The supporters of president Lula in Brazil constantly remind us that he is very appreciated by foreign journalists. Well, I bring some bad news to these people: Lula is definitively not as “loved” as he once was.
In a certain way, everything started to change when Brazil decided to support the request from Cuba and Libya to suspend the consultative status of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) within the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
In joining with Libya and several other undemocratic nations with an extensive record of human-rights violations such as China, Cuba, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, Brazil voted for the suspension of one of the few organizations representing freedom of the press to have consultative status within that important branch of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Another conflict of interest took place in 2004, during the controversial attempt that was made by the Lula administration to expel the American journalist Larry Rohter, a correspondent from the New York Times. His visa had been cancelled because he dared to write an article airing widespread public concerns over the President’s drinking habits.
As everybody knows, as a result of receiving widespread criticism from the international media, President Lula, stubbornly sticking to his guns, saw it fit to end the imbroglio with a farce. Unable to retreat from his own radical stance without losing face, he decided to interpret as a ‘retraction’ a letter in which the journalist actually confirms what he wrote in the article. Thus, the whole matter was solved not as a result of respect to legality, but rather out of the apparent magnanimity of Lula.
The President’s kind-hearted generosity notwithstanding, he found himself once again criticised in the international media when Brazil abstained on United Nations resolutions condemning numerous human-rights abuses in the Congo, Sri Lanka and North Korea.
In this respect, a recent article in Newsweek accuses the Brazilian government of being completely silent on the genocidal policies of the Islamic government of Sudan. It even refrained from voting to grant human rights monitors a wider brief in that troubled country, and only reversed course in June last year after a public outcry by human-rights organisations.
Newsweek also informs its millions of readers that the “Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez has no better friend than Lula, even as the former has muzzled the media, bullied rivals, and smothered trade unions,” even though Human Rights Watch accuses his political regime of widespread human-rights violations, including the restriction of free speech, the killing of political opponents, police torture and politicisation of the judiciary. Even so, Lula has told Newsweek that Venezuela is a democracy and that “each country establishes the democratic regime that suits its people.”
That Lula is also developing excellent ties of friendship with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad has also not been ignored. According to Newsweek, such reality can be evidenced by the fact that Lula has “stoutly defended Iran’s nuclear program and even invited Ahmadinejad to visit Brazil.”
In addition, the United Press International (UPI) published an article commenting that Lula has even questioned the right of the Iranian people to protest against those fraudulent elections, pointing out: ” “In Brazil we also have people who do not accept electoral defeats.”
Brazil’s apparent support for Iran, when even China and Russia condemned its nuclear program, has been interpreted as a disastrous move.
According to a recent editorial from The Washington Post, the Brazilian support shows that the West was actually right in not offering the country a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. To have a more positive influence in the world, the editorial says, Brazil should immediately stop embracing pariahs such as Ahmadinejad.
With regard to its dabbling in Central American politics, The Wall Street Journal has published an article contending that the Brazilian intervention in Honduras was a major obstacle to the peaceful (and democratic) solution of the crisis in that country.
Written by Dr Susan Kaufman Purcell, the director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, the article says that during the crisis in Honduras Lula stood behind the ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who attempted to follow in the steps of his Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez, particularly in regard to his desire to change the Honduran constitution to scrap presidential term limits, which was the reason for his being ousted.
When Zelaya took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, the cable news network CNN reported in its website that Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim declared that the ousted Honduran president had been popularly elected, and that Brazil would not tolerate any actions against the embassy.
The position was considered extremely hypocritical, because Brazil had just voted in the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift the membership ban on Cuba – a country that has not held a democratic election in 50 years. This Brazilian vote contradicts the organization’s democratic charter.
So it is no wonder that many foreign journalists are now getting quite suspicious of president Lula. The fact that he values so much the friendship of dictators and mass-murderers can be interpreted as sign that he is neither a true democrat nor particularly interested in the protection of basic human rights.
Hence, if Lula completely falls out of grace with the foreign press he has only himself (and his disastrous’ foreign policies) to blame.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann teaches law at Murdoch University, Australia.