The attitude of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) and his cabinet regarding the Iraq conflict revealed once again the ambiguity that characterizes the present Brazilian administration.
However, ambiguity might not be the proper term. It would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a deft masking of the leftist ideological line that inspires the Workers’ Party (PT) administration.
The PT remains faithful to the principles that always have and continue to orient it. Also noteworthy is the ever-present influence of Liberation Theology in the present government.
This ideological alignment is a driving force behind opposition to the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq. Brazil claims to be impartial vis-à-vis the war and took refuge behind its traditional diplomatic position of seeking peaceful solutions to international crises only to better oppose American policy.
Brazilian government and particularly diplomatic circles were keen to restate that the country’s position was neither anti-American nor in any way opposed to combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They also issued formal statements censuring Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Due to a highly vulnerable economic relationship with America, Brazil was extremely careful not to transform its position into a head-on confrontation with the Bush administration. However, any impartial observer could not help but note the Lula government’s intention to weaken America’s influence internationally and regionally.
In fact, Lula’s special aide for international relations, Marco Aurélio Garcia, openly opposed American aid to combat terrorism and drug trafficking in Colombia.
1. False impartiality
A precise analysis of Brazil’s diplomatic position would show that it is not really impartial. Brazil not only expressed disagreement with the American Iraq policy but supported leftist currents opposing the Bush administration. Moreover, it also allied itself with France, Germany and Russia as they clashed with the U.S.
a) Support for leftist anti-war currents
Lula opposed the war at Porto Alegre’s World Social Forum in January. Attending activists organized the antiwar protests that popped up around the world in the subsequent weeks. The president’s Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, stated that attacks or wars must be decided by multilateral organizations; and PT president José Genoíno said his party (Lula’s) would promote demonstrations and protests if the United States attacked Iraq.
This affirmation is telltale of PT’s biased stance, since at the time the U.N. weapons inspectors’ report had not been made public.
With the conspicuous presence of many administration members, the World Social Forum started with an antiwar march openly hostile to the U.S. At the Forum’s meetings, participants shouted anti-American slogans and circulated the idea of a “worldwide Intifada against the Western world, represented by the United States” (cf. Folha de S. Paulo, 3/2/2003).
Senator Aloísio Mercadante, a PT leader, claims that the Lula’s administration was so involved with the Forum that its election signaled a victory for the World Social Forum’s ideas. Thus, the new Brazilian government adroitly hid a certain complicity with Saddam Hussein’s regime, while co-opting the strong anti-American sentiment of the left represented in Porto Alegre, responsible for the so-called peace demonstrations around the world.
While clamoring for “peace,” the Lula government allowed ideological ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (who strongly supported Saddam Hussein and his regime) to come to the Forum where he called for armed struggle all over Latin America. Brazilian diplomats are not known to have issued any protest.
b) Diplomatic alignment
In addition to endorsing the positions of the international left, the Brazilian government publicly joined with governments locked in diplomatic confrontation with the U.S. and Britain: “Under pressure from PT’s own pacifist rhetoric and NGOs at the World Social Forum, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will adopt in Davos a position similar to that of France and Germany as far as an eventual U.S.-led war against Iraq is concerned,” reported the Folha de S. Paulo at the time (“Lula adota linha franco-alemã sobre Iraque,” Folha de S. Paulo, 1/25/2003).
Epoca magazine notes, “In the pre-war period, Lula traded phone calls with French president Jacques Chirac, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröeder, who represent countries with which Brazil has aligned itself.” (Guilherme Evelin and Estela Caparelli, “O País quer paz,” Epoca, 3/24/2003).
At the time, the press warned that such a position would cause grave friction with the United States. Brazilian diplomats and specialists in international relations also criticized the move.
Lula special aide Marco Aurélio Garcia qualified the Brazilian government refusal to heed the American request to expel Iraqi diplomats as an “active and haughty policy.”
For its part, the press reported on a delegation of PT deputies together with a Communist Party of Brazil deputy who went to Iraq to show support for Saddam Hussein’s government.
Finally, in a resolution approved in March by its National Directorate, the PT criticized the “unilateralism and bellicosity” of the U.S government, reaffirmed the Brazilian government’s and the Workers Party’s opposition to the war and said there were no clear signs that Iraq really constituted a danger for peace.
2. Brazil’s politico-diplomatic importance
From the beginning, the Lula administration has highlighted the importance of its foreign policy as a reflection of its ideological position: a position consistent with his sense of mission and as shared by the left all over the world.
