By Diogo Marques*
Brazil’s foreign policy and the attempt to regain regional leadership will be the main flags alongside the climate issue and ideological affinities.
The participation in the Celac meeting, the tacit support to dictatorships in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, and commitments with the United States and Germany put national interests at risk.
THE PRESIDENT’S COMMITMENTS
The first forty-five days of the Lula government have passed, and it seems that foreign policy will be one of its highest priorities, but, to the same extent, it will be a great challenge for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A few days after the election result, and long before taking office, President Lula went to COP 27 in Egypt.
Although the media reported the effusive participation of Lula in the main event, in fact, the Brazilian representative spoke in a private booth as a guest, far from the Heads of State.
The president’s first official visit was to Argentina, where they discussed, among other things, the creation of a common currency and bilateral agreements to increase trade between the two countries and investments for energy with resources from Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES).
Lula participated in the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), whose objective is to strengthen bi-regional relations.
The Brazilian head of State’s second visit was to Uruguay, where he met with center-right President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou.
In Brazil, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur and cooperation in areas such as the environment.
Finally, Lula traveled to Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden and Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders.
Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) has scheduled a visit by Lula to China in March, where he is to meet with President Xi Jinping.
Due to the number of foreign commitments in such a short time in office, Lula seems determined to place Brazil at the center of world discussions and forums and sign bilateral agreements.
Environmental preservation, climate change, and trade agreements are at the top of the president’s agenda.
However, is the way these issues are addressed in line with national and popular interests?
Let us broadly understand Lula’s foreign policy, starting from the clues left in his first international commitments.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA TOPS THE LIST OF PRIORITIES
Lula made it clear that the ESG (Environment Social Governance) agenda, whose concerns lie in environmental issues, will be the basis of his international policy.
During the private event simultaneous with COP 27, the Brazilian representative demanded the fulfillment of the promises of the wealthiest countries, placing Brazil in the position of leader in agendas of this nature.
Lula said that Brazil wants to host the next summit in 2026.
In truth, the president wants to open up the possibility of global governance over the Amazon territory.
This means that natural, biological, and mineral resources, drinking water, rare minerals, and the subsoil of the region can be administered by other states.
To put the plan into practice, the interested parties resort to the so-called Amazon Fund, which, according to its website, “aims to collect donations for non-refundable investments in actions to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, and promote the conservation and sustainable use of the Legal Amazon”, collected and managed by the BNDES and applied to NGOs, foundations, institutions such as the UN and the “big corps”.
The internationalization of the region is not, in the end, in the nation’s interest because of its evident loss of sovereignty: behind the promise to save the forest and sustainability are the interests of big capital to guarantee the control of natural reserves.
The interest of Germany and the United States makes the relevance of the environmental issue evident.
The former promised to donate €200 million; the latter, a much smaller amount, US$50 million.
According to General Laura Richardson, Commander of the United States Army in the Southern Cone:
“This region is very rich in natural resources. You have 60% of the lithium reserves, oil, precious metals, minerals, and forestry, and 31% of the world’s drinking water is here.”
“Our competitors and adversaries also know how rich this region’s resources are, which affects the United States’ national security.”
FOREIGN POLICY FOR SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
Leadership in the South and Central Americas was always an obsession for Lula and his government program.
After taking office, he announced Brazil’s return to Celac, whose ideological bias marks all policies.
In 2020, Jair Bolsonaro had already removed Brazil from this forum.
According to Ernesto Araújo, Bolsonaro’s Chancellor, “Celac did not have results in defense of democracy or any area. On the contrary, it gave rise to non-democratic regimes such as those of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua”.
Thus, the former president missed the opportunity to publicly oppose it, as did, albeit timidly, the representative of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou.
In this way, the regional integration plan discussed by Celac contrasts with the ideals of democracy and freedom.
It is impossible to defend these concepts while pretending not to see human rights and democracy violations in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua dictatorships.
The position of Brazil and all other Celac countries in the face of the tacit authorization in favor of dictatorial governments shows us abandonment and indifference for the oppressed populations that even the Bolsonaro government helped to harbor.
At this point, Brazil has made a 180º turn, and for the worse.
