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Brazilian Lula returns to the UN stage and presents himself as leader of the Global South


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — “Brazil is back. » This has been Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s refrain for much of the last year, with the president deploying this punchy slogan to present Brazil – and himself – as a leader of the South no longer content to respect the outdated functioning of the world.

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Last year, Lula thwarted the re-election bid of far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who showed little interest in geopolitics or diplomacy during his four years in office. Lula, on the other hand, has traveled the world and visited 21 countries in recent months, from the United States to China, from Italy to India, from Argentina to Angola. He has sought to bolster Brazil’s credibility with each state visit and speech, one multilateral forum after another.

His speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday marked his return to that podium for the first time since 2009, the final year of the second term of his previous presidency.

“Brazil finds itself, the region, the world and multilateralism,” Lula said. “As I never tire of saying, Brazil is back. Our country is back to make its fair contribution to the main global challenges.”

The emerging narrative of Brazil’s active involvement in world affairs also serves to contrast him with Bolsonaro, who was not considered a reliable supporter of multilateralism, Oliver Stuenkel, associate professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a University of Sao Paulo. , said before the speech.

Lula’s electoral victory last year was the narrowest in Brazil’s modern history, and the danger of fierce polarization within Brazil’s young democracy was evident even after he took office. Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the capital in an attempt to oust him from power.

Many believed Lula should stay home to focus exclusively on domestic problems and healing a torn society. But at the same time he continued a whirlwind of international tours more typical of a second presidential term.

Pushing for global governance – the Brazil way

During his travels, Lula advocated for global governance that gives more weight to countries in the South and advocated a reduction in the dollar’s dominance in trade. He made it clear that Brazil had no intention of siding with the United States or China, the world’s two largest economies and Brazil’s two largest trading partners.

And he refused to join Washington and Western Europe in supporting Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion, calling instead for a club of nations to mediate peace talks. After the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lula said he would review Brazil’s membership in the court.

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Lula’s comments on some of these issues have already raised eyebrows in Washington, even sparked criticism, and some were present in his speech on Tuesday. A centerpiece of the speech was the fight against economic inequality, particularly that linked to climate change, and he called on rich countries to finally fulfill their promise to contribute $100 billion to the developing world.

“It was an ambitious speech that presented Lula as a leader of the South. He took on big issues like climate, inequality, democracy and the war in Ukraine, and appealed to the conscience of the rich world to help resolve them,” said Brian Winter, a longtime expert on Brazil and Vice Chairman of the Council based in New York. of the Americas.

When Lula took office in January, some in the Biden administration expected him to become a staunch ally, but he was recognized as more of a partner who, according to Winter, “will not fundamentally change his view of the world.”

Biden and Lula are expected to hold a bilateral meeting in New York on Wednesday and participate in an event with union organizers, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday. The Brazilian and American presidents, who speak first and second at the general assembly, also usually meet backstage a few minutes beforehand. This did not happen last year with Bolsonaro in power.

When it comes to the war in Ukraine, at least, Biden appears to have become more willing to move past differences with complicated allies he absolutely needs to keep close for the sake of stability. His pragmatic approach was on display at the G20 summit in New Delhi this month, during his friendly interactions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both of these leaders were quick to say no to Biden and paid little heed when he raised concerns about their human rights records.

Lula’s differences were on display Tuesday as he denounced Washington’s policies toward Cuba, including the embargo, sanctions and listing of state sponsors of terrorism. This echoes Saturday’s statements in Havana, where Lula revived relations with the Caribbean island.

He also visited Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro in May. There, he said allegations about the country’s authoritarianism stemmed from a false narrative — despite numerous political arrests and election interference as well as threats against journalists. Some in Washington had initially hoped that Lula could help advance a common agenda in Venezuela, Winter said.

Lula has competitors in his leadership race

Lula is not alone in his ambition to realize his vision of the developing world that he created. Modi has sought to do the same, declaring in an Independence Day speech last month that “India is becoming the voice of the global South.” And India has greater economic and strategic importance to the world than Brazil, making Lula’s quest to fill that role more difficult, according to Thomas Traumann, a Brazilian political analyst.

This was perhaps evident earlier this month when Modi announced the African Union’s entry into the G20. Its president, Azali Assoumani, walked quickly across the room and the two men shared a warm bear hug. As they kissed, Lula sat clapping just a few feet away and almost out of the camera’s frame. Then he briefly shook Assoumani’s hand.

Lula will also have the opportunity to welcome foreign leaders to important multilateral forums in the coming years, hosting the G20 next year and likely the United Nations climate conference in 2025. His extensive comments Tuesday on the need for a global green transition and the different ways Brazil continues to lead the way and has demonstrated its commitment, said Bruna Santos, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

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Lula is already at least one of the “most important voices in favor of an overhaul of the political and economic architecture established after World War II,” if not the most important, said Paulo Peres, a political scientist at the University Rio Grande Federal District. do Sul.

His speech on Tuesday also reflected Brazil’s long-standing demands for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which is “gradually losing credibility.” But it is just one international body among many that he says needs an urgent overhaul.

“When institutions reproduce inequalities, they are part of the problem and not the solution,” Lula said in his speech.

“Inequalities must inspire indignation. Outrage at hunger, poverty, war, lack of respect for human beings,” Lula said. “Only by pushing ourselves with the force of indignation can we act with will and determination to triumph over inequalities and effectively transform the world around us. »

AP journalists Eleónore Hughes contributed from Rio de Janeiro and Aamer Madhani contributed from Washington.


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