José Maurício Bustani, Brazil’s present ambassador to London, and a former director of the Organization for Banning Chemical Weapons (OBCW), who once tried to bring Iraq and Libya into the organization, defines this ideological position: “President Lula managed to convey this sense of mission not only to Itamaraty but to all other foreign ministries” (“Queria inspecções no Iraque, diz Bustani,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/17/2003).
This role was emphasized at the above-mentioned meeting of PT’s National Directorate. The meeting’s final resolution says: “The new government is fertile ground to project a more active role for Brazil on the world scene. This perspective is all the more real since there is an international agenda favorable to the theses of the new government … Brazil and President Lula can assume a role of leader and organizer around this agenda.”
Thus, the Lula government and the PT clearly express their ideological aspirations for leadership on the international scene.
“As a regional power, Brazil is seen in European diplomatic circles as an important partner for the eventual construction of a more multi-polar world” (Clóvis Rossi, “Brasil se queixa aos EUA do efeito da guerra,” Folha de S. Paulo, 2/27/2003).
In February, Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim emphasized the importance of the Brazilian position: “Just back from a trip to Moscow and Berlin, where he discussed the possibility of war, Amorim said Brazil has gained importance on the new international scene: ’We cannot overrate [that importance] but neither can we underestimate it. You just wouldn’t go around setting up meetings with Russians and Germans if they were not interested in the Brazilian position’” (Folha de S. Paulo, 2/23/2003).
French president Jacques Chirac reaffirmed his interest in Brazil’s strategic importance by earnestly seeking Lula’s support when he found himself relatively isolated in Europe because of the diplomatic standoff with the United States and Britain.
To reward this support, Mr. Chirac invited President Lula da Silva to participate in a meeting of world leaders held in parallel with the G-8 summit.
Just recently, Brazil’s foreign relations minister Celso Amorim met with his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, who officially announced France’s support to make Brazil a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
This alliance is clearly meant to reinforce opposition to American foreign policy in the U.N. Security Council.
In this context, Marc Grossman, U.S. State Department undersecretary for political affairs, issued statements that caused perplexity when published in Brazil. According to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, Grossman explained that “Lula’s ambition to see Brazil take on a more clear leadership role in the region ‘does not bother’ the U.S. ‘In fact, we think this is a good thing, something we support’” (Paulo Sotero, “Guerra leva EUA a buscar aproximação com Brasil,”, O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/16/2003).
3. Reacting to President Bush’s ultimatum
After President Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Lula cranked up a notch his criticism to the U.S. and its president at a press conference.
“In an impromptu statement to newsmen, the President attacked the U.S. He accused Americans of lacking respect for the U.N., called the military action ‘illegitimate’ and criticized President George W. Bush” (Guilherme Evelin and Estela Caparelli, “O País quer paz,” Época, 3/24/2003).
Commenting on Lula da Silva’s statement, a well-known political commentator said: “In this case, however, Lula did not want to be pragmatic or orthodox. He followed his inner feelings, public opinion and the old PT position against American arrogance” (Eliane Cantanhêde, “O Brasil e a guerra,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/23/2003).
For his part, the Speaker of the House of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha (PT), delivered a speech characterized as “an example for the Planalto [the presidential palace] by someone who wanted an even tougher statement. The House’s Speaker called Bush a ‘despot’ and the war ‘barbaric’” (“Discurso interno,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/21/2003).
In an interview with the important magazine Época, special presidential aide Marco Aurélio Garcia claimed the government is not anti-American but accused the United States and its allies of lacking respect for the rules of international law and said Brazil would be ready to grant political asylum to Saddam Hussein.
As a clearly prudential measure, the foreign relations ministry later toned down this stance with significant help from the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Donna Hrinak: “In this regard, Itamaraty believes that the American ambassador in Brasilia, Donna Hrinak, plays both a fundamental and positive role. She acts to bring about a relaxation of tensions, unlike some of her predecessors who, while certainly remaining within the bounds of diplomacy, would have taken advantage of Tuesday’s peevish presidential speech to retaliate in some way” (“A vitória interna da diplomacia,” Dora Krammer, O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/22/2003).
The enigmatic position of the American ambassador could not go unnoticed, particularly if one takes into account press reports that “Ambassador Donna Hrinak has maintained frequent contacts with government members outside the diplomatic area” (“Medidas de defesa,” Jânio de Freitas, Folha de S. Paulo, 3/19/2003).
Following advice from diplomatic circles, President Lula himself tried to ‘cool it.’ In a televised speech to the nation after hostilities began, he clearly repudiated the U.S. attack on Iraq and the employment of force without U.N. approval. However, his tone was politically more toned down. “Note that the government made no mention at all of support for Iraq however much sympathy some sectors of the PT harbor for that country” (Dora Krammer, “A vitória interna da diplomacia,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/22/2003).
