What can be expected from the new Lula government?
A narrow electoral victory for Lula has been celebrated in the streets of Brazil, as well as in much of the world, as it represents the removal of a serious anti-democratic threat. Lula won by roughly two million votes that represent a 1.8% margin, gaining a majority of votes mainly in the northeast states.
Bolsonaro's defeat wasn't only celebrated by unions, popular organisations and the left. Also sectors of the right and the bourgeoisie distanced themselves from Captain chainsaw's disastrous legacy of corruption, his criminal mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, a negationist attitude towards the climate crisis and a dangerous and unpredictable temperament.
Brazilian stock markets rose in response to Lula's victory and he received congratulations from Biden's administration.
O Globo, the conservative newspaper of the powerful Globo Group, one of the pillars of the campaign for the defenestration of the Workers’ Party (PT) six years ago, welcomed Lula's victory with an editorial entitled Lula has a chance to redeem Brazil, expressing optimism for what it considers a “rapprochement to the political center”. According to the editors, with Lula's arrival, cordiality would replace rudeness and at the very least there would be no uncertainty about an orderly presidential succession in 2026.
''Beyond his aura as the union leader that he was decades ago, his two presidential terms from 2003 to 2010 were characterised by pragmatism and a will to take measures against his own social base. While his previous rule saw some remarkable achievements in terms of economic growth, it was also marked by the absence of an agrarian reform, changes in the pension system to the detriment of the working class, the militarisation of the favelas and corruption scandals.''
Praising Lula for a political trajectory of overcoming setbacks, the editorial underlines that the context of his third term will be different from that of 2003, in a situation with high inflation, low growth and increasing poverty. Cautious celebration abounds in questions: “Which Lula will govern - the social democrat of the first half of his first term? The one who advocated a long-term fiscal adjustment capable of reducing public debt...promoting reforms to improve the business environment, improving credit instruments and reducing restrictions to competition in the private sector? Or the national-developmentalist that came later?”.
Lula's broad front includes sectors of the traditional right, such as Vice-President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, linked to Opus Dei catholic ultraconservatism and a former PSDB leader. He will head the transmission of power, which will take place in spite of Bolsonarismo's dwindling appeals for a coup. Lula during the campaign appealed to the more conservative electorate, with invocations of peace, love and happiness, while announcing his opposition to women's right to abortion and not committing to the reversal of Bolsonaro's anti-worker reforms and privatisations.
Beyond his aura as the union leader that he was decades ago, his two presidential terms from 2003 to 2010 were characterised by pragmatism and a will to take measures against his own social base. While his previous rule saw some remarkable achievements in terms of economic growth, it was also marked by the absence of an agrarian reform, changes in the pension system to the detriment of the working class, the militarisation of the favelas and corruption scandals.
Lula’s party is also associated with the crisis of Dilma's second term, during which unemployment rose and real wages sunk, reversing many of the previous gains. “We won [the 2014 elections] with a proposal and then we had to do what we had said we wouldn't do”, Lula admitted in 2015 referring to the austerity measures.
“A protagonist on the world stage”
Lula's foreign policy was ambitious. Along with Germany, India and Japan, Brazil formed the G4 in 2005, to pursue new permanent seats in the UN Security Council. Brazil's leading participation in the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH), from 2004 to 2017, was also a part of this strategy.
The MINUSTAH was created to support the regime that emerged from the coup d'état supported by the Bush administration against Jean Bertrand Aristide. With the US already administering two invasions, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lula assisted the US by assuming the occupation of Haiti. Other governments of the so-called “pink tide” such as Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador, also added troops and advisors in the course of the occupation.
More than 7 billion dollars were invested in this military effort to sustain a corrupt and authoritarian regime, deepening the social and economic woes of the Haitian people. Joint operations between UN troops and local police forces led to numerous arbitrary arrests in popular neighbourhoods perceived as opponents of the regime.
One of the bloodiest operations by Brazilian troops was the attack on Port Au Prince's Cité Soleil slum on July 6, 2005, which left at least 26 people killed. According to press reports, more than 22,000 munitions were fired during the 7 hours of siege. On 22 December 2006, a new MINUSTAH attack in Cité Soleil left 29 dead. MINUSTAH also left an extensive record of sexual abuse and torture, in addition to introducing cholera in 2010, when Nepalese troops contaminated one of the main water sources, starting an epidemic that killed tens of thousands of people.
Lula's policy of militarisation of Brazilian slums developed in parallel with the occupation of Haiti. An Amnesty International report in 2005 noted this militarisation increased human rights violations and "reinforced ideas of policing socially excluded communities on the basis of confrontation and invasion". By the end of 2007, it was admitted that the techniques used in the repression against favelas such as Morro da Providência had been previously tested in Haiti.
In 2005, the MERCOSUR trade bloc, then made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, began negotiations that culminated two years later in the signing of the first free trade agreement with a non-Latin American country: Israel. The Zionist regime's invasion of Lebanon in 2006 or its brutal attacks on Gaza did not pose any problems for the trade negotiations.
Lula also used his diplomatic muscle to promote Odebrecht's interests throughout Latin America, resulting in massive corruption schemes and unfinished or faulty infrastructure projects throughout the region.
In 2007 the PT signed an agreement with the Syrian Ba'ath party, with a view to coordinating stances on international issues and promoting political exchange. Bashar Al Assad's Latin American tour in 2010 included visits to Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. These countries sided with the Syrian regime to varying degrees when it began its crackdown on popular protests in 2011.
Dilma supported the Russian initiative for the alleged removal of chemical weapons from Syria after Assad's attack in Ghouta in 2013 and two years later subscribed to the BRICS summit declaration that supported Russian policy in Syria. The Sao Paulo Forum, in which the PT plays a leading role, issued statements of unconditional support for the Assadist counterrevolution, and Lula himself made a deplorable comparison in 2017 between Assad's use of chemical weapons and the false US denunciation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Lula also used the Iraqi case to illustrate his position regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, during a recent interview with Time magazine, stating that “Hussein was as guilty as Bush [for the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq war]”. In Lula's view, which ironically coincides with Bolsonaro's neutrality, Zelensky would be as guilty as Putin for the Russian invasion.
“Brazil will once again become a protagonist on the world stage.... So we need to rebuild the UN, to include more countries and more people”, Lula added in the same interview, reiterating old foreign policy goals.
Brazil's internal challenges will impose limitations on the scope of Lula's exterior policy, yet it's clear that in any case its ambitions will be oriented towards navigating rather than resisting the predominant tendencies of capitalism and imperialism today.
Simón Rodríguez Porras is a Venezuelan Socialist and writer. He is the author of "Why did Chavismo fail?" and editor at Venezuelanvoices.org.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.