“Secondlazier is step back” declared Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on the evening of October 30. “Brazil is too great to be reduced to the pariah of the world. At this point, the one-time future president recalls the aggressive global diplomacy he practiced during his tenure from 2003 to 2010. Many outsiders now expect a repeat. But since Lula left office, the world has changed. Brazil has changed too .
Under Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil backed off. His foreign friendships are limited to Donald Trump, Israel and the nationalist populist regimes in Hungary and Poland, although he also visited Vladimir Putin ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He sent top diplomats to stamp passports either as consuls or as secondary posts. His first foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, was an amateur ideologue who echoed Trump and spoke ill of China, Brazil’s largest trading partner. That prompted the Senate to forcibly remove him from office. Mr Bolsonaro’s fanatical attacks on the Amazon rainforest in the name of development and sovereignty have tarnished Brazil’s reputation as a responsible global citizen.
Lula’s foreign policy was very different. Its cornerstone is the quest for a “multipolar” world during the period of American hegemony.its main instrument is BRICS countries Bloc (where Brazil joins Russia, India, China and South Africa) and initiatives in Latin America and Africa, including Mercosur’s trade zone with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. “At the time, multipolarity seemed fairly easy to achieve in a fairly modest way,” Celso Amorim, a former foreign minister and now Lula’s chief foreign policy adviser, told Bello. “Things are more murky now.”
In a world of European geopolitical confrontation and war, Brazil’s traditional balancing act between East and West, North and South has become more difficult.this BRICS countries Mr Amorim said the economics still mattered. He wants Argentina to join to balance Russia and China. Russia is one of the few issues on which Lula and Bolsonaro agree. Brazil condemns the invasion but, like many developing countries, will not cut ties. Despite Lula’s friendliness to China, his team worries that trade between the two countries could hurt Brazilian industry.
Another shift is that climate change is now a big global problem. This played to one of Lula’s strengths. His pledge to fight deforestation will be welcomed by the administration of Joe Biden in the US and the European Union. The new government may try to revive the Amazon Pact, a 1978 treaty linking Brazil with seven other countries that share the rainforest.Deforestation is an excuse European UnionAfter 20 years of negotiations, the United States refused to ratify the trade pact with Mercosur, which was concluded in 2019. Lula may press on, but he wants adjustments, which are unpopular in Brussels. And Mercosur itself is weaker than before. Uruguay’s centre-right government is increasingly going its own way on trade.
Lula’s victory means leftist governments are in power in all of Latin America’s larger countries. There are many differences between them. But there is also a sense of togetherness. All see Lula as their elder statesman to revive moribund regional talk shops and try to broker a deal between the Venezuelan government and its opposition ahead of the 2024 presidential election. What Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro wants is relief from sanctions for the United States. Brazil will therefore have to work closely with Mr. Biden’s people.
Here, as in climate action, there is room for cooperation between Brazil and the United States. But there will also be friction. Brazil under Lula did not divide the world — or Latin America — into democracies and dictatorships. And the two are rivals in the Americas. “Brazil is big enough that we have to be independent, not part of the backyard,” as Mr Amorim said.
Oliver Stuenkel of the Fundação Getulio Vargas University points out that Brazil was able to play an important international role under Lula’s previous government partly because it enjoyed internal stability. It has money, too: Lula’s Latin American policies are underpinned by cheap credit from state development banks, much of it tied to corrupt construction contracts. This has all disappeared in the past ten years. Lula will lead a weaker government that faces fiscal constraints in a deeply divided country. That could limit how much energy and political capital he can devote to foreign policy. Brazil does come back, but probably in a minor way.■
Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
A film about Argentina’s history reveals today’s politics (October 27)
Sergio Massa is the only one standing between Argentina and chaos (October 13)
Peru has an incompetent president and a discredited Congress (September 29)