In Argentina, the first country visited by Lula, the promise of BNDES investments caused a furor among those who remember the old corruption schemes that used public money.
This money should be reverted to help Brazil’s economic and social development to support and strengthen dictatorial and bankrupt countries, such as Cuba and Venezuela (both owe, as of today, US$529 million).
The well-known Operation Lava-Jato, which dismantled a gang led by the president himself, which included, for example, parliamentarians and large construction companies and which, in the end, put Lula behind bars, showed how the scheme worked.
The specter of corruption still haunts the minds of the most attentive Brazilians.
This time, Lula affirmed that he would invest in a gas pipeline from Vaca Muerta, with the justification of expanding gas exports from the neighboring country to Brazil, which could reduce Brazil’s dependence on gas from Bolivia.
There are three contradictions:
- 45% of the gas prospected in Brazil is re-injected due to lack of adequate infrastructure;
- Brazil is three times the size of Argentina, which has almost twice the length of gas pipelines, and;
- the gas produced in the Argentine region is more polluting than Bolivian gas and the gas prospected in Brazil, which goes against the supposed environmental policy.
In fact, Lula’s real intention is to guarantee political gains for his friend.
Argentina is going through a very complicated political, economic, and social situation and needs to recover.
The country ended 2022 with annual inflation of about 92.4% and is swamped by corruption allegations involving its top management.
Financial contributions from Brazil will surely help Fernández, who should soon be campaigning for re-election.
If both are successful, Argentina and Brazil will remain ideologically aligned, which, in theory, will keep political ties strong.
VENEZUELA, CUBA, AND NICARAGUA
Although pretending nothing unusual is happening in these three countries, Lula, his allied base in the government, his followers, and the Brazilian press celebrate the close friendly relations between the president and the dictator of the region.
Brazil receives Venezuelan immigrants in a humanitarian action called “Operação Acolhida”, sheltering people fleeing the oppression of Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Official results mark the number of 763,000 Venezuelans who entered the country and 301,000 who requested migratory regularization in search of opportunities and better living conditions from 2017 to June 2022.
What is put under discussion is what Lula will do regarding the activity of welcoming the neighbors now that the ideological line of the government has changed.
UN statistical data tells us that 6 million refugees have left Venezuela.
A number is similar to those presented in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
In 2020, Bolsonaro closed the Brazilian Embassy in Venezuela for not recognizing the government of Nicolás Maduro, but now Lula intends to reactivate diplomatic relations with the regime.
As well as the case of Venezuela, the same happens with Cuba and Nicaragua.
Human rights violations are relativized by the Brazilian State in the current government, always in favor of maintaining the regimes of both countries.
However, the government makes contortions to try to justify why, in these cases, they do not defend democracy, equality, and human rights, as their ideology preaches.
In addition, we have issues of national interest when considering the financial aid Lula promised to Cuba and Venezuela.
Once again, the Brazilian president intends to use his country’s resources to improve the quality of life and infrastructure in another country. The government continues to feed the continent’s dictatorships.
Just to mention one example, Lula wants to reactivate the “More Doctors” program, in which Cuban health professionals work, without passing the exam that qualifies them to work in Brazil, in places where, in theory, there is a lack of Brazilian doctors.
According to the agreement, Lula’s government sends the payment of the professionals to Cuba, which then transfers them.
And this is where the big problem arises: allegations of corruption indicate that of the amount paid by Brazil to the Cuban regime, only 10% was transferred to the doctors.
Another part stayed with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Once again, the foreign policy of Lula’s mandate abandons its ideology to finance a dictatorship in crisis.
Lula’s trip to Uruguay is an obvious example of a “smokescreen”: President Luis Lacalle Pou is a center-right politician.
His meeting with the Brazilian representative marked a kind of plurality and commitment to all American peoples, regardless of their ideological spectrum.
Rather than pointing out the plural appearance, Lula tried to block the bilateral negotiations between Uruguay and China, which could put the South American Common Market (Mercosur) at risk and, in that way, influence Lacalle Pou so that the bloc as a whole promotes the deepening of trade relations with the Chinese regime.
“Uruguay cannot waste time”, said the Uruguayan president.
