Brazil’s Ascent under Lula’s Leadership
Under the leadership of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil has become a regional leader in Latin America with vibrant international foreign policy. A look at the internal political dynamics of Brazil would be useful also. During President Lula’s presidency, Brazil has had tremendous economic growth. But in the coming October presidential elections, would his Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) still remain in power?
With a GDP approaching $2 trillion, Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world. 20 years ago the country was known for its inflation and fluctuating economy, but it is now considered a great place for investment. While President Lula’s government has applied effective social policies, it has also positioned itself as a significant player in international affairs. Therefore, it was not a big surprise when Time magazine named President Lula da Silva the world’s most influential leader. Instead of conceding to the so-called imperatives of globalization, as so many other developing nations have done, Lula has led Brazil to assert its autonomy and independence, setting its own conditions for dealing with a changing international order (Jorge Heine, The Hindu, May 6, 2010).
Lula honed his political education and negotiation skills in the trade union movement. A former metal worker, he lost one of his fingers on the factory floor. As president, Lula has designed imaginative social policies that have diminished Brazil’s income inequality, reducing poverty and hunger. One such program is the Bolsa Família. It allocates cash income to some 11 million families, with children at school and other programs that promote family farming and training for technical trades. His approval ratings have reached 85 percent. He has received many international awards such as the Nehru Peace Award. Right now, he is one of the strongest candidates for the Noble Peace Prize.
Celso Amorim as his Foreign Minister is very effective in international policy; pushing multilateralism, he has demonstrated the ability to build coalitions and to give direction to the international agenda. Together, Lula and Amorim have been effective in the creation of coalitions such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa), and BRICSAM (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and Mexico). But, clearly much of the credit goes to Marco Aurélio Garcia, who is Lula’s special advisor on foreign affairs. Aurélio was among the group of progressive intellectuals who were in exile in Canada, France, Mexico, and Sweden during the military regime.
Lula’s Brazil has been the driving force behind new entities such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which has brought together all nations in South America in an indigenous setting to manage their own affairs independent of US maneuvers, and the associated South American Defense Council, designed to provide an alternative to the US dominated and by now obsolete Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. Whereas the Organization of American States was an instrument of US hegemony, UNASUR addresses issues solely from South America’s independent perspective. To be fair, Brazil by itself could not have accomplished all this without Hugo Chávez and Venezuela’s active presence on the scene — along with all the Social-Democratic governments of Latin America. On paper the concept of multilateralism is logical and preferable, but in practice it is not easy to resist US hegemony.
The Brazilian Right, Old and New
The traditional right wing in Brazil were connected to the legacy of the military dictatorship of the 1970s (1964 to 1985). Although they shared an anti-communist bent with the US and its military, nonetheless, they had a native character and a somewhat independent foreign policy. Similar to other Latin American military dictatorships, the Brazilian military generals would receive their training at the “School of Americas” in the US. However, the Brazilian military government was one of the first countries to recognize Angola’s post-colonial independent government.
A point of great consequence is that, in the past 7 or 8 years, the right wing in Brazil has been merged with the “Latino-Zionist” current. In other words, part of the right and the center-right in Brazil has developed a Neocon character and has been even acting directly as a US Neocon franchise.
The “new right,” or the Brazilian Neocons, cater to every single American foreign policy concern, and advocates that a close alliance with the American Neocons is good for Brazil. Clearly, this offends some of the local intelligentsia who view Brazil as an emerging regional economic and political superpower, deserving an independent and dignified place with multilateralist objectives.
As it is with Neocons everywhere, they organize to influence the politics of the media.
The Neocon Rupert Murdock has built a media empire in Australia, England, and the USA. But it has not been easy for Murdock to take over the Brazilian newspapers yet. Hence, he has established a joint venture with the Neocon media tycoon Gustavo Cisneros who, in fact, owns influential media outlets in Venezuela and naturally developed tensions with Hugo Chávez.
One of the pillars of Neocons in Brazil is a major publishing company with a flagship magazine called Veja. The printing house publishes all sorts of textbooks, and the weekly journal has been the most vocal critic of Lula’s policies over the years. Although Veja has attempted to create an image of liberal media, it is very Neocon in its politics. Lula’s government pursues “Affirmative Action” policies that intend to empower and value the descendents of former slaves, indigenes peoples, and minorities. Veja discourse has been opposed to Affirmative Action or Liberation Theology. This influential journal is owned by an Italian-American Zionist in Brazil called Roberto Civita. Progressive intellectuals in Brazil maintain that Mr. Civita represents the trans-national, trans-continental character of Neocons in general.
The state of Bahia, once a stronghold of the military regime, now has a socialist state government. The axis of power in Brazil is concentrated in the two cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and their media outlets present news, analysis, and the discourse of power.
Globo Media Network is a huge conglomerate company that owns TV stations and newspapers throughout Brazil. It supported the military coup in 1964, and all along in the following 20 years, it benefited from the military regime. Although it pretends it is neutral, under a veil and in subtle ways, it is critical of Lula’s policies. While they hide and ignore Lula’s accomplishments, the Globo Media empire publicizes any negative incidents. Generally speaking, in their media representation, Globo justifies all the Israeli government actions and labels the Palestinians “terrorists.” The Globo entertainment programs are widespread and viewed by 95% of Brazilian homes. Some time ago, BBC produced a documentary showing how Globo manipulated public opinion: Globo Media — Beyond Citizen Kane.
Folha de S. Paulo, one of the most influential newspapers in Brazil, while denying that it supported the military dictatorship in the 1970s, is now supporting the center-right party against Lula. Although in the mid-1970s the newspaper’s “Trends and Debates” section encouraged pluralism and a return to democracy, Folha has been supporting José Serra, of the PSDB (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira) party (opponents of Lula), and in the long run will not stand against the Latino-Zionist enterprise and influence.
