Lula Watch: Focusing on Latin America’s New “Axis of Evil” – Vol.3 – No.3

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador soon after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s stop in Brazil is a sign of the growing importance the Bush Administration is giving to Latin America.

Since her installation, the Secretary of State has reiterated that the U.S. must consider Brazil a key country in its bid for partners in Latin America. During her visit, Rice called Brazil a “regional leader” and “a growing global presence.”

Brazil’s geographic, economic and cultural importance on the South American continent is undeniable. All Latin America tends to follow Brazil. A recent study on the Global Panorama 2020 by the CIA’s National Intelligence Council called Brazil an “essential state.”

Thus, it becomes vital to analyze the posture of the Lula da Silva government vis-à-vis Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ “hyena strategy” of supporting subversive movements, destabilizing governments and spreading the noxious influence of his socialist revolution.

Commenting on Condoleeza Rice’s visit to Brazil, The New York Times said the Bush Administration has been trying to isolate the Venezuelan government diplomatically but has not found much support in Latin America, where leftist leaders govern over two-thirds of the continent.

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The media keep on insisting that Lula is a leader of the democratic left, a man of consensus and conciliation, as opposed to Chavez, a pro-active and populist military leader.

Nevertheless, a calm analysis of Brazil’s foreign policy calls this characterization into question. Brazilian diplomacy is marked by a strong dose of double dealing, leftist ideology, and systematical support for the policies of President Hugo Chavez. President Lula recently allowed Brazil to be used as a stage for Chavez’ “Bolivarian revolution;” signed a strategic pact with Chavez that includes important agreements on oil; and helped arm Venezuela’s military with jet fighters.

Thus, the Lula da Silva Government is an important ally of the Venezuelan president in his quest to consolidate and expand his “Bolivarian revolution” in the region. Lula da Silva untiringly proclaims the need for Brazil to lead South American integration, a political ambition he shares with Chavez and Fidel Castro, with unequivocal anti-American overtones.

To insist on labeling President Lula da Silva as a conciliating leftist and trusted ally in the region is, to say the least, a hasty assessment that can have grave consequences.

Gradual Strategy to Implement a Socialist Regime

President Lula da Silva’s great political weapon has been his double-dealing in both domestic and foreign policies. While appearing to be moderate and “pragmatic,” he actually pursues his political plans of progressive radicalization.

Analyzing his speeches to leftist grassroots, Pres. Lula da Silva never renounces or distances himself from his goals (even his most radical ones) but only appeals for “patience,” anticipating a moment when he can implement his stronger socialist agenda. In a recent speech at the World Social Forum, Lula defined himself as a persevering man who prefers to take several small steps rather than one large one.

This gradual strategy is precisely what the true mentors of his government are trying to explain to the left. One mentor is Friar Betto, a leader of liberation theology, Lula’s spiritual advisor and, until recently, his special presidential aide.

Friar Betto recently drew a parallel between the radical demands the so-called “social movements” are requesting from the Lula government and similar criticism of Fidel Castro in the beginning of his regime.

Praising the Lula government, Friar Betto compared the present Workers Party’s (PT)governance to the Cuban Revolution; recalled that Fidel Castro only adhered to socialism officially about two years after the Revolution; and that radicalization happened with land reform and the nationalization of American-owned companies.

President Hugo Chavez, in a speech at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, praised Lula and emphasized the gradual nature of the Brazilian president’s policies. Drawing a parallel with his “Bolivarian revolution,” Chavez asked the leftist grassroots to be patient:

“In Venezuela, especially in the first two years in my government, people were demanding quicker and more radical changes. I deemed that it was not the moment, because these processes have phases and rhythms that have nothing to do with the country’s domestic situation but rather with the international scene” (Flávia Marreiro and Ana Flor, “Chavez exorciza o imperialismo dos EUA e elogia Lula,” Folha de S. Paulo, 1/31/2005).

These statements clearly dispute the notion that there are two types of leftists in Latin America: one represented by Hugo Chavez (populist and authoritarian socialism) and another represented by Lula da Silva (civilized and democratic). It seems more appropriate to speak of two stages in the same process toward socialism.

The Lula Government as American Ally: A Politically Hasty and Optimistic Assessment

Out of naiveté, misinformation or even bad faith, some observers and media – particularly outside Brazil – insist on presenting Pres. Lula da Silva and his government as moderate. They keep repeating that Lula has been a “pleasant surprise” and his “economic program is a good example for the world.”