Thus, the highly ambiguous game of the present Brazilian government resurfaced. Foreign relations minister Celso Amorim commented on the changed tone of presidential statements to a journalist of the Folha de S. Paulo: “The TV speech is a solemn one. It is a stand the Brazilian government takes vis-à-vis an event that has already occurred. I do not believe there has been any retreat” (Eliane Cantanhêde, “Brasil não teme represália, diz Amorim,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/31/2003).
In other words, after all the nuanced diplomatic ballet, Lula’s attacks on the United States and its president still stand.
4. Brazil’s ongoing diplomatic efforts
After the war started, Brazil resumed its diplomatic offensive by joining up once again with France and Russia. This reflects Lula’s ambition to give himself and his government some regional and, if possible, international stature at the service of his leftist ideals.
For obvious prudential reasons, the Brazilian government has been quick to caution that it harbors no anti-American sentiments. Nevertheless, it is hastily cozying up to Russia precisely at a moment of increased friction between Russia and the United States, as more evidence surfaces of Russian military aid to Iraq during the conflict. Russia also is showing concern for the future of regimes in countries such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and talks about strengthening its own military.
While pursuing this diplomatic offensive, the government sponsors antiwar demonstrations.
The minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, promoted a show for “peace” attended by two other ministers of the Lula administration, other PT leaders and PT president, José Genoíno.
Leftist leanings and anti-American sentiments were prevalent in the so-called peace demonstration. “The park had never seen so many white and red flags, often displaying the hammer and sickle, pictures of Che Guevara, and of George Bush sporting Hitler’s moustache” (Aureliano Biancarelli, “Gil leva 30 mil a ‘protesto-show’ em SP,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/31/2003).
5. Lula da Silva’s international connections surface
Some other events are worth noting:
a) The Jornal do Brasil reports that, in an operation shrouded in secrecy, Brazil is about to receive its first oil shipment from the Russian oil company Lukoil, which runs fields in Iraq (cf. Ricardo Rego Monteiro, “Empresas já importam combustíveis,” Jornal do Brasil, 3/27/2003).
b) Even as military operations in Iraq unfolded, the son and successor of Libya’s dictator Muhammar Khadafi visited Brazil on the pretext of leading his country’s soccer team.
In press statements, Saadi Kadhafi said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a great friend of his country: “He has been with my father several times over the last few years and they both like each other” (Sonia Racy, “No Brasil, o filho de Kadhafi,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/28/2003).
c) The Senate has just approved the appointment of Brazil’s new ambassador to Cuba, Tilden Santiago. A PT member and former priest linked with Liberation Theology, he was an activist with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) when he lived in Israel.
According to the newspaper O Globo, a party held to celebrate his nomination “turned into a tribute to Fidel Castro’s socialist country.” This is happening just when Fidel Castro cranks up the pressure against opponents of his regime by imprisoning a number of dissidents.
Top government officials attended the party: Chief of Staff José Dirceu, special presidential aide for international matters Marco Aurélio Garcia, special presidential aides Frei Betto and Luiz Dulci, the presidency’s secretary-general Walfrido Mares Guia, minister of culture Gilberto Gil, the secretary general of Itamaraty, Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, and others.
During his speech the president’s chief of staff said he “felt indebted to Commandant Fidel Castro” and affirmed that “the generation that came to power with Lula is indebted to Cuba. And I consider myself a Cuban-Brazilian and a Brazilian-Cuban” (Ilimar Franco, “Paixão por Cuba,” O Globo, 3/4/2003).
In an interview with the newspaper Zero Hora, Tilden Santiago said “Brazil intends to contribute to the effort to reinstate Cuba in relationships with Latin countries.” He also emphasized that he is becoming a diplomat at a moment when Lula makes a sharp turn in Brazil’s foreign policy starting with the creation of the Group of Friends of Venezuela (cf. “Vamos incrementar as relações com Cuba,” Zero Hora, 3/2/2003).
d) After Lula’s daring diplomatic efforts to buttress his ideological ally Hugo Chavez, he once again extended his hand to the Venezuelan government: “The good relations between Lula and Chávez drives business with Brazilian companies,” reports the magazine Carta Capital in an article titled “A Neighbor Comes Closer.” The magazine also says that, with the backing of the Brazilian foreign ministry, a delegation of corporate executives visited Venezuela “at a critical moment of strike-related shortages in that country.”
According to one of the mission’s main organizers, participants quipped that “while the U.S. launches bombs to obtain oil, we make accords” (4/2/2003).
The Lula da Silva administration thus helps maintain in power Saddam Hussein’s ally in Latin America.
That concludes this issue of LulaWatch. Until next time,
C. Preston Noell III