Last year in its editorial, Folha attempted to dismiss and diminish the impact of the military regime’s actions on the civil society by calling it “Ditabranda” — soft dictatorship. The newspaper editorial maintained that we should not view the Brazilian military as “Ditadura,” hard dictatorship, like that of Argentina. Folha was suggesting that there should not really be any discontent about that dictatorial legacy. However, democracy activists as well as those persecuted under the Brazilian dictatorship objected to this politically-motivated categorization, calling this a revisionist reading of the tragic past.
To give an example of the aforementioned Neocon trend, in an attempt to discredit Lula, the Neocon-influenced media recently complained that, in the recent visit to the Middle East, Lula placed flowers at the grave of Yasser Arafat but failed to do the same at the grave of Theodor Herzl — the founder of the Zionist movement. The Neocon media was trying to create the perception of a diplomatic failure by Lula. Studying their contents and sources, one gets the impression that the Brazilian Neocons get their talking points directly from the metropolitan Neocons in New York and Washington.
Lula’s Workers Party is considered a Left Social-Democratic party that has integrated grassroots movements and trade unions. After two terms in office, Lula cannot run for presidency anymore. In the coming October elections the candidate for the PT is Ms. Dilma Rousseff, who has been close to Lula. From all indications, she will continue and increase the momentum of the progressive policies. She has mentioned taxing “wealth” and combating “the media monopolies.” Ms. Rousseff is a former guerrilla from the 1970s who joined the PT from a smaller more radical force.
Neocons in general incorporate a neo-liberal economic policy while being supportive of the American and Israeli unilateral and hawkish foreign policy. Understandably, the Brazilian Neocons will be supporting the opposition PSDB, which is running against the Workers Party. The PSDB isa coalition of center-right and extreme-right political entities. At every opportunity, their candidate José Serra tells voters that his first order of business would be to change Lula’s foreign and Middle East policy — read Neocon discourse.
Former president Fernando Cardoso (1994-2002) was from this center-right PSDB party, which emphasizes privatization measures of the economy. Cardoso and his foreign minister Celso Lafer were pro-Israel and subservient to the American paradigm. Cardoso, Serra, and their party PSDB believe that good relations with the US would require them to be accommodating and loyal to the Zionist establishment in America. Some years ago, while visiting the US as foreign minister, Lafer was asked by the authorities at the airport to take off his shoes. This unfortunate diplomatic incident was viewed by many Brazilians as a symbol of the Cardoso government’s subservience to America. In contrast, Lula has said, on occasion, that, since Brazil has both Jewish and Arab populations, the government cannot only be pro-Israel.
The increasingly loud “Latino-Zionist” dance against Lula is worrisome. Obviously, because of the recent economic advances of Brazil, the local Neocons in Brazil cannot attack Lula on economic grounds; hence, their superficial attacks consist of nitpicking on foreign policy issues.
A Shared History: US-backed Coups in Iran and Latin America
Lula’s Brazil, however, has not surrendered to the American and European pressures about Iran. On Iran, Brazil’s position is against sanctions. Just recently, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim traveled to Istanbul, Moscow, and Tehran as part of a diplomatic effort before the official visit by President Lula to Tehran on May 15. Amorim’s objective was to gather support for further negotiations and against sanctions. Brazil and Turkey are rotating members of the Security Council at the moment, and in view of the new agreement reached in Tehran, they would be voting against sanctions. Under Lula, Brazil’s trade with Iran has increased from 14 million dollars a year to almost 3 billion. The entourage accompanying Lula in his trip to Iran included almost 200 people.
President Lula and his foreign minister are criticized by the Brazilian Neocons for their expansion of Brazil’s international relations and the multilateralism of their foreign policy. Recently, Emir Sader, professor at São Paulo University, presented a powerful argument in an article supporting Lula’s policy of diversification of trade that has been beneficial to Brazil. He pointed out that 90% of Mexico’s trade is with the US, making Mexico politically dependent on the US, whereas Brazil’s diversification in trade has protected it in the recent economic recession. He suggested that, had Cardoso been in office, Brazil would have suffered economically.
Several years ago in Venezuela, the national oil company PDVSA went on strike to paralyze Hugo Chávez’s government. Chávez had hoped to eliminate corruption in the national oil company. As a power group, the senior management of PDVSA would act like mafia or a government within a government — illegally financing the opposition. During the long months of strike, President Lula supported Chávez and supplied his government with oil and energy. At the time the Bush administration was unable to stop this.
Lula’s government condemned the 2009 military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras; moreover, the Brazilian embassy gave refuge to him. In contrast to the US that has recognized the Honduran elections held after the coup, organized under an illegitimate government, Brazil has led the Latin American countries in not accepting the new government in Honduras. Brazil has emphasized that a military coup is contrary to democracy and that it is unwilling to acquiesce to military coups.
US policy has a long history of supporting military coups, especially in Latin America. During the 1953 coup against Dr. Mohamad Mosaddeq, the American intelligence officer Vernon Walters was in Iran. As the years went on, Walters of the CIA improved his skills in organizing coups against democratic governments. On March 13, 1964, President João Goulart of Brazil, a great orator, gave a speech promising to nationalize the country’s oil refineries, as well as to carry out “basic reforms.” Among the Brazilian intellectuals, Walters is known as the Kermit Roosevelt of the 1964 Coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart. Kermit Roosevelt, as you may recall, was the main engineer of the Coup AJAX against Dr. Mosaddeq.
Farid Marjai is a contributor to the reformist newspapers of Shargh and Etemad. The Farsi translation of this article was published in Shargh in Iran on 15 May 2010.