The ambiguous – not to say complicit – attitude of the Lula da Silva administration vis-a-vis the recent crackdown on Cuban dissidents by Fidel Castro’s tyrannical government has had a profound impact in the United States. Castro imprisoned 75 opponents and had three men who tried to flee the island executed by firing squad.
The Workers’ Party (PT) government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once again displayed its duplicity and ideological compromise with leftist and dictatorial regimes. It also made clear its unstated but real desire to work for a politico-social destabilization of Latin America, which it sees as a means to counter American influence in the region – more specifically the influence of President Bush’s conservative administration – and to foster the rise of socialist regimes.
1. Foreign policy in Lula’s socialist project
In order to gauge the scope of the present Brazilian government’s attitude toward Fidel Castro’s persecutions of his own people, it would be well to fit this event into a larger picture.
Since his rise to power, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has noted the importance of his political plan for the international left: “I have a clear notion of what our victory means in terms of hope not only here [in Brazil] but for the left all over the world and above all in Latin America,” he said at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre.
The importance of Lula’s triumph to the international left becomes even clearer if one takes into account two fiascos of the latter, one recent, the other remote. These setbacks made it highly advantageous for the international left to gain political control in a country as important as Brazil.
The remote fiasco was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the spectacular crumbling of the Soviet bloc that proved to the world the huge failure of the greatest and longest socialist experiment in history. The recent fiasco was the series of defeats suffered by socialist parties in European elections shortly before the Brazilian presidential ballot. This series culminated with the scorching defeat of Lionel Jospin, the world’s leading socialist, in his bid for the French presidency.
In a recent interview, José Dirceu, the megaminister and linchpin of the Lula da Silva administration, insisted that no one in the PT is ready to renege socialist ideology: “I am [a socialist]. The PT is a socialist party. It is obvious that socialism is going through a grave crisis. There has been a socialist experiment in the world. It has failed. It gave rise to authoritarian models [of government]. So we must settle accounts with history.”(Ministro diz que ele e o PT são socialistas,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/13/2003)
Foreign policy is seen as one of the fundamental axes in the socialist designs of the present Brazilian government. Given the country’s obvious strategic importance, Lula said it should “assume its grandeur” and proclaimed his wish to lead the continent’s integration with a “proactive” foreign policy.
His first actions in government were revealing as to the direction that “proactive” policy would take.
Lula’s first audience after the inauguration was with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who at the time was facing massive and angry demonstrations by his country’s people because of his communist orientation. It was on that occasion that Chavez asked Lula to form the Group of Friends of Venezuela.
Lula’s first dinner at the presidential residence was with Fidel Castro, who announced closer links between Cuba and Brazil.
The privileged treatment given Castro and Chavez belied Lula’s election campaign maneuver to keep his distance from both and confirmed Chavez’s words that the three governments would form one bloc.
In those first steps toward a socialist Brazilian foreign policy aiming at a profound geopolitical reorganization of South America, Lula went so far as to claim that the Brazilian government was beginning to build a “new South America.”
2. Affinities and sympathies of Lula da Silva and the PT with Fidel Castro
It is known that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and several of his closest aides are friends of Fidel Castro and are his ideological allies. Many who hold positions in the present Brazilian government have long displayed sympathy for the Cuban regime.
“Perhaps few people recall that the Cuban dictator attended the whole inauguration ceremony of president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the company of a friend named Daniel, who served as a translator . . . But Daniel was not just any translator. He was none other than José Dirceu, who during his stay in Cuba took up the pen name used until now by his friend Fidel.”(Sérgio Coelho,“Sem explicação,” O Globo, 4/17/2003)
Links and affinities with Castroism in the Lula administration are especially reinforced by leading figures of the “Catholic left” intent on promoting “Liberation Theology.” The “Catholic left” has shown itself one of the most ferocious promoters and defenders of the present Cuban regime. For the “Catholic left” Fidel’s regime is not only defensible but a model to be emulated.
There’s more than mere ideological affinity between the Brazilian government and Cuba’s. The Brazilian left presently in power – including President Lula da Silva – see the Cuban regime as a model of socialism.
