The Lula Factor: How Brazil’s Former Metal Worker Became a Brilliant Strategist

Lula and Lady LibertyThe Financial Times did a six-page story on the development of Brazil, stating that the country may be reaching the level of the so-called superpowers. May reach, as they say, not quite there yet. They point out that the Brazilian society changes as the family income rises and the inequalities diminish, but they criticize Brazil’s infrastructure system.

The socio-economic inequalities in Brazil still have a long way to go, and a good educational system will play a definitive role in the process of, if not eliminating, but minimizing the deep existing gap. Different articles discuss the impact of the economic stability in Brazil, the new oil fields and the development of Petrobras, the Amazon issue, and also the presidential elections.

The fact of the matter is there is a new Brazilian reality. With its ups and downs, Brazil has finally emerged and is starting to live up to its potentials. The Lula factor weighs a lot and this is a fact. The Brazilian president arose a lot of curiosity at first, with his past as a metal worker and unionist, his lack of formal education, his poor language skills and even lack of sophistication; then he attracted attention, as the world started to realize that there was something different about the man.

When Brazil started giving out signs of progress and development many reminded that President Lula had followed on the footsteps of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who had started the changes. President Lula indeed did that. And it takes vision to keep and develop what is good and right for the country, even when and if comes from a political opponent.

Now the Brazilian president attracts respect – the former metal worker turned out to be a brilliant strategist with a great ability to move slowly and steadily in the pursuit of what he aims.

President Lula was criticized by many and was even condescended upon when he showed signs that he sought the position of the Latin America leader. While Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez went around bragging on his leadership and power, the Brazilian president went about his job of making the necessary moves to make Brazil grow.

Brazil has, in the last years, accomplished quite a bit. Even if part of it is due to the global economy, such as the growing demand for soy and sugarcane ethanol, no one can deny that the country was ready and prepared and the firm hands behind the wheel were no one else’s but President Lula’s.

The New York Times wrote that while Lula diversified the Brazilian industry and created a strong political coalition with almost a dozen of neighboring countries, Chavez’ influence remains limited to a few poor nations of the region. The article goes on to admit that Venezuela has even become economically more dependent of Brazil.

The Brazilian president showed effective leadership. No bragging; just results. And it is not a mistake to say that now, President Lula da Silva, of Brazil, is in fact the strongest leader of Latin America.

In the middle of the ethanol discussions, President Lula is making the world news. Again. And to show how serious he is about this subject, he is inviting country leaders for an international conference about the Brazilian ethanol in November.

Recently Bird held studies that prove that ethanol made from corn and other seeds, as it is done in the US and by the EU, has caused an increase of 75% on food prices in the last six years. The results were first published by the British The Guardian and have been discussed by the press all over the world. The same study shows that production of sugarcane ethanol, a Brazilian technology, has not had a great impact.

Not only sugarcane does not mean to the world’s food supply what corn does, but also a lot more is obtained from relatively small areas, not to mention the amount of land available for plantations in Brazil all year long.

During the first day of the G-8 meeting, the article was discussed in most of the seminars and presentations of NGOs present at the event, most probably because the studies destroys the American argument that the production of ethanol was responsible for only 3% of the increase in food prices.

Even though Robert Zoellick, Bird’s president, did not confirm the existence of the study, he did say, during a press conference he participated along with UN’s general secretary Ban Ki-moon, that ethanol made from corn and oleaginous have contributed to the rise in food prices and even suggested that the United States and European Union should invest more money to develop new energy sources that do not use grains that are used for food in a large scale.

He even asked the rich countries to start discussion aiming at ending the subsidies to this kind of ethanol, and to seek a reduction in fees that would allow the purchase of cleaner fuels. His words could very well be an exact quote from one of President Lula’s speeches.

According to the Brazilian press, at some point Zoellick indeed quoted Lula, when he said the production of the second generation of fuels that use grains, which are not basic foods, should be stimulated. He also announced President’s Lula’s international conference, underlying this way its importance.

There is something in the air, and it’s not a flying saucer. Why is it so hard for rich countries to end the production of fuels made of grains and oleaginous? How about their relationship with the oil industry and the agribusiness lobbies for an answer? And why is it so hard for the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which is not jeopardizing the production of food, to get the support it needs to become global?

How come taking away food and causing a global crisis is protected and the better way struggles and forces its way in? Could it be discrimination because the better way is coming from a Latin American country?

This is not an easy subject; it is not an easy discussion. Too many interests are involved in the matter and it is going to take time and sweat to turn things around. President Lula will be able to call his international conference a success if he can attract a couple of rich countries.

Judging by recent happenings, and the interest and investment shown by Germany and Holland, he can most probably count on their presence; also China and India might show. Undoubtedly small countries will be there, including most African countries, because a lot of them have an acute interest in this industry, which has a high potential of becoming crucial for their economy.

Clara Angelica Porto is a Brazilian bilingual journalist living in New York. She went to school in Brazil and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Clara is presently working as the English writer for The Brasilians, a monthly newspaper in Manhattan. Comments welcome at


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