On the eve of the 2002 presidential elections in Brazil, there was a justifiable fear that the Lula government, strongly inspired by the radical current of liberation theology, would break with the present economic model and impose a radical socialist one. This obviously has not happened. On rising to power, Lula da Silva avoided openly anti-capitalist rhetoric and sought to have a broadly “orthodox” economic policy. However, some people seem to forget that this was a strategic necessity to make his government viable.

An objective analysis of the Lula government’s economic policy shows a clearly leftist ideological line and a tendency to implement statist measures which are the source of Brazil’s difficulties to attract private investment.

Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor, César Maia, recently wrote a widely published article on the growing authoritarian nature of the Lula government. He relates the ongoing measures to intervene and control Brazil’s press, judiciary, universities, and unions; to reduce the country’s federal structure to a centralized government; the spending orgy in the public sector, especially the sector controlling government propaganda; the unfettered growth in taxation; the juridical insecurity that hampers foreign investment; relations between the PT with Colombia’s FARC; and controversial foreign policy decisions. He adds:

“‘Chavism’ is increasingly praised. It is not difficult for us to see an escalation of authoritarian rule within the law … Chavez has given the example of how to carry out a coup d’etat within the law” (“Escalada autoritária,” Folha de S. Paulo, 4/13/2005).

Thus, it is somewhat naive to insist on characterizing Lula da Silva as a moderate leftist who plays a conciliator on the Latin American scene and who can or should be seen as an ally of the United States in the region. It is a display of political unwariness to assert he is a “leader of democracy” in Latin America – as important officials of the State Department have said. This misguided assessment can have grave and even irreversible consequences in the medium term.

Diplomacy Turned into a Powerful Instrument for Socialism

Brazil’s foreign policy – presented by Lula da Silva and his top diplomats as “key” to understanding his government – is strongly biased ideologically. This is the consensus of innumerable commentators, political analysts, journalists, corporate leaders and even diplomats. One such journalist comments:

“Foreign policy is an unmitigated disaster. …. In the eyes of the world, it is inconceivable for Brazil – which seeks a place in the UN Security Council – to cultivate relationships with discredited dictators like Fidel Castro, take little tyrants like Hugo Chavez seriously and recognize FARC as a legitimate guerrilla movement” (João Mellão Neto, “O Lula vai bem, o governo vai mal,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 4/8/2005).

Analyzing the actual facts and official statements (shown below) rather than vague declarations of intent, the Lula da Silva Government clearly manifests its intention to make Brazil’s influence felt on two decisive international stages: Latin America and the Middle East.

They also want this influence to weigh in as a factor of ideological confrontation with and destabilization of the policies pursued by the present Republican administration in the United States.

Even worse, to reach this end the Lula government’s diplomats, without flinching, knit closer ties with regimes accused of aiding terrorism and take complacent attitudes (to say the least) toward terrorist organizations.

“South-American Integration”: A leftist ideological plan led by Lula and Chavez

Lula continually reiterates that one of the goals of his diplomatic initiatives is to create a “new political, commercial and cultural geography” and change the balance of forces on the international level.

He insists in promoting a kind of “class struggle” on a global scale by presenting himself as a leader of poor countries against the rich ones. Nodding to the dream of Bolivar, Lula (like Chavez) untiringly proclaims the need for “integrating” South American countries. This integration has a clearly leftist bend and an unequivocal anti-American note. For this end, he strives to consolidate Brazil’s hegemonic leadership on the continent.

A telltale example of this plan was seen at the recent World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. The Brazilian government has had an active participation in this great annual pow-wow of the world left. At the latest event, Lula inaugurated an international state TV network (TV Brasil) called the “Integration Channel.”

Especially aimed at the Hispanic countries in the Americas, the Spanish-language channel opened with an inaugural broadcast with strong political propaganda for Lula, the Forum’s activities, and victories of the Latin American left.

Lula Defends Hugo Chavez in Rift Between Colombia and Venezuela

Since early this year, American authorities have been showing growing concern over the government of the Venezuelan president.

This reached a peak when Colombian authorities captured Rodrigo Gandra, a FARC leader living in Caracas. The episode served to confirm denunciations that President Hugo Chavez’s government provides safe harbor to the narco-terrorists of the Colombian Marxist movement.