In Rome, Fausto Bertinotti, secretary-general of the orthodox and radical Communist “Re-foundation” Party, expressed his disagreement with recent events in Cuba. But his words only served to emphasize the point: “‘Cuba is a point of reference for the peace movement and the rebirth of Latin America alongside Lula, Chavez, Gutierrez,’ he said, referring to Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador.”(“OEA condena ‘privação arbitrária da vida,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/18/2003)
Presidential Chief of Staff José Dirceu is also clear as to the PT administration’s “affiliation” with the Cuban regime. At the party celebrating the appointment of Brazil’s new ambassador to Cuba, Dirceu said, “the generation that came to power with Lula is indebted to Cuba. 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 Folha de São Paulo, while showing some recent pictures of himself with dictator Castro, José Dirceu spoke proudly about his participation in armed revolution. Asked about his relations with Cuba and Fidel, he said: “I have friends in the Cuban government. Does that mean that I agree with them? Of course not. Am I embarrassed as I speak of my differences with Cuba? I am. Like the son who was raised by a father who has grave defects. So also, I am embarrassed to speak out. I try not to.”(“Ministro diz que ele e o PT são socialistas,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/13/2003)
Thus, Minister José Dirceu feels “embarrassed” to talk about his differences with Cuba. He is not embarrassed though to extol the Cuban regime in public and say he is ”indebted to Comandante Fidel Castro.”
“Minister José Dirceu says he’s embarrassed to criticize Fidel Castro’s regime. … His personal motive is understandable. But it cannot override the need for the Brazilian State to once again condemn this heavy handed crackdown of Fidel against democratic freedoms to the point of [sending people to] the firing squad [paredón].”(“O risco do silêncio,” O Globo, 4/15/2003)
3. Duplicity in the Lula da Silva administration
a) As was mentioned, the Lula administration has favored from its inauguration a “proactive” foreign policy that has led it to interfere in the internal crises of countries such as Venezuela and Colombia. This earned it the label of “interventionist.” During the recent Iraqi crisis, the administration roundly condemned President Bush and his government for the military operation that overthrew Saddam Hussein. At the same time, however, it was doing diplomatic backflips to avoid condemning Fidel Castro.
Alleging a need for discretion, the Brazilian government abstained from condemning Cuba at the U.N. Human Rights Commission (“UNHRC”). President Lula himself remained silent. His spokesman was also careful to avoid any comment in spite of the questions raised in the media.
“Shying away from the more active foreign policy advocated by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government has been using extreme caution dealing with the recent wave of repression promoted by the Cuban government… Itamaraty has issued a short comment without mentioning Cuba. ‘We are always concerned with the human rights situation in any country, but the noisiest actions are not always the most effective ones,’ Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said through a spokesman.”(Fábio Zanini, “Lula government evita se posicionar sobre Cuba,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/15/2003)
A well-known political commentator favorable to the present government noted: “Brazil abstains from voting against Cuba in Geneva and limits itself to issuing a separate statement against [political] persecution. This is little. If they condemned Bush’s war so explicitly, the PT government also owes national and international opinion a vehement condemnation of barbarism in Cuba.”(Eliane Cantanhêde, “Muy amigos!” Folha de São Paulo, 4/18/2003)
b) In condemning the American and British attack on Iraq, the Brazilian government insisted on the importance it attaches to multilateral organizations to solve international problems. It also demanded that the [Iraq] crisis be solved through U.N. weapons inspections. But the Lula da Silva government now refrains from condemning Cuba at the UNHRC and from demanding that Cuba accept a UNHRC inspection to investigate the situation of human rights on the island. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim says that “Brazil believes an extremely discreet diplomatic work with Cuba would be more effective than ‘strident actions.’”(Denise Chrispim Marin, “Brazil vai abster-se em votação contra Cuba,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/16/2003)
In contrast with that “extremely discreet diplomatic work,” Cuban diplomatic representatives in Brazil feel free to proclaim their positions without any negative public reaction from the Brazilian government.
To justify the summary executions his government carried out, the Cuban ambassador in Brasilia claimed the three Cubans were “terrorists.”
For his part, the Cuban consul in São Paulo, Omar Torres Olivares, justified Castro’s incarcerations and executions by saying Cuba lives in a virtual state of war with the United States: “The Cuban diplomat raised the tone of his criticisms of Washington by saying the Bush administration finances terrorist actions against Cuba.”(“Cônsul cubano chama Bush de ‘terrorista,’” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/18/2003)
This Cuban consul also accused President Bush of engaging in so-called state terrorism. According to the left, the concept of “state terrorism” is any action a government carries out against subversive groups. This concept is dear to important people in the Lula government such as his Special Assistant for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia. This thesis is also adopted in the PT-approved resolutions of the Forum of São Paulo, an umbrella organization that includes leftist parties and organizations (including terrorist ones) from all over Latin America. The Forum of São Paulo was founded by Fidel Castro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
c) It is also curious to note that while avoiding to condemn Cuba for its brutal violations of human rights, the Lula government has no qualms about attacking the United States.
