and started to intervene, discreetly but decidedly, in favor of leftist currents on the continent using the pretext of “continental integration.” All of this seeks to bring about an important geo-strategic change in the region to counter the present policies and orientation of the American government.

Lula’s Priority: End Cuba’s Isolation
Since his inauguration, President Lula da Silva started an open policy of rapprochement with the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela.

Due to the symbolic and leading role of the Cuban Revolution in the eyes of certain leftist groups like Brazil’s Workers’ Party, Lula decided to put an end to the international isolation of Fidel Castro’s tyrannical regime and thus help spread Cuban influence around the continent.

For this end, he traveled to Cuba, where he failed to criticize the regime’s human rights violations and refused to meet with opposition leaders. His visit took place shortly after the summary judgment and execution of several Cuban dissidents. Not only did Pres. Lula da Silva and his diplomats never condemn these human rights violations, Brazil’s ambassador to Cuba, a former priest linked to Liberation Theology, even defended Castro’s attitude.

In addition to his political support of the Castro regime, Mr. Lula da Silva signed important trade contracts with Cuba that provide technical and economic help.

A “Mediator” Favoring Hugo Chavez
Acting as a mediator, Lula interfered in Venezuela in a clear bid to support his ideological ally, Hugo Chavez.

Several press articles pointed out that the President broke historic diplomatic tradition when he directly interfered in another country’s political affairs and aligned himself with an authoritarian and populist leader. Brazilian political analysts criticized this attitude. Just as he had done in Cuba, Lula refused to hear the opposition in Venezuela despite his supposed “mediating” role.

At the time, the press also published complaints by the president of the Organization of American States (OAS), Cesar Gaviria. According to Mr. Gaviria, after his inauguration, Lula strengthened in Hugo Chavez the conviction that he must confront not negotiate with the opposition.

While the political situation in Venezuela increasingly deteriorated and the Chavez government took on ever greater dictatorial tones, President Lula da Silva caused great consternation in Mexico’s President Vincente Fox at the recent Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey when he defended Venezuela’s “exceptional steps to further democracy.”

President Lula da Silva plans to intervene again in Venezuela’s political process. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced to the press in Monterrey that Lula will go to Caracas to participate in a summit of developing countries, now called the G15.

According to the Folha de S. Paulo, this “appears as a sign, though veiled, of support for Chavez, inasmuch as this group of developing countries is not relevant enough to justify a trip by the president.” Commenting on the statements by the Brazilian foreign minister, the newspaper says: “To Venezuela, the support was clear: ‘We had, have, and will continue to have a solid relationship with Venezuela and the Venezuelan government’” (Clóvis Rossi, “Chavez diz que vence plebiscito,” 1/13/2004).

Brazil Defends Castro and Chavez
The American administration has expressed great misgivings about the alliance of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez which threatens to destabilize Latin America. A case in point is the recent unrest in Bolivia where President Sanchez de Lozada was forced to resign:

“The State Department believes the two countries are organizing to ‘share experiences’ and eventually infiltrate people and military personnel in other countries in the region. … The U.S. also suspects Venezuela and Cuba are supporting FARC terrorist guerrillas in Colombia and financing activities to increase narco-trafficking in the U.S. Roger Noriega, assistant Secretary of State for the Americas, formally accused Fidel of seeking to ‘destabilize democratically elected governments’ in Latin America and said the dictators’ present activities are ‘increasingly more provoking’” (Fernando Canzian, “Fidel e Chavez ameaçam região, dizem EUA,” Folha de S. Paulo, 1/6/2004).

Responding to American concerns, the Lula administration’s presidential aide for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, rushed to the aid of his ideological allies. He said the Brazilian government does not share the fears of the State Department and criticized members of the American administration: “I think it is very bad for U.S. government officials to make this kind of statement without proof, shortly before a meeting such as the one at Monterrey” (Vladimir Goitia, “Governo rebate crítica americana a Fidel e Chavez,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 1/9/2004).

Ambiguous Intervention in Bolivia
The Lula da Silva government’s foreign policy has been characterized by classical double standards. Lula’s ideological and spiritual mentor, Friar Betto, a leader of the so-called Liberation Theology, thus defined this duplicity: “To enemies, denunciation; to friends, reserved criticism” (Folha de S. Paulo, 9/28/2003).

In October 2003, street demonstrations and unrest in Bolivia led to the resignation of President Sanchez de Lozada. The chief organizer of this subversive maneuver was Evo Morales, a cocaine growers’ leader who heads the Movement to Socialism (MAS). He also has traveled to Libya and Venezuela to spread his ideas opposing so-called neo-liberalism. Guerrilla movements in Colombia and Peru were also accused of supporting sectors of the Bolivian opposition to setup an extremist, drug-trafficking-cum-unionization regime.

