Lula's travels

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By RAFAEL R. IORIS*

It remains unclear whether Lula can revive the balancing act he managed to pull off so well twenty years ago.

The rise and fall of world powers has been the focus of intense interest academic. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the dawn of US hegemony in the second half of the XNUMXth century, scholars from various disciplines have tried to assess whether the replacement of an established power by a rising one need involve major military conflict.

There is no agreement, but in most cases wars have accelerated this type of transition, especially when the fading and rising powers do not share historical paths of cultural traditions. Regardless of the case, the fact is that there seems to be a crisis in the Western-centric world of the past 400 years today, with a probable return to an Asia-centric economic dominance.

It is not clear how the process will unfold. But it is certain that the nations historically linked to the European-American center of power, particularly those from the so-called “Other-West”, such as Latin America, will face a particularly difficult path when trying to (re)position themselves in the midst of this changing world order. change.

Of particular relevance in the Latin American context, Brazil, the continent's largest nation and economy, and a country that has historically managed to sustain a trajectory of largely autonomous relations, but close to hemispheric hegemony, is today in a doubly challenging position. Replacing the United States, China is now Brazil's most relevant economic actor and, within the BRICS, a vaguely defined but nonetheless effective multilateral bloc that has helped to reshape the world's economic and geopolitical balance over the last two decades, the two countries even pursued aligned projects to reshape the global context, such as the creation of the BRICS Bank, a multilateral financing agency for development projects in the Global South that could overshadow the traditional role played by the World Bank.

In the early 2000s, Lula managed to become Brazil's first president from a working-class background. In power, he deepened the course of building a welfare state in one of the most unequal economies in the world and innovated with ambitious foreign policy initiatives. Brazil seemed to be emerging on the world stage as the most promising democracy and a promising new diplomatic player in the developing world.

Tragically, this auspicious path did not hold, and Lula now has the challenging task of rebuilding democratic institutions and repositioning his country in the world, after the tragic years of the neo-fascist administration of Jair Bolsonaro. The timing for delivering on both fronts couldn't be worse, though. The domestic and global contexts are very different from those when Lula assumed the Presidency for the first time, and what was then seen as the search for an autonomous and assertive line of foreign policy, which fits well with the country's diplomatic history, has become now interpreted by many in Brazil and in the international community as divisive, inappropriate or even a betrayal of Brazil's traditional Western alignments.

Interestingly, all Lula has tried to do in his foreign policy actions over the last four months is to try to revive his impressive achievements of the first decade of the century, when Brazil managed to maintain good relations with its traditional allies and trading partners, such as the United States and the Union. European Union, in addition to expanding economic, diplomatic and strategic projects with countries around the world, especially among other rising powers, such as India and China.

To promote his objectives, Lula participated in a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC), in Buenos Aires, where Brazil expressed interest in strengthening ties with the region. Soon after, he visited Joe Biden in Washington, where the two leaders professed their mutual defense of democracy and shared interests in more environmentally sound development patterns, particularly in the Amazon region. After that trip, Lula visited China, where trade agreements were signed, and then went to Europe