In statements to the Folha Online, Tilden Santiago, the newly-appointed Brazilian ambassador to Cuba, a PT member and ex-priest linked to “Liberation Theology,” avoided taking a position on the executions alleging these are “very internal matters.” But in the same interview, he called “the U.S. initiative in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, a dictatorial act.”(Camilo Toscano, “Embaixador brasileiro em Cuba diz que invasão ao Iraque é ato ditatorial,” Folha Online, 4/17/2003)
In the same pronouncement where it avoids condemning Cuba, Brazilian diplomacy censures the United States for the embargo imposed on Castro’s tyrannical regime.
d) From the podium of the House, Speaker João Paulo Cunha (a PT member) gave a rousing speech against military intervention in Iraq, calling President Bush a “despot” and the war “barbaric.”
In contrast, when the opposition parties in Congress proposed a motion of censure against Cuba’s repression, the PT and its ally, the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B) refused to sign on. The motion censured the “summary imprisonment and judgment of dissidents and the firing squad execution of Cuban citizens fleeing to find freedom in the United States of America.” It also demanded that “the Brazilian government take a clear position in defense of the dissidents and ask the Cuban government to free those in prison immediately.”
The congressmen also pressed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to speak out against Fidel’s government. “‘The Lula government is staying out of it because of their romantic relations with the Latin left’, said PFL party leader in the House, José Carlos Aleluia, who presented a motion of censure.”(Cf. “Congresso faz pressão contra Fidel,” O Globo, 4/15/2003; and “Parlamentares fazem críticas a Fidel,” Jornal do Brasil, 4/15/2003; and Eugênia Lopes e Christiane Samarco, “PT e PC do B não assinam moção condenando Havana,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/15/2003)
4. Connivance with the revolutionary left
In so acting, the Lula government unmasks its ultimate goals by showing an unequivocal connivance with the ideology of the revolutionary left it claimed to have abandoned.
“If there was ever a considerable change in the party’s economic policy, the same cannot be said of its international policies… Unfortunately, there’s nothing new from the ideological standpoint and Itamaraty [the Brazilian foreign ministry] appears to be a department of the PT, following its old anti-imperialistic conceptions and active affinity with ‘socialist’ countries in spite of their cruel forms of domination.”(Denis Lerrer Rosenfield, “Cuba e os princípios,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/21/2003)
In fact, the Lula da Silva government refuses to condemn dictatorial actions such as Cuba’s incarcerations and summary executions. It also refuses to condemn the FARC and to designate them as a “terrorist organization” even as it turns a blind eye to the actions of this Marxist guerrilla group within Brazil. And this in spite of grave denunciations often made in the media that the FARC carry out important operations in Brazil by training and working together with organized crime and drug traffickers.
These omissions earned the government a stinging editorial in the Folha de São Paulo: “It is painful to see the timidity with which the Lula government has been dealing with the abominable persecution of dissidents perpetrated by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. As in the dubious role played by Brazilian diplomacy in relation to the FARC – the Marxist Colombian narco-guerrillas – to falter on this topic gives the impression that nostalgia for the revolutionary, guerrilla-loving and authoritarian left has not been purged yet from the PT.”(“Timidez constrangedora,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/17/2003)
A similarly forceful editorial came out in the Jornal da Tarde: “For us Brazilians it is therefore lamentable that not even the authority of respectable leftist intellectuals such as José Saramago (Portuguese Marxist writer who won the 1998 Literature Nobel Prize) and the Mexican Carlos Fuentes has been able to cause Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the PT to break their disconcerting silence about the episode… This is a time when the commitment to democracy and human rights assumed by the President and his party should weigh in more than the good youthful souvenirs of former guerrilla José Dirceu, now Presidential Chief of Staff. For him to be up to the role he wishes to play in the world in general and in Latin America in particular, Lula has to clearly repudiate Cuban repression.”(Jornal da Tarde, 4/20/2003)
Criticizing President Lula da Silva because of Brazil’s abstention in the vote on Cuba at the Human Rights Commission, The New York Times editorialized: “Judging Mr. Castro’s regime is indeed a litmus test for Latin American nations – a test of the maturity of their own democracies.”(“Cuban Litmus Test,” The New York Times, 4/18/2003)
In view of this statement one wonders how much confidence can be placed in the sincerity of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s commitment to democratic principle. Under the test of time, this commitment looks more like posturing intended to deceive business investors and certain political and business circles in Brazil and abroad.
Both domestically and internationally the Lula da Silva government lacks a political base and that support in public opinion equivalent to a “mandate” for the leftist ideology directing its actions. It proclaims therefore its commitment to democracy even as it carries out policies based on dissimulation whose ultimate goal is not lost on keen observers.