The attitude of the Lula da Silva government in the Bolivian case was substantially different from the one in Venezuela. Pres. Lula da Silva hastened to disavow the entirely peaceful and legal Venezuelan opposition He refused to deal with it on equal footing with the government. In support of his ideological partner, Hugo Chavez, he alleged a need to respect legally established power.

In contrast, Lula did not express any support for the legally established government in Bolivia. He placed the subversive minority on an equal footing with the elected government and called for change. He did intervene when offering to mediate. The aforementioned Marco Aurélio Garcia went to La Paz accompanied by an Argentine envoy, and reported he insisted with Sanchez de Lozada to resign in order to avoid a bloodbath in the country.

The press noted these contrasting attitudes and pointed out that no formation of a “Group of Friends” was contemplated to save Sanchez de Lozada as Lula had done in Venezuela to save Hugo Chavez.

Facing a recent U.S. initiative to create a “Group of Support for Democracy in Bolivia,” co-chaired by México, Lula hastened to defend leftist leader Evo Morales. At the Special Extraordinary Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, the Brazilian President had a “tense” meeting with his Mexican colleague, Vicente Fox, where discourage any effort to isolate the cocaine-trafficking leader. Lula added that such an effort could lead to greater internal tension in Bolivia. For an attentive observer, that statement is but a poorly veiled threat of new unrest in Bolivia.

Opposing Colombia’s Fight Against Guerrillas and Drug-trafficking
The Lula da Silva administration has also shown, in varying degrees, its willingness to intervene in Colombia.

Through several diplomatic maneuvers, the leftist Brazilian government has tried to force the Colombian government to negotiate with the FARC terrorist group. Such negotiations would be tantamount to reversing Colombia’s current policies on the matter.

Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, offered to “mediate” between the Colombian government and FARC. On several occasions, Brazilian diplomats have offered to hold negotiations in Brazil to solve the “dispute” between FARC and the Colombian government. “Dispute” is how Pres. Lula da Silva labels the terrorist war waged by FARC. Brazilian diplomats also sought U.N. intervention and offered to hold UN-FARC negotiations on Brazilian soil. Pres. Uribe rejected the Brazilian initiatives.

In a recent trip to Colombia, Lula explicitly manifested his intention to call on Álvaro Uribe to break away from the United States, since, he claims Colombia derives no benefits from its alliance with America.

In official statements, the aforementioned Marco Aurélio Garcia said that Brazil is opposed to President Uribe’s policy of combating guerrillas and drug-trafficking with American help.

Furthermore, the Lula da Silva government refused to heed the request of the Colombian government – reinforced by the American administration – to designate FARC as a terrorist group. As a subterfuge to justify this refusal, Lula said such designation would preclude a future mediation by Brazil. And Marco Aurélio Garcia went even further by saying that Brazil would not make such a designation because FARC could become the government in Colombia.

However, the Brazilian press said the real reason behind the refusal was to allow FARC to continue operating in Brazil. With a terrorist designation, the Brazilian government would be forced to freeze all FARC assets and authorize the capture of all FARC members on Brazilian soil. This refusal represents a dangerous endorsement of terrorist activities.

A Diplomatic Incident in Uruguay
President Lula da Silva claimed he could not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs when he tried to explain away his failure to condemn human rights violations in Cuba or his refusal to receive Cuban opposition leader. While valid to protect Castro, this “principle” did not apply during his recent visit to Uruguay.

At a meeting of Mercosul presidents in Montevideo last December, both Lula and Argentina President Kirchner refused to abide by protocol and personally meet with the hosting Uruguayan president. Nevertheless, they made sure to meet with the leftist presidential candidate, Tabaré Vázquez, less than a year before elections.

The two were also present and waved at the crowd at the (leftist-controlled) Montevideo City Hall where they received the keys to the city, an event that turned into a political rally in favor of the leftist presidential candidate.

“Both Itamaraty and Palacio San Martín, seat of Argentine diplomacy, house a not-so-discreet rally for the victory of Vazquez in Uruguay’s presidential elections next year,” commented the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo (Ariel Palacios, “Lula vai a comício uruguaio e irrita Batlle,” 12/19/2003).

Naturally, these attitudes were deemed diplomatically offensive and undue interference in internal affairs.

Carlos Ramela, aide to Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle, accused both presidents of acting like agitators or guerrilla sympathizers reminiscent of their past, forgetting they are now heads of state in their respective countries (cf. La Republica (Uruguay) and La Nación (Buenos Aires), 12/19/2003).

