Brazil: Lula’s Global Fan Club Is Thinning

Brazil: Lula's Global Fan Club Is Thinning

    By helping form a new organization of developing countries—the
    so-called G-22—Brazil has
    managed to put itself into the losers’
    camp. Lula’s speech at the U.N. was deservedly met with

    indifference. It was dull, pious and irrelevant. The world was
    not interested in a sermon from a Third
    World spokesman.


    John Fitzpatrick


    There are signs that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s international fan club, which includes France’s Jacques
    Chirac and the UK’s Tony Blair, is getting a bit bored with him as his novelty value wears off. At the same time, the United
    States is getting fed up, as was obvious from the recent article in the
    Financial Times by U.S. Trade Secretary, Robert
    Zoellick, accusing Brazil of being one of those countries responsible for the failure of the recent World Trade Organization talks
    in Cancun.

    Interestingly, neither Chirac nor Blair, or any of the European heavyweights who have said in the past that they
    would support greater free trade, came to Brazil’s defense. By helping form a new organization of developing countries—the
    so-called G-22—Brazil has managed to put itself into the losers’ camp.

    Overall, the past week, which Lula spent addressing the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New
    York and then going on to Mexico and Cuba, has been a waste of time. He should have stayed at home, where acting
    President José Alencar was making a mess of looking after the shop while the boss was away.

    Lula Speaks at the U.N. but says nothing…

    Lula’s speech at the U.N. was deservedly met with indifference, and received remarkably little coverage in the
    international media. It was dull, pious and irrelevant. The world was not interested in a sermon from someone who came over
    as a Third World spokesman rather than a dynamic leader.

    The meeting was overshadowed by more pressing issues, such as George Bush’s comments on Iraq, which displayed
    the "How the West Was Won" straightforwardness and naivety we expect from a modern-day Texas Ranger. Or the Gallic
    duplicity and hypocrisy we expect from Chirac, who wants to be everything to everyone.

    Lula’s comments on getting the U.N. to commit to ending hunger were as desirable and unattainable as John
    Lennon’s "Imagine". However, John Lennon was a pop singer who was unable to make himself a cup of tea, never mind end
    world hunger.

    In proposing the U.N. set up a committee to combat world hunger, Lula seems to have overlooked the fact that the
    U.N. has been around for over 50 years and, in that time, it has been trying to eradicate hunger as well as improve health and
    education around the world through bodies like the Food and Agricultural Organization and Unesco.

    What will his proposed committee do that FAO has not done until now, except create another bureaucratic body?
    Lula should spend more time getting results from his own "Zero Hunger" program in Brazil before trying to export it.

    In response to the Zoellick article, Lula also boobed by making an unwise defensive statement that Brazilians would
    not let Bush treat them like second-class citizens. This remark, televised widely in Brazil, was nothing but hot air blowing
    from a balloon filled with its own self-importance, which was diminishing in size with every word said. To say something like
    this in the U.S., and mention the U.S. president by name, shows that Lula still has lots to learn about international politics
    and diplomacy.        

    Carnival in Cuba

    This lack of experience was also apparent in the decision to visit Cuba afterwards. One can only wonder who came
    up with the idea. Was it Lula himself or the Foreign Ministry, intent on showing the U.S. that Brazilians will go their own
    way? It was unwise, not only because it might have irritated Washington but, more importantly, because it brought bad
    publicity back home.

    The Brazilian media, which had been happy to criticize the American stance on Iraq and trade issues, was not
    prepared to accept that a visit to Cuba was necessary. The media highlighted Lula’s statement, before he even stepped on Cuban
    soil, that he would not raise internal matters with Fidel Castro. Basically this meant that Lula would not spoil his party in
    Havana by raising issues such as human rights and press freedom.

    Whereas in a democracy, like the U.S., he felt free to criticize that country’s president by name, he felt unable to do
    so in a dictatorship like Cuba. Maybe we should not even care, since for a tyrant like Castro, who has been in power for
    over 40 years, people like Lula come and go and their views are of no interest.

    Castro rolled out the red carpet and the Brazilian delegation was greeted like old friends. Lula’s Chief of Staff, José
    Dirceu, who lived for a number of years in Cuba while exiled from Brazil during the military dictatorship that ruled the country
    from 1964 to 1985, was reportedly so overcome with emotion that he cried. In fact, Dirceu almost missed this moving event,
    as he had been delayed at home tackling a problem which would not have arisen had Vice-President José Alencar been up
    to the job.

    Alencar: Bull in a China Shop…

    Within days of Lula’s departure, Alencar, who became acting president as called for by the Constitution, was
    making a fool of himself. One of Alencar’s tasks was to sign a provisional decree lifting restrictions on planting genetically
    modified soybeans. Instead of signing the decree, Alencar dithered and delayed and spoke to the pro and anti camps because, as
    he admitted, he didn’t really want to shoulder the responsibility of signing the dotted line on such a controversial matter.

    He even spoke to Lula by phone for over an hour before finally signing the measure. In an extraordinary comment
    afterwards, he described himself as "a poor little acting president from Minas Gerais (who) had to sign this measure."    

    I recently defended Alencar for breaking government ranks and criticizing high interest rates. I said he should be
    free to speak his mind so that the people could see the kind of person who is only a heartbeat away from the presidency. We
    are reaping the results of this freedom, and it is not a reassuring sight.

    Alencar is a millionaire businessman whose PL party is strongly evangelical. He upset many of Brazil’s Jews before
    last year’s elections by saying that the solution to the Middle East problem was for Israel to leave its territory and buy land
    elsewhere. Lula’s PT party was so appalled that it mounted a charm offensive and Alencar eventually recanted. However, at the end
    of the day the blame must lie with Lula, who chose Alencar despite much opposition within the PT.

    As I have pointed out before in this space, there have been an unusually large number of occasions when the
    Brazilian vice-president has stepped into the shoes of the president. The most recent examples—José Sarney replacing Tancredo
    Neves who died in 1985, and Itamar Franco replacing Fernando Collor who resigned as he was about to be impeached in
    1992—were not happy experiences. Let us wish Lula excellent health for as long as he is president. Having Brazil in the hands
    of José Alencar is the stuff that nightmares are made of.


    John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He
    writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações— which specializes in
    editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at

    © John Fitzpatrick 2003

    This article appeared originally in
    Infobrazil, at

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