In diplomatic notes to the region’s governments, the State Department expressed American support for the Colombian government’s efforts to root out terrorist groups and exhorted South American countries to cooperate with President Álvaro Uribe’s administration and pressure the Venezuelan government to sever its ties with FARC.

The Lula government’s reaction during this incident made obvious a strong diplomatic/ideological cooperation between Brazil and Venezuela. Far from heeding the State Department’s requests, Lula threw his support behind Hugo Chavez and, implicitly, FARC. The press repeatedly noted that Brazil’s diplomatic position was radically divergent from the American one.

Marco Aurélio Garcia, President Lula’s aide for international affairs, made it a point to tear apart publicly the American diplomatic communiqués.

Following its interventionist strategy, the Brazilian government hastily tried to “mediate” the crisis. However, the meaning of such “mediation” soon became clear: the press reports that during his visit to Colombia, President Lula da Silva suggested that the Colombian President apologize for capturing the terrorist, thus meeting the demands of both Chavez and FARC. Brazilian diplomats even wanted to present President Uribe with a draft of his proposed apology!

With Lula’s Consent, Chavez Visits Brazil, Supports the MST and Prepares “Bolivarian” Revolution

Pres. Lula da Silva’s response to American appeals to pressure the Chavez regime provoked precisely the opposite response. Lula allowed Brazil to serve as a stage for the Venezuelan president to preach his “Bolivarian revolution.” Chavez went to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre to give speeches and then visit a Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) camp.

Ignácio Ramonet, director of France’s Le Monde diplomatique and an architect of the Social Forums, hailed Chavez as a “new liberator.” For his part, Chavez paid homage to leftist heroes, praised Lula, quoted Mao Zedong (the Chinese theoretician of guerrilla warfare) and spoke of the need to engage on the “road to revolution” by adopting a “strategy of power.”

In a press interview, the Venezuelan president also said he is arming both military and civilians in Venezuela “to defend the Bolivarian project as an alternative to the integration project of the United States.”

Hugo Chavez also visited a MST camp to support the movement and preach his “agrarian revolution.” The Lula government was openly involved in the event. Land Reform Minister Miguel Rossetto officially received Hugo Chavez, to whom he conveyed “compañero Lula’s greetings.” [‘Compañero,’roughly fellow fighter, is the PT’s version of the old Communist jargon ‘comrade’]. Miguel Rossetto also hailed Chavez as one of the most positive political leaders in Latin America and praised his land reform program.

In Venezuela, Lula Makes a “profound strategic alliance” with Chavez

Pres. Lula da Silva decided to go even farther in his moves to save the Hugo Chavez regime.

Soon afterward, he visited Caracas with eight of his cabinet ministers to celebrate what the two presidents called “a profound strategic alliance.”

“Venezuela is going all out to receive this compañero (Lula)”, said Chavez. Brazilian media went so far as to call the Venezuelan government’s welcome ceremony “a hero’s reception.” All radio and TV programs in Venezuela were interrupted to broadcast Lula’s arrival.

Lula visited Caracas just as Hugo Chavez was enacting new laws which highly restrict freedom of speech, trample upon the right of property, and undermine the rule of law. Yet Lula did not hesitate to praise Hugo Chavez leadership and note his “firm commitment to democracy.”

In a meeting with clearly anti-American tones, Pres. Lula da Silva said the revolutionary dream “is close to its fulfillment.” He also announced the signing of accords establishing a close partnership between Petrobrás [the Brazilian State oil company] and Petroleos de Venezuela-PDVSA [its Venezuelan counterpart]. Brazil and Venezuela agreed to build an oil refinery in northeastern Brazil and a factory of oil lubricants in Havana.

The accords include the sale of 12 to 20 Supertucano light fighter planes to Venezuela and AMX-T fighter jets. In addition, Brazil will also transfer military technology such as radar systems and will cooperate with Venezuela in monitoring and defending the Amazon.

The Lula da Silva Government thus begins effectively to cooperate with Chavez’s drive to strengthen his country’s military, a nearly eight billion dollar effort that includes arms purchases from, and military cooperation with, Russia and Spain.

Answering Rumsfeld’s warning, Lula does not accept that compañeros be “defamed”

In late March, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Brasilia, where he made a public warning against Venezuela’s quest for new weaponry. He expressed concern over the possible destination of 100,000 Russian AK-47 rifles bought by Chavez, saying he feared they could wind up in the hands of FARC terrorists or other subversive groups.