Mercosul and “Continental Integration”
From the beginning, Lula da Silva and his diplomatic policy defended the need to strengthen Mercosul. However, what “strengthening” really means is a camouflaged transformation of Mercosul into a political bloc. This conception would even have Mercosul shed its geographic-economic character and attract other countries outside its four-member region.

Thus, Lula is trying to attract Venezuela to Mercosul. On his part, the Argentine ambassador to Havana said his government wishes Cuba to join as an associate country. “He also said his country wants the creation of a bloc made up by Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil to ‘face up to’ Washington,” according to BBC Brasil.

In his very recent speech to the Venezuelan Parliament on the state of the nation, Hugo Chavez’s words were meaningful indeed: “There is a new America present, a new voice,” Reuters quoted him as saying. He also mentioned the existence of an axis “from Caracas to Brasilia, reaching Buenos Aires.” Chavez also greeted Lula and Kirchner as leaders with ideas similar to his own, announced a visit of the two to Venezuela and defended Fidel Castro’s participation in future summits of the Americas.

The Buenos Aires Consensus
In the above-mentioned effort to “strengthen” Mercosul, Brazil and Argentina moved much closer together in their foreign policy including their rapprochement with Cuba and condemnation of American military intervention in Iraq.

However, perhaps the most significant development was the recent ground-breaking agreement of mutual cooperation in the United Nations. This year, Brazil replaced Mexico as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. A diplomat of the Argentine Mission will join the Brazilian delegation to participate in the negotiations of the Council. “The important aspect of this accord is the gesture, which has been determined by a close and profound relationship between the two countries,” said the Argentine ambassador to the U.N., quoted by the EFE news agency. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? JH

With a clear intention to counter the United States and “neoliberalism,” Lula da Silva and Néstor Kirchner also signed in Buenos Aires the “Buenos Aires Consensus,” a declaration of principles that sets forth a “progressive agenda.”

Journalist Gilberto Paim of the Jornal do Brasil commented on “Buenos Aires Consensus”: “The expression picked by the two presidents stands out for its anti-Americanism, the word-of-order of Latin American radicals. … With this move, the two presidents become authors of a new absurdity, as they make common cause with the strident ignorance of orphans of the defunct Soviet Union” (“Antiamericanismo como dogma,” 1/11/2004).

Intervention in Cancun and Opposition to the FTAA
Some ”pragmatic” politicians and diplomats – including some American conservatives – say there is a difference between the ideological orientation of Pres. Lula da Silva and his team and the rather conservative trade policies they pursue. However, Itamaraty diplomats appear willing to apply their ideological ideas to trade relations. Indeed, Pres. Lula da Silva is rehashing the third-world rhetoric of confrontation between rich and poor countries preaching a kind of planetary “class struggle.”

At the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Cancun, Brazil politicized its leadership of a group of countries in the trade negotiations (the so-called G20) and brought negotiations to a complete fiasco. On the occasion, Lula proclaimed: “We left Cancun victorious.”

In an article in the Financial Times, American trade secretary Robert Zoellick denounced the political confrontation led by Brazil, which emphasized North-South division and made any trade agreement impossible.

Brazilian diplomacy also targeted the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), an important set of negotiations for South America. Brazil presides over these negotiations together with the U.S.

While never formally declaring its opposition to the FTAA and thus jeopardizing its international support, the Lula da Silva government has slyly maneuvered over some months to create the diplomatic conditions to empty the negotiations of content and thus make the signing of the treaty unviable. Even diplomats agreed that the strategy conceived and carried out by Brazil’s Foreign Relations Ministry blocked the negotiations.

As shown in a previous LulaWatch dealing with this topic, this diplomatic action was due to the Brazilian government’s leftist ideological orientation which sees the FTAA as a U.S-led process of “annexation” of South America and “neoliberal” domination, a process to be frustrated at any cost.

This ideological opposition to trade relations has become so patent that the Brazilian press reported: “The George Bush administration identifies Brazilian foreign minister Celso Luís Nunes Amorim as the ‘ideological’ enemy of the FTAA, as Folha has heard from an important U.S. official who prefers not to be named. … The Bush administration saw the creation of the G-20 as an ideological operation to relaunch the North-South conflict, a milestone of the Cold War” (Clóvis Rossi, “Amorim é alvo ‘ideológico’ do governo Bush,” Folha de S. Paulo, 11/19/2003).

The Left Gains Strength at Itamaraty
Another sign of the leftist orientation of Brazilian foreign policy under Lula da Silva is the appointment of Brazil’s new ambassador to Washington, Roberto Baden.

