Lula, the international return: first stage, the neighbors
Before the world, the neighborhood: President Lula begins his return to the international scene on Monday with a visit to his neighbor and ally Argentina, then a Latin American regional summit, even if the Brazilian leader is experiencing more domestic emergencies.
Three weeks into his presidency, and just two weeks after the assault that saw Bolsonarists threaten places of power in Brasilia, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived in Buenos Aires on Sunday evening for an official visit, followed by Tuesday a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC – 33 member countries), in the presence of some fifteen Heads of State and Government.
Lula will then complete his first international outing in Uruguay on Wednesday, before receiving German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brasilia on January 30, then going to Washington on February 10 to meet his American counterpart Joe Biden.
For Argentina, the visit is crucial. Brazil is its largest trading partner –Argentina is Brazil’s third. But the ideological distance between the (center-left) government of Alberto Fernandez and the far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, as well as “the latter’s absence from international forums, made it very difficult to put oneself in agreement on a whole series of subjects,” spokeswoman for the Argentine presidency Gabriela Cerruti recalled on Friday.
In fact, Lula’s visit should seal large-scale bilateral agreements in various fields: energy, science, health, agriculture, finance… A step towards “an integration as we have dreamed of for years” between the 1st and 3rd economies from Latin America, two countries “very important for the world in the face of the challenges to come (which are) food production and energy”, underlines the presidency.
For Latin America, the symbolism is very strong. The Buenos Aires summit seals Brazil’s return to Celac, from which the Bolsonaro government withdrew it in January 2020, judging that the organization, created in 2010, gave “the leading role to non-democratic regimes” , such as Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua
“The Bolsonaro government saw Latin America as a problem and not as a foreign policy solution, a very negative view,” said Felicio de Sa Guimaraes, academic director of the Brazilian Center for International Relations, for AFP.
CELAC is certainly not a regional integration body, but a regional forum for dialogue and cooperation. However, it is the only one bringing together the countries of the region – apart from the United States and Canada – and the de facto regional interlocutor of the European Union or China.
– Everywhere, “rebuilding “bridges” –
Reintegrating CELAC “is a first step”. And if “Lula is going to try to relaunch something of a leadership”, the fact remains that achieving it “requires much more capacity and much more time than Brazil has”, in particular “economic means” estimates the Brazilian analyst.
And reinstatement does not necessarily mean priority. “The initial instructions from the president (Lula) were clear: to rebuild ‘bridges’ not only with Latin America and Africa, but also with the United States, China and Europe, with the same degree of importance and priority,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira on Saturday.
Moreover, more than a decade after Lula, leader of the influential group of emerging economies BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), or promoter, precisely, of CELAC, is leadership the Lula’s priority for 2023?
“Any aspiration for Lula’s leadership in his foreign policy will come up against his internal urgencies”, considers Bernabé Malacalza, researcher in International Relations at the National Research Center of Argentina Conicet.
Again on Saturday, the Brazilian president dismissed his army chief, Defense Minister José Mucio believing that “after the last episodes (…) of January 8, there was a breach of confidence” .
“Brazil’s wounds are open,” said Malacalza. “And on the current horizon,” its greatest challenge will be to recompose its democratic fabric.
If the tendencies towards authoritarianism, the radicalization of a sector of Brazilian society, the growing weight of the army on politics are not reversed, Brazil will have lost an essential basis for becoming a reliable international power and capable of being accepted”.