UNITED STATES AND CHINA
Amid protests for and against his government, Lula arrived in the United States to meet with President Joe Biden on Feb. 10.
On the agenda were Lula’s frequent attacks on former president Jair Bolsonaro and the issue of global climate governance, with the creation of a movement to force other sovereign states, Congress, and business people to accept the decisions made by international bodies on combating climate change.
The suggestion is on account of agreements that maintain peace in international relations.
Even this goes against the Brazilian constitution since agreements signed by the Head of State abroad are only valid if the National Congress approves.
Lula tried to pressure Biden, who, worried about the war in Eastern Europe, did not establish any relevant agreement with Brazil beyond the promise to collaborate with the Amazon Fund.
Once again, Brazil’s environmental heritage was used as a foreign policy tool to attract investment.
China has been Brazil’s most significant economic partner for more than a decade, with annual growth of approximately 4.9%, even with the effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
The country imports almost a third of all Brazil’s exports.
According to groups linked to Lula, the president will travel to China to restore relations with the country, damaged by Bolsonaro’s statements against the Chinese regime during the pandemic.
Taking advantage of the juncture, Lula will negotiate carbon credits with a financial return for Brazil.
THE RISK OF THE AMAZON FUND
Foreign interest in the Amazon region is longstanding.
The United States was already trying to exert control over the region at the beginning of the 20th century when Brazil and Bolivia wanted the territory of the State of Acre, which today, thanks to the diplomatic work of Baron de Rio Blanco, Minister of Foreign Affairs, belongs to Brazil.
The ESG agenda has brought the ideal justification for countries that want to stop some influence over the Amazon.
Although Brazil has managed to preserve about 60% of its native vegetation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the rhetoric created by countries that destroyed their natural heritage to develop is that the forest is at risk, burning all the time.
The same can be said about CO2 emissions: Brazil is classified in the group of countries with “low per capita emissions” (less than 4 tons of CO2 per year per inhabitant).
Moreover, Brazil’s Environmental Code is one of the most stringent in the world.
Fighting against the facts, with the support of the press, international institutions, and the interests of other states, Lula realized that the environmental agenda is a central issue for business today.
For this reason, the creation of the Amazon Fund aims to “raise donations for non-refundable investments in actions to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, and promote the conservation and sustainable use of the Legal Amazon”, managed by the BNDES and applied in institutions interested in preserving the forest and its biodiversity.
The proposal of global governance on climate and green economy in exchange for carbon credits represents a significant risk to the sovereignty of the State and its natural resources, which are the property of Brazilians and should be exploited sustainably for the country’s benefit.
On the contrary, the sale of carbon credits and the internationalization of the Amazon territory will remove the country’s right to self-determination.
There is a risk that this will revive Brazil’s colonial era, in which all the wealth was exploited in a predatory way and sent to the respective countries without benefiting the local economy.
The foreign investments, managed by the BNDES, could be diverted back to other utilities, as we have seen before.
In this regard, remember one of the largest state corruption programs ever: “Petrolão”.
In short, in this modality, public money was used to buy the votes of senators and deputies to favor the work of contractors abroad, whose projects were financed by the BNDES.
Part of this resource was used in overpriced works, another part was used to maintain the government of the benefited country (in general, a dictatorship), and another part returned to the pockets of the components of the parties linked to the corrupt scheme, which fed and supported the system.
Thus, Lula takes advantage of the immense Amazon rainforest to attract investments without worrying about the negative consequences in the medium and long term.
Lula exercises what we call Presidential Diplomacy, which is the centralization of diplomatic management under the command of the Head of State.
With his populist and collectivist rhetoric, the well-known “father of the poor”, in his third term, will use the issue of climate change as one of his main political tools to gain the power of influence and capture resources, while defending, albeit tacitly, the various dictatorial regimes.
Lula can, yes, strengthen commercial ties and institutional relations with neighboring countries, strengthen Mercosur, propose changes for regional development, for the sustainable exploitation of Amazonia, and promote the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the Brazilian population.
Still, the national interest must always come first.
Under no circumstances can support for dictatorships, prejudice to economic development, or the loss of absolute sovereignty over everything related to the Amazon territory be admitted.
With information from Geopol 21