His appointment reinforces the influence of Celso Amorim in the Brazil’s important embassies abroad. An intimate friend of the Brazilian foreign minister, Baden shares Amorim’s foreign policy orientation, strategies in FTAA negotiations, and the inclusion of Brazil in the international scene as an “independent” power.

Like Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, Ambassador to the U.N. Ronald Seidenberg, and the ambassador to London, José Mauricio Butane, Roberto Baden is part of the group of “barbudinhos” [little bearded ones], as they were called by former U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Anthony Motley.

When examined by the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Commission, Roberto Baden declared that Brazil must be cautious in its relationships with the United States. He was peremptory: “The asymmetry is so great that a strategic partnership is neither possible nor desirable, since it could degenerate into an undesirable relationship of subordination and passivity” (“Futuro embaixador em Washington não quer `subordinação´ aos EUA,” Folha de S. Paulo, 12/10/12/2003).

About the influence of the “little bearded ones” in current Brazilian foreign policy, the weekly Veja magazine commented: “The group defines itself as a defender of IFP – an independent foreign policy. Independent, of course, from the United States even if, in the meantime, they make rapturous statements about dictators like Qadaffi and the Syrian Bashar Assad. …”

“When they were cutting the deck NOT CLEAR WHAT THIS MEANS. in foreign policy during the military period, this group tried to bring Brazil closer to Africa and the bloc of ‘non-aligned’ countries – nations which were quite aligned with condemning the United States and turning a blind eye to the shenanigans of the now extinct Soviet Union.” Commenting on the substantial changes in the world over the last three decades, the report concludes: “Everything has changed, but Brazilin foreign policy continues to reflect the past. Lula went to Cuba, Africa, and now left on an excursion through the paradise of Arab dictatorships” (“A turnê de Lula pelas ditaduras,” Eurípedes Alcântara, 12/17/2003).

Ties with the Democrats
The Brazilian press reported with great fanfare on the statements of Democratic hopeful Howard Dean praising Pres. Lula da Silva.
Dean called for a “special relationship” with Latin America and specifically mentioned President Lula da Silva. Dean said “the U.S. has been inimical” with Lula whereas “we should work with him.”

According to Reuters, the aforementioned Marco Aurélio Garcia commented: “This … shows that Brazil has become an issue in the American election campaign, and that is an important datum.”

The statements by Howard Dean are certainly the result of conversations between PT members together with Lula government members, particularly Marco Aurélio Garcia, and American Democrats which was clearly seen during the recent meetings of the Socialist International.

Lula’s Leadership and Geo-strategic Change
A recent article in the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, emphasizes Brazil’s new leadership role. This newspaper serves as a spokesman for the antiglobalist left and principal mentor of the World Social Forums. The article analyzed the profound changes in Latin America and especially the anti-American opposition of the group of countries led by Brazil.

The article chronicles the revolt in Bolivia and above all the relationship between the cocaine-trafficking leader Evo Morales with his Movement to Socialism (MAS) and leftist leaders such as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Lula and Nestor Kirchner. Brazil’s important role in hindering trade accords at the WTO and above all the FTAA was also mentioned:

“Brazil has definitively imposed its position and raised itself as a continental counterweight to the United States. Lula, the great winner at this juncture, supported from different angles and in varying degrees by other key countries in the region such as Venezuela and Argentina, thus appears as the center of a de facto coalition which, if it defines its profile and consolidates its perspectives, will have redesigned the continent’s political map, effecting a drastic change in the balance of forces to the detriment of the giant to the North” (“América Latina esboça sua proposta,” December 2003).

For his part, Evo Morales, in a speech in Castro’s presence in Havana, stated: “I believe that with the creation of people’s power and the conquest of Latin American unity, we have the necessary clarity to defeat imperialism and will soon celebrate the transformation of Latin America into a new Vietnam for the United States” (Anthony Boadle, “Líder cocaleiro boliviano convoca AL a se tornar ‘Vietnã’ para EUA,” Folha Online, 11/1/2003).

In a recent interview with the leading Argentine newspaper La Nación, Morales again brought up the idea of a Latin American unity that creates a “new Vietnam” for the USA. When asked who should lead such a bloc, he answered: “In many cases, it should be led by social movements, and in others by heads of state. In Latin America they are led by Chavez, Lula and Cuba” (Laura Capriata, “Evo Morales: ‘Seremos otro Vietnam,’” 1/11/2004).

* * *

These final considerations lead to yet another important aspect of the politico-diplomatic orientation of the Lula da Silva government: its strange opposition (in tune with the world left) to the war on terrorism and even its rapprochement and collaboration with dictatorial and terrorist states.

Our next LulaWatch will carry a second installment on the foreign policy of the Lula da Silva government.

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