For his closest allies, however, it is clear that Lula is merely carrying out a strategic maneuver to gain time. Time to guarantee economic stability for his government while he takes control of the whole machinery of government, to then put in motion his radical program.
“What perhaps one could not have expected is that, hesitating between remaining faithful to the Cuban regime and taking a strong position against the grave human rights violations of the Castro regime, minister [José Dirceu] and the government itself would have picked the first option.”(Sérgio Coelho, “Sem explicação,” O Globo, 4/17/2003)
This grave omission in the Cuban case creates strong doubts as to the democratic intentions of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But there are other meaningful events along the same line.
Up until now Lula has not uttered a single word of rebuke to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Even anti-war leaders such as President Chirac of France expressed relief at the fall of Iraq’s dictatorial regime. Not President Lula though. He has said nothing, remaining ensconced in his long and strange silence on socialist dictatorships.
“Our Minister of Foreign Affairs has proclaimed that its condemnation of American policy was a matter of principle. Already at that point, this statement appeared dubious because the principles were invoked only to condemn the USA. No word was said about the systematic torture on which Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was based, the fear his party inflicted upon the population, his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iran, and the individual and collective murders that characterized his way of governing.”(Denis Lerrer Rosenfield, “Cuba e os princípios,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/21/2003)
Curiously enough, the media report that even after the fall of Baghdad’s regime, Saddam’s diplomatic representative in Brasilia (who is close to the leftist circles that support Lula) continued to display a picture of Saddam Hussein at the embassy and to receive calls of solidarity from Brazilian politicians.
Lula did all he could to maintain Hugo Chavez in power and at no moment did he follow the example of other countries and denounce the arbitrariness and dictatorial actions of the Venezuelan government. Nor did he make any statement dissociating himself from the call to armed struggle made by the Venezuelan president in Brazil.
President Lula made no important public statement condemning the FARC as a terrorist organization. One of the most serious reasons alleged for it is that the government would never condemn leaders who “can become tomorrow’s rulers,” as the President’s Special Assistant for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, explained to the nation’s Congress.(Cf. Denise Chrispim Marim, “‘Brazil não pode ficar omisso,’ diz Garcia,” O Estado de São Paulo, 3/28/2003)
5. Cuba thanks Brazil for its important diplomatic support
As Itamaraty saw it, the motion demanding Castro’s immediate release of the political prisoners, presented by Costa Rica at the U.N. Human Rights Commission and supported by the U.S. and Britain, was “highly condemnatory” of the Cuban government.
The main concern of the Lula da Silva government, therefore, is not to condemn Cuba. This brings to the fore the strategic relationships between the present Brazilian government and Castro’s tyrannical regime.
Brazil’s failure to condemn Cuba can be understood as part of a larger diplomatic maneuver. Cuba lives a climate of growing discontent because of the economic calamity produced by socialism and the unrelenting political repression. Nothing could be more useful at this time for the regime’s survival than outside support from a government such as Lula’s.
This is made clear by a statement from Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, published in Jornal do Brasil: “Cuba expects its neighbors to defend a small country that suffers from decades of aggression and blockades.”(“Cuba de volta ao centro da crítica internacional,” Jornal do Brasil, 4/20/2003)
This is why Cuban diplomacy was quick to thank Brazil for its government’s stand: “The Cuban ambassador to Brazil, Jorge Lezcano, thanked the President’s Special Assistant for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, for Brazil’s abstention at the U.N. vote on a motion condemning the Cuban government.”(Felipe Freire, “Cuba agradece ao Brazil por abstenção em julgamento na ONU,” Folha Online, 4/17/2003)
Deep down, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva aims not only to free Castro’s regime from international condemnation but to buttress the moribund Cuban economy (that no longer counts on the precious help of the now defunct Soviet Union) and support the communist regime in its quest to expand its influence in the region.
For this reason, soon after his inauguration Lula da Silva announced important joint ventures with Cuba. His government is ready to increase commercial ties with Castro’s regime in sectors such as oil, mining, sugar production and tourism, as well as to proceed with exchanges of technology, science, culture and sports. The newly appointed Brazilian ambassador to Havana said: “There is growing interest in Cuba to partner with Brazil in oil exploration and modernization of its sugar and alcohol industry. Cuba is interested in developing this technology. Also in nickel mining there’s a possibility that our engineering sector will provide mining facilities, as Cuba’s are obsolete Soviet ones.”(Camilo Toscano, “Embaixador brasileiro em Cuba diz que invasão ao Iraque é ato ditatorial,” Folha Online, 4/17/2003)
The ambassador added that on Lula’s orders he works to promote Cuba’s acceptance into the international community.