Lula’s answer was swift. Six days later, on a new trip to Venezuela, Lula came to the “emphatic defense” of his ideological ally:

“I want to tell Chavez that I do not hesitate to affirm that we do not accept defamation against our compañeros, that we do not accept insinuations against our compañeros… So, President Chavez, you can be certain of our solidarity” (Eduardo Scolese, “Lula defende Chavez dos EUA e diz não aceitar ‘difamações,'” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/30/2005).

Hugo Chavez thanked Lula for his solidarity.

Condoleeza Rice visits Brazil

Aware of the close links between Lula and Chavez, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Brazil.

The visit, marked by diplomatic cordiality, had a rather delicate agenda: to criticize the Lula government’s close links with Cuba and to denounce the harmful interference of Hugo Chavez in the countries in the region. The United States also sought support for an OAS resolution condemning the actions of the Chavez government.

The Financial Times emphasized the trip’s importance as the situation in the region becomes increasingly volatile and the United States seeks support from Brazil and other regional governments to contain the destabilizing influence of Hugo Chavez.

The New York Times, for its part, highlighted the difficulties of the Bush Administration as it tries to isolate Hugo Chavez diplomatically in face of Latin America leftist leaders who rule two-thirds of the continent.

The New York Times further noted that the American government is studying ways to take a tougher stance against Venezuela, which would include aiding political and corporate opposition groups at a moment when Chavez imposes an authoritarian regime by curtailing basic liberties in Venezuela and supporting subversive groups abroad.

In a press conference, Condoleeza Rice said it is no good for a government to be democratically elected if it does not govern democratically. As certain media pointed out, these statements aimed at countering the Brazilian government’s recurring argument that Chavez was democratically elected and his mandate reconfirmed by referendum. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim repeated that argument a few minutes earlier at the same press conference.

A few days before the visit, Venezuela broke its over 35-year military cooperation pact with the United States.

That break is said to have been at the root of the unexpected trip to Caracas by Brazilian Presidential Chief of Staff José Dirceu a few hours before Rice’s arrival. In vain did José Dirceu, an intimate friend of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, try to dissuade the Venezuelan President from his decision.

In practice, the mission’s failure dispelled the claim that the Brazilian minister is closely linked with Hugo Chavez in order to moderate him. The extremely close bond between the two governments was made patent in the comment made by Minister José Dirceu, widely reported in the media: “Chavez does not listen to me. I’ve already told him to stop this.”

An important editorial in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo summarized the result of the Secretary of State’s trip to Brazil:

“In spite of the friendly tone, mutual praise and exhaustive use of the word ‘democracy,’ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Brazilian interlocutors did not see eye-to-eye on the more delicate question… Whereas the Americans consider Fidel and Chavez to be the greatest threats to democracy and the United States, the Lula government maintains close relationships with both: government-to-government and man-to-man relationships” (Eliane Cantanhêde, “Visita expõe mal-estar sobre Fidel E Chavez,” 4/28/2005).

Intervention in Haiti

During Condoleezza Rice’s visit, the Folha de S. Paulo published statements by a high-ranking Pentagon official that planes depart from Venezuela to Haiti “filled with drugs and weapons.” Note that Hugo Chavez did not recognize Haiti’s transitional government, installed after the deposition of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the presidency.

Marco Aurélio Garcia, President Lula’s aide for international affairs (who seems to be taking on the role of international spokesman for Hugo Chavez), immediately defended his ideological ally by calling the American accusations “delirious.”

This swift defense is consistent with the Lula government’s politico-diplomatic attitude regarding the situation in Haiti, where Brazil commands the UN’s international force.

Brazilian diplomatic policy affirms the need to “dialogue” with (rather than militarily contain) guerrilla groups linked with former President Jean Bertrand Aristide as the way to stabilize the country. This position shows a veiled but real sympathy for the ex-president, who is intimately linked with the liberation theology current strongly present in the Lula government itself.

On the other hand, Brazil is taking advantage of its position as leader of the UN mission to interfere in Haiti politically. According to the media, agents from Brazil’s ruling Workers Party (PT) are helping to organize leftist groups there in preparation for the coming elections.

(Next: The Lula da Silva government’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East)

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