The only good thing to say about the visit to Brazil of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Monday November 23, is that it was mercifully short and lasted less than 24 hours. Ahmadinejad had his picture taken being hugged by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who gave him a warm welcome and said Iran had every right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
However, Ahmadinejad obviously had more important things to do at home. He was also presumably planning the announcement made on Sunday November 29 that Iran would build 10 new nuclear power stations in response to a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency two days earlier that was critical of Iran for covering up a uranium enrichment plant.
The visit drew the world’s attention and has perhaps taken some of the gloss off Lula’s image on the international stage. Instead of showing some statesmanship and benefiting from the fact that Brazil has never threatened to expand its use of nuclear power, Lula appeared to be defending a tyrant whose election earlier this year is widely believed to have been rigged.
While the security forces in Iran were slaughtering dozens of the thousands of protesters, Lula was supporting Ahmadinejad’s “victory”. Furthermore, he insulted the opposition by comparing them to disappointed football fans who refused to accept that their team had lost a game.
Lula’s advisers were quick to point out that Lula would be using the visit to try and bring about peace in the Middle East. One of the few requests Brazil did make to the Iranians was that Ahmadinejad should tone down his verbal attacks on Israel and not deny the Holocaust. This he duly did but whether that can be seen as any kind of triumph is debatable. On the very day of the meeting, the Iranian army was testing long-range missiles and threatening to use them if attacked by Israel.
The Brazilian government also mentioned the fact that Lula had met Israel’s President Shimon Peres and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, separately during visits they had made to Brazil during the previous two weeks. Just what these meetings achieved is anyone’s guess. Peres did not even get the chance to take part in a planned public discussion as his security team said the hotel where it was due to take place was not safe enough.
These visits certainly did not make Brazil’s Jews feel that any breakthrough had been made. Although Lula has made a number of trips to the Middle East, he has not visited Israel in any official capacity during his two mandates. Nor has he given any sign that he intends doing so.
Having said that, Lula probably feels that he has made his point. He wants to be seen as a defender of developing countries and if many of them are unpleasant dictatorships like Iran tant pis. He wants to show the Western powers that their days of telling the rest of the world what to do are over.
He believes events like the international financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rise of China and India (along with Brazil) have broken the old model. He has pronounced the G-7 dead and has focused his efforts on trying to build alliances with countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and, of course, Latin America.
At the same time, Brazil has good relations with the developed countries and Lula is not as aggressive as Venezuela’s maverick Hugo Chavez so he can easily reject any claims of being anti-Western.
However, if Lula wants Brazil to be respected more on the international stage, particularly in gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, then cocking a snoot at world opinion is not the right way to go about it.
John Fitzpatrick is a Scotsman who first visited Brazil more than 20 years ago and has been based in São Paulo since 1995. He is a journalist by profession and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações, which provides corporate communications and consultancy services. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article originally appeared on his site www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br.
© John Fitzpatrick 2009