The president of Brazil is preserving his country’s unfortunate image as a resentful, Third-World ankle-biter.
By Mary Anastasia O`Grady*
It probably wasn’t long after we all got kicked out of the garden that Brazil began dreaming about becoming a serious country and a player on the world stage. Now, just as it seemed like the eternal Brazilian dream was about to come true, President Lula da Silva is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Brazil may be gaining some respect on the economic and monetary front but when it comes to geopolitical leadership, Mr. da Silva is working overtime to preserve the country’s image as a resentful, Third-World ankle-biter.
The latest example of how Brazil is not yet ready for prime time in international circles came last week when it voted against sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council. Turkey was Brazil’s lone partner in this embarrassing exercise. But Turkey at least can blame the complexity of its Muslim roots. Lula is driving Brazil’s reputation into the sand for his own political gratification.
Brazil defended its U.N. vote on the grounds that the “sanctions will most probably lead to the suffering of the people of Iran and will play into the hands of those, on all sides, that do not want dialogue to prevail.” Unpack that statement and there’s nothing inside. The sanctions are directed, not at civilians, but at Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation ambitions. As to “dialogue,” it should be obvious by now that what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad needs is a little less conversation.
If Brazil considered its vote a principled stand in defense of the righteous, it sure gave in fast. After making a stink about the sanctions, it quickly announced it would honor them. This suggests that it may have some appreciation for the diminishing returns of its lunatic foreign policies.
Lula’s Worker’s Party is hard left, but no one should mistake him for a committed bolshevik. He is merely a clever politician who came up from the streets and loves power and limousines. As Brazil’s first Workers’ Party president he has had to balance the useful things he has learned about markets and monetary restraint against the ideology of his base.
His answer to this quandary has been to use his foreign ministry—where a genetically left-leaning foreign service bureaucracy is headed by the notoriously anti-American, anticapitalist intellectual Celso Amorim—to burnish his leftist credentials. With his friendship with the “nonaligned” providing a shield, he has been able to keep the collectivist ideologues out of the economy.
But Brazil’s reputation as a leader among emerging economies has suffered greatly. To satisfy the left, Lula has been asked to defend and elevate its heroes, who are some of the most egregious human rights violators on the planet.
A review of his two-term presidency reveals a trend toward defending despots and dissing democrats. The repressive Iranian government is only the latest example. There is also Lula’s unconditional support for Cuba’s dictatorship and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In February, Cuba allowed political dissident Orlando Zapata to starve to death the same week Lula arrived on the island slave plantation to hobnob with the Castro brothers. When asked by the press about Zapata, Lula dismissed his death as one of many by hunger-strikers in history that the world ignored. He obviously never heard of the Irish militant Bobby Sands.
Lula also has stuck by Mr. Chávez as he has destroyed democratic institutions in his country and collaborated with the drug-trafficking Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A grown-up Brazil would have used its influence to lead a push back against this state-sponsored terrorism. But under Lula’s political cost-benefit analysis, the victims of FARC violence don’t count.
Hondurans have not fared any better during Lula’s power trip. Brazil spent a good part of last year trying to force their country to reinstate deposed president Manuel Zelaya, even though he had been removed by the civilian government for violating the constitution. Brazil’s actions, including harboring Mr. Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy for months, created immense economic hardship for Hondurans.
Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for letting Honduras back into the Organization of American States (OAS), noting that the country has held an election and returned to normalcy. Brazil objected. “Honduras’s return to the OAS must be linked to specific means for ensuring re-democratization and the establishment of fundamental rights,” Brazil’s deputy foreign minister, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said. Note to Brazil: Don’t you mean Cuba?
Brazil will hold a presidential election in October and though Lula will leave office popular, the Workers’ Party candidate is not guaranteed to ride his coattails. So he is now feeding red meat to the party base by holding hands with Mr. Ahmadinejad and voting against Uncle Sam.
Will it work? A lot will depend on whether those Brazilians who view him as squandering the nation’s emerging prominence outnumber those backing his dance with the despots. As former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has warned, Lula’s policy has Brazil “switching sides” but it’s far from clear that Brazilians are in agreement.
*Mary Anastasia O`Grady is an editor of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board since 2005. She writes predominately on Latin America and is a co-editor of the Index of Economic Freedom.
1. Wall Street Journal