May 2003

How Brazil's Lula Is Fooling the World

Lula's party, the PT, covered up its historic radicalism during
Brazil's presidential campaign with world-class marketing.
Once in office, the PT was able to pacify Wall Street while
giving itself cover to gradually re-nationalize formerly privatized
assets. This strategy has worked brilliantly, so far.

Gerald Brant

If President Bush and Brazil's leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hold a planned cabinet-level summit this year, one thing is for sure: it won't happen in Rio de Janeiro. Fernando Gusmão, a City Councilman affiliated with Brazil's Communist Party recently sponsored and passed a bill declaring Bush "persona non grata" in Rio.

In fact, anti-American sentiment has grown so high in Brazil that President Bush received a lower approval rating among Brazilians than Saddam Hussein in an opinion poll conducted during the war in Iraq by the respected IBOPE Institute. This phenomenon has some relation to the Brazilian Workers' Party (known as the PT) regime's attitudes towards the US.

While Brazil's new socialist government has drawn applause from the IMF and financial circles for continuing former President Cardoso's orthodox economic policies in order to maintain bond and currency market stability, it has adopted an aggressive and nationalistic foreign policy clearly based on PT doctrine. It is important to underscore that Brazil's Itamaraty (Foreign Ministry) has a well-deserved reputation for professionalism and has produced brilliant liberal statesmen such as Ambassadors José Guilherme Merquior, Roberto Campos and Meira Penna.

The causes for concern regarding Brazil's foreign policy are in the Palácio do Planalto (Presidential Palace), namely with President Lula's Foreign Policy Advisor, Marco Aurelio Garcia, a hard-line Marxist operative. Garcia is a founder and executive secretary of the São Paulo Forum, an organization of leftist parties and revolutionary movements dedicated to "offsetting our losses in Eastern Europe with our victories in Latin America".

Marco Aurelio Garcia's views deserve to be studied by anyone concerned with the future of US-Brazilian relations, especially given his demonstrated influence on Lula's foreign policy. One can get a glimpse of his thinking from ideas like "We have to first give the impression that we are democrats, initially, we have to accept certain things. But that won't last." Garcia has described his party, the PT, as "radical, of the left, socialist." And, in an article that he published in 2001 celebrating The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, he concluded that: "The agenda is clear. If this new horizon, which we search for is still called communism, it is time to re-constitute it."

As a country of "haves and have-nots", Marxism has a traditionally strong following among Brazil's intellectuals. Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci's articles are particularly influential in PT circles given his recipes for achieving revolutionary goals while placating business interests and the middle class. The PT covered up its historic radicalism during Brazil's 2002 Presidential election campaign with world-class marketing. Once in office, the PT has achieved the dual purpose of pacifying Wall Street while giving itself cover to gradually re-nationalize formerly privatized assets purchased by US companies such as the Eletropaulo electric utility.

The PT's strategy has worked brilliantly, so far. While some US foreign affairs experts have complained that the Bush administration's ad hoc Latin America policy lost Brazil, an erstwhile strategic ally and one of the world's largest economies, such concerns were largely ignored while the US Government focused on the Iraqi crisis. Curiously enough, Clinton Administration holdovers such as White House National Security Advisor John Maisto seemed to be calling many of the shots on Brazil policy. Is Brazil's foreign policy under Lula cause for concern? The facts speak for themselves.

The Facts

Since President Lula's regime took office on January 1st, Brazil's government went back and forth on abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and building nuclear weapons; back and forth on offering exile to Saddam Hussein; refused the Colombian government's request to consider the FARC terrorists; shored up President Hugo Chavez with oil shipments during the height of Venezuelan opposition's strike; declared a "strategic partnership" with Communist China; abandoned scientific cooperation agreements with the US; appointed a self-defined Trotskyite and a Communist party leader as Cabinet Ministers; repeatedly compared the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) process to "US Annexation"; vocally supported France's anti-war efforts; lobbied Chile to vote against the US on the UN Security Council and abstained from condemning Castro's crackdown on dissidents at the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

All of this begs the question, does anyone in Washington still believe Brazil's Socialist President deserves the "benefit of the doubt"? US Ambassador to Brazil Donna Hrinak, a career diplomat, seems to think so. The daughter of a Pittsburgh steelworker, Ambassador Hrinak's sympathies for the PT are so notorious that the running joke in Brasília (Brazil's capital) was to ask whether she would show up at Lula's inauguration in a red dress.

In what can perhaps be best described as an acute case of what diplomats call "localitis", Ambassador Hrinak publicly applauded the global anti-war movement and agreed to meet with Iraq's Ambassador in Brasília at the PT's suggestion, just weeks before US Secretary of State Colin Powell requested that all countries expel Saddam Hussein's diplomats.

In a decision that is likely to generate controversy back home, Ambassador Hrinak recommended the US Government provide financial assistance to Lula's flagship "Fome Zero" (Hunger Zero) social assistance program even though the PT picked a clearly anti-American slogan for the program specifically, "A nossa Guerra é contra a Fome" (Our war is against hunger).

Furthermore, primetime TV ads sponsored by the PT and its allied parties such as the PC do B (Brazilian Communist Party) and PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party) harshly attacked President Bush for his position on Iraq. Amazingly, these attack ads generated no public response from Ambassador Hrinak.

What's next?

Richard Nixon famously remarked, "As goes Brazil, so goes Latin America". Perhaps he was right. Lula's brand of socialism is becoming a role model for the entire region. Analysts consider Nestor Kirchner's Presidential election victory in Argentina a boon to Mercosul (the customs union between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and a serious setback for the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) negotiations with the US.

In fact, the entire South American continent may be getting off the train. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced he is not going to resign peacefully; Rebel leader Evo Morales may stage a coup or at least keep destabilizing the Bolivian government; FARC and ELN narco-terrorists are besieging Colombia's government; and leftist regimes are in power in Chile, Ecuador and spreading fast.

Fidel Castro's wildest revolutionary ambitions are being fulfilled right under the nose of the Bush administration. As Castro once said, "The US can't attack us if the rest of Latin America is in flames." It's time to put out the fire and restore faith in free markets and democracy in the Americas.

Gerald Brant is Brazilian-American and was a candidate for Federal Deputy (Congress) in Brazil last year. The author welcomes comments at  

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