For much of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro’s time in office, one man was the guiding light for Brazil’s foreign policy — US President Donald Trump.
“I think we can say that Brazil and the United States are as close or closer than they’ve ever been,” Trump said during a bilateral meeting with Bolsonaro in mid-2019.
With Trump's 2020 loss, Brazil became more isolated than ever. But Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known simply as Lula), has promised to again lift Brazil onto the international scene.
Lula is set to be sworn in over the weekend. As many as 800 caravans of supporters are on their way to the capital Brasilia from around the country — and 350,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony on Jan. 1.
“The world misses that sovereign Brazil that spoke on equal terms with the richest and most-powerful countries and at the same time, contributed to the development of the poorest nations,” Lula said on Oct. 30, the night of his election victory. “Now, Brazil is back. It’s too big to be relegated to this sad role of pariah in the world.”
More of the world’s leaders will be attending Lula’s inauguration on Sunday than at any other swearing-in in Brazilian history, including 19 heads of state from 65 foreign delegations, the majority of whom are from Latin America and Africa.
Observers say that there’s a good reason for that — they'll be strategic partners.
“I think there can be no doubt that the arrival of Lula is a game-changer for Latin American politics and for Latin American regional integration,” said Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s former foreign minister.
South-South ties were key for Lula when he previously led Brazil in the 2000s. He traveled to more than 45 countries, and opened 35 new embassies, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean. He founded the BRICS group of emerging economies with China and Russia, deepened ties with Brazil’s neighbors and pushed back on the United States' dominance in the region.
In 2005, Lula spoke out against US attempts to create a hemispherewide, free-trade zone at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina.
“For centuries, Brazil had its back to the region, and looked to the US and Europe as whatever’s good for them is good for us,” Lula told leaders, including then-US President George W. Bush. “There are no individual answers for our countries. Either we find joint answers, or there are none at all.”
“It will not be easy to fix Brazil’s broken peace and transform Brazil into an important global actor as it was before,” said Camila Feix Vidal, a foreign relations professor at Santa Catarina Federal University. ”But at the same time, we are not talking about a regular presidency. Lula has always acted very proactively in foreign affairs. I always say that Lula's a natural diplomat.”
Feix Vidal said that Lula's foreign policy will be based “not on ideology, but on pragmatism and sovereignty.”
That means that Brazil will look for solid relations with both the United States and China, its top two trading partners. But under Lula, she said, it will refuse to bow down to either.
Lula has appointed Mauro Vieira to run the Foreign Ministry. Vieira is a career diplomat who previously served at the post under President Dilma Rousseff.
“Mauro Vieira is an insider but who very much speaks the language of Lula’s vision of Brazilian foreign policy,” said Long, Ecuador’s former foreign minister.
During a recent press conference, Vieira said Lula has instructed him to rebuild international ties.
“First, with our South American neighbors. Then, with Latin America in general, and also to resume all cooperation programs with Africa,” he said.
Lula’s first international trip is expected to be the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States next month in Argentina where he'll announce Brazil's reentry into the regional organization.
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