Brazil’s Lula Praises Obama and Asks Latin America to Be More Self-Reliant

President Obama shakes Brazil's chancellor hands Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, at the end of the Summit of the Americas this past weekend that the meeting brought "surprising results" and that he was leaving Trinidad and Tobago feeling that he had accomplished something.

"This is what gives me reason for optimism, the thought that a new dynamic can be created," he stated. Let's be honest: everyone was expecting that Chávez and Obama would attack each other. And what happened? Exactly the opposite. And we ended up with Chávez saying that he wants to be friends with the United States."

"We had disagreements, but the fact is that there was no war," he added.

For Brazil's Foreign minister, Celso Amorim, this "new phase" is only possible because Latin America "has also changed".

"This is not only because of Obama. This is due to the changes in Latin America as well. Unasur's creation (Coalition of South American Nations) is an example of invigoration," said the chancellor.

A common comment during the summit was that Obama "knew how to listen." The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, said that the American leader showed "interest" in listening to what the other chiefs of state had do say.

"I think that president Obama immersed himself in Latin America this summit", said Lula.

The Brazilian president minimized the criticisms made by Venezuela and Bolivia to the G20, the group of the world's most powerful countries including emerging ones like China, India and Brazil.

"It was harder when everyone was forced to say the same thing.  It was more complicated when you didn't have a chance to get together and tell what you were thinking," added the Brazilian leader.

Borrowing from Obama, who on Friday had said that is common for poorer countries to blame the richer nation for their problems, Lula continued:

"I know how many Latin America countries see Brazil. I know how Lugo (the (president of Paraguay Fernando Lugo), Evo (Morales, Bolivia's president) see us. Brazil is big, so people are always thinking that Brazil is to be blamed for something that happens to them."

Lula said that he has no interest in making Brazil a Latin American leader. "The word leadership is not something that simple. No country makes another a proxy to talk on its behalf. Whoever wants to be leader of a group, of a continent, he is going to lose face."

The Brazilian leader also insisted that Brazil and its Latin American neighbors need to be more independent from the rich countries and to learn to better respect themselves.

"We need to respect ourselves so that the big ones respect us too. We don't have to be begging for favors. We need to start taking care of our own noses. We need to stop talking and end this habit of seeing ourselves as small, poor, and that we need someone to rescue us. We might even ask for a loan, but we are the ones who have to deal with our own problems." 

He mentioned Colombia's example who relies on the US to fight its narcotraffic problem.

For Lula, Brazil has acquired a new international stature: "Brazil went up one or two more steps in multilateralism. I like to respect everybody and other people would better respect us."

Lula also noted Cuba's absence from the encounter. He believes that this is the last summit that this happened adding that Brazil's role is not to be a middleman between Havana and Washington. "The Cuban people are not asking for anyone to represent them.(…)  There's no explanation for their absence."

Lula also thinks that now is the time for Venezuela and the US to improve their relationship. The Brazilian president emphasized that he had talked to Chávez recently to advise him to get closer to Obama.

"Chávez," he told him, "I think it's time for you to take the first step and go talk to president Obama. If your disagreement was with Bush and not with the Unites States, this is the time." For Lula, in Trinidad and Tobago, the Venezuelan president was a different person.

During the Americas Summit, Chávez and Obama shook hands at least twice. Chávez even offered Obama a book in Spanish, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina, with special dedication. Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano's work, Open Veins of Latin America. Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, a classic book from the Left.

Lula also revealed that he had tried to arrange a meeting between Bush and Chávez, but he gave up because the Venezuelan president was convinced that Bush had ordered the 2002 coup to overthrow him.

The Brazilian leader noted that he was leaving Port of Spain extremely gratified by all that was accomplished, in special the fact that the US and the other countries of the continent established a new way to "overcome disagreements and debate them with maturity."

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