6. Lula da Silva influences Argentina to change its diplomatic position
One of the corollaries of the Lula da Silva government’s covering up the crimes of the Castroist regime is that the Brazilian President managed to change Argentina’s diplomatic position on Cuba.
“Two telephone conversations with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sufficed for Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde to decide to change Argentina’s 13 year-old condemnation of Cuba at the U.N. and opt to abstain.”(“Duhalde alinha-se com Lula sobre voto,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/16/2003)
This fulfills in part Lula da Silva’s plan to create a regional consensus hostile to America and favorable to Cuba, as can be understood from the words of the Argentine President: “Duhalde defined Cuba as ‘a small blockaded country’ and said it would be ‘inopportune’ to vote in favor of condemning Fidel Castro’s government.”(Idem)
In this way the Brazilian government slowly but surely confirms the leftist direction of its “proactive” foreign policy.
7. Negative feedback in Brazil
The grave omission of the Lula government regarding the repression carried out by its ally Castro has caused bewilderment and even indignation in political circles and among the public. There was loud protest in letters-to-the-editor, articles by political commentators, and the media in general. The quotes below are just a sample:
“To the surprise of some, the Brazilian government and the President hesitated as much as they could before manifesting, through a statement by senator Aloizio Mercadante and after much insistence from the media, a timid and reserved ‘concern’ with the events that unfolded in Cuba”…
“If it maintains its noncommittal and ‘cautious’ attitude, Brazil will encourage the dangerous interpretation that our present government tolerates dictatorship, violence and the execution of dissidents as long as they are practiced by ‘friendly’ governments ideologically in tune with the Workers Party.”(Sérgio Coelho, “Sem explicação,” O Globo, 4/17/2003)
* * *
“It is simply ridiculous for Itamaraty to say that it sees with ‘concern’ the recent wave of human rights violations in Cuba.
“It should see them with ‘horror’, ‘repudiation’ or some other equally cogent expression…
“It is extemporary for the Brazilian left, some of it now in power, to temporize with human rights violations in Cuba…
“If Itamaraty does not wish, as it claims… to co-opt a supposed American conspiracy against Cuba, let it present a motion of repudiation and/or investigation of the situation of prisoners at Guantanamo…
“What cannot be is for it to abstain from taking a position on human rights when the one who violates them is an adversary of the United States.”(Clóvis Rossi, “Não é preocupação, é horror,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/17/2003)
* * *
“A Brazilian’s life is tough. He has to live with a government whose party drags its feet in condemning the firing squad execution of three Cubans who hijacked a passenger boat in an attempt to flee from Fidel’s paradise (if you blink, there are more Castroites in Brasilia than in Havana).”(Elio Gaspari, “Entre Fidel e o capitão Ubirajara,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/16/2003)
* * *
“The failure of the Brazilian government to take a stand has been disconcerting. While the world condemned Fidel, Brazil abstained from the vote that led the U.N. Human Rights Commission to decide to send monitors to Fidel’s island to investigate the violations.” …
“The [President’s Special Assistant for International Affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia] has waded into enough trouble recently by advising Lula to refrain from defining Colombia’s FARC as a terrorist organization and then by raising the possibility of granting Saddam Hussein asylum in Brazil.”(Eduardo Salgado, “Ele cansou de aplaudir,” Veja, 4/23/2003)
* * *
“In spite of the imprisonment and execution of Fidel’s opponents, Brazil will not vote against him at the U.N. Human Rights Commission this coming week.
“Just like the dictator, perhaps the Lula government believes that people’s attention is now focused on the [Middle] East rather than on oppression right next to us – or on those who accept it.”(Nelson de Sá, “Próxima parada,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/15/2003)
* * *
“President Lula – a friend of the jailer of professors, writers and other ‘conspirators’ – would be moved [to vote against Cuba] neither by pressure from Powell nor from countries such as France and Germany.”(Nelson de Sá, “A hora de votar,” Folha de São Paulo, 4/17/2003)
* * *
“For the sake of principle we are still awaiting hard-hitting statements from the President’s aides and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the recurring violations of human rights in Cuba.”(Denis Lerrer Rosenfield, “Cuba e os princípios,” O Estado de São Paulo, 4/21/2003)
* * *
Even in leftist circles there was astonishment at the omission of the Lula da Silva government. Ruy Fausto, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of São Paulo, criticized the government’s position and helped prepare a document by leftist intellectuals condemning repression by the Cuban regime.
That concludes this issue of LulaWatch. Until next time,
C. Preston Noell III