The thorny path of Lula's diplomacy: from seeking an agreement in Ukraine to restoring Maduro's image | International
President Luiz Inácio Lula receives 11 of his 12 South American counterparts in Brasilia this Tuesday. He has summoned them for a frank and informal conversation on how to promote the integration of the southern cone beyond ideological divergences. But, after the warm and uncritical reception given to Nicolás Maduro on Monday, Venezuela and its insertion in the region threaten to monopolize the debate. Lula has fulfilled his promise to return Brazil to the international stage but, to the chagrin of Western diplomacy, he insists on defending his own profile that in the five months he has been in power has frequently clashed with the majority positions in the West.
Brazil claims to be a non-aligned country. For this reason, because of his defense of non-interference and peaceful solutions to conflicts and because he is a medium power, the President of Brazil has the privilege of delivering the first speech before the General Assembly each year from 1947 to today. But staying true to that position is increasingly difficult in a world of increasing complexity and highly interconnected. It is enough to see the balance of South American power (among other traditionally non-aligned countries) to avoid choosing sides in open conflicts such as the pulse between the United States and China or the war in Ukraine.
This is a summary of the position of Lula's Brazil on some of the main international issues:
Venezuela and Maduro:
For Lula, rebuilding the relationship with Chavista Venezuela, broken by his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, was a priority. Shortly after assuming the presidency, he sent the diplomat Celso Amorim to Caracas, who was his foreign minister in his first terms and now, in his 80s, is his main adviser on foreign policy. Amorim met with Maduro and with representatives of the opposition. Both countries exchanged ambassadors.
Upon receiving Maduro in Brasilia, Lula has avoided mentioning the human rights violations verified by the UN, he has largely embraced the Venezuelan's discourse that the polycrisis in his country is the consequence of an attack led by the United States and has come to say that "sanctions are worse than war".
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Brazil has condemned the Russian invasion at the UN but has refused to join Western sanctions or send weapons to Ukraine. And some of Lula's statements, such as that the US and the EU are interested in prolonging the war, said to top it off after visiting China and before receiving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brasilia, raised blisters. The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, went so far as to publicly accuse him of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda”. Before the commotion, the Brazilian qualified his words.
Lula last week declined the invitation to visit Russia that Vladimir Putin sent him in a telephone conversation. “I thanked him for the invitation to attend the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg and I replied that I could not go to Russia at the moment, but I reiterated Brazil's willingness, along with India, Indonesia and China, to dialogue with both sides of the conflict in in search of peace”, explained the Brazilian, who, despite the invested diplomatic capital, has still not managed to get his plan to mediate the non-aligned off the ground.
Nor has he accepted repeated invitations to visit kyiv, although he sent Amorim to both the Ukrainian and Russian capitals. That Ukrainian President Volodímir Zelenski was the star of the recent G-7 and got all the attention upset the Brazilian. There was no bilateral meeting between the two.
The Asian giant has been Brazil's main trading partner for a decade, when it replaced the US, which held the position for almost a century. Although Lula visited Washington before Beijing, that first trip was of a much lower profile and duration than the one to China. Before President Xi Jinping, he proclaimed: "Brazil wants the relationship with China to go beyond trade." Lula also advocated joining forces with the second superpower to build a just and equitable new international order. Brazil, like its South American neighbors, tries to find that point of balance between the two superpowers in defense of its interests and without bothering either. But more and more it seems like squaring the circle.
Hot spot on the American continent, Daniel Ortega's repression of his opponents has received virtually no attention from Lula, who often hides behind the principle of non-interference established in the 1988 Constitution. Brazil took weeks to break its silence on the exile of 222 Nicaraguans and the confiscation of property of critics and he did it to advocate negotiating with Managua after refusing to adhere, as 55 countries did, to a UN report accusing Ortega of crimes against humanity. Lula often repeats that each country chooses his model and that neither he nor Brazil have to give lessons to anyone. His diplomats tend to talk much more about interests than values.
The offensive of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who has dismantled the gangs at the cost of imprisoning hundreds of innocent people and subjecting thousands of detainees to serious human rights violations, has not received any attention from the president of the main Latin American power.
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