Lula Watch: Focusing on the Latin American Left – Vol.5 – No.9

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Chavez and his ally Lula, the “General Anesthetist”

When it comes to financial policy, Brazil’s president raises favorable expectations because of financial policies that encourage the free market. However, when it comes to other matters, Lula’s policies cause concern because of his knack of anesthetizing reactions to the political scandals that surround him, to the pro-Castro, land-invasion agitation of Landless Rural Workers Movement, and to conflicts in Latin America stoked by Hugo Chavez

The Brazilian Senate recently called on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to reconsider his refusal to renew the license of Venezuelan opposition channel RCTV. Chavez responded by accusing the senate of being a “parrot” at the service of the United States.

Chavez’s verbal retort defending an arbitrary measure that gravely curtailed freedom of the press in his country has had negative repercussions in Brazil and other members of the Mercosul trade association of South American countries. This may have consequences since the body is now debating on whether to let Venezuela become a full-fledged member.

Yet, precisely in this context of growing international uneasiness over the ever more totalitarian attitudes of Hugo Chavez, President Lula came to his defense. The Brazilian president claims, against all evidence, that the decision by his Venezuelan counterpart to close RCTV was “democratic,” affirming that he remains an ally of the Venezuelan president. He further declared that he and that both governments will “continue to work together.” Lula’s support, which served as an escape valve in face of international complaints, prompted Hugo Chavez to issue a public statement of thanks saying: “Lula, you are a friend who will not cave in to pressure.”

Marco Aurelio Garcia, the president’s special aide for international affairs, also defended the Venezuelan president, claiming that “Chavez has done nothing illegal” because “no democratic rule was broken” by refusing to renew the license of RCTV. He said he hopes the Organization of American States (OAS) will not take measures against Venezuela similar to those issued against communist Cuba in 1962.

Journalist Fernando de Barros e Silva, editor of the Brazil section of the daily Folha de S. Paulo, recently dubbed Lula the “general anesthetist of Brazilian conflicts.” The Brazilian leader has a quasi-demiurgic capacity to placate and neutralize the indignation of the population in the face of corruption scandals involving members of his party and government or the antics of the pro-Castro Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazilian rural areas. Even amid extreme crises, the “general anesthetist” somehow manages to create the sensation that nothing important is happening.

In fact, Lula continues his erratic and contradictory itinerary. On the one hand, he raises favorable expectations with financial policies that supposedly favor the free market (the overburdened Brazilian taxpayer might disagree). However, on the other hand, he “anesthetizes” reactions to the political scandals that surround him and to agitation by property-invading MST militants. On the international level, Lula’s conciliatory attitude toward Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales effectively anesthetizes Latin American public opinion regarding conflicts stoked by the radical left in the region.

It is also important to focus on this role of paralyzing wholesome reactions played by so-called “moderate” leaders who ultimately end up paving the way for, and somehow justifying, the more radical leaders. With their gradual concessions toward the extreme left, “moderate” leaders smoothly move centrist sectors of public opinion toward new forms of socialism and populism without provoking upheaval.

Anesthesia, whether physical or psychological, requires ever greater doses to maintain its effects. It remains to be seen to what degree and for how long President Lula will manage to maintain it on the national and international level.


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