Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil is scheduled to visit Argentina and Chile, next Thursday and Friday, April 26 and 27, with energy integration and trade as the main formal issues. This is a trip, however, that can also be described as an incursion through Latin America's different Socialist populist "blends".
Although Argentina's populist Nestor Kirchner and Socialist Lula always have time for smiling pictures and comments on soccer – they rule South America's leading powers of the sport – it is known that behind doors and at the negotiation table things are different.
Bilateral trade is significant for both sides and the challenge of current and future energy supplies has become crucial since Argentina is running short of reserves and Brazil is determined to limit foreign dependency.
But present on the stage is also Venezuela's Hugo Chavez with his fat check book and promises of "cheap" oil to those who support his Socialist XXI century development project, and in practical terms questioning Brazil's natural leadership of the region.
Furthermore Bolivia's Evo Morales sponsored by Venezuela decided the nationalization of oil and gas resources with limited compensation for Brazil's huge investments in developing the industry over the last ten years.
Lula's proven pragmatism must then face the challenges of this blend of nationalism with populism, which also happens to attract Argentina's Kirchner and his mid seventies protest mentality, particularly in an electoral year.
Furthermore Chavez has an inclination for Argentine sovereign bonds, and has openly criticized Lula's bio fuels and ethanol projects, arguing they will escalate world food prices, (and for having decided on a strategic alliance with the White House on developing alternative fuels).
Thus to ensure Brazil's long standing strategic policy of privileging Argentina in trade and energy integration (they both share access to Bolivia's vast resources of natural gas) Lula must enchant the president from the cold south Patagonia, who also needs Brazil to set distance from an ever absorbing Chavez, who doesn't seem to have the correct allies in the world.
On Friday, in Chile, Lula should feel more at home: Michelle Bachelet is the fourth president of a coalition that has successfully blended free enterprise with Socialist responsibility, becoming South America's showcase.
Brazil traditionally has been the natural ally of Chile helping it to counterbalance the pressure from Argentina and Peru.
Lula is scheduled to sign several bilateral political and economic agreements and both presidents will be discussing the "political situation of South America and energy integration", according to the official release.
Friday afternoon Lula da Silva will be one of the main speakers at the Latin America Economic Forum in Santiago with an audience made up of government officials and the cream of world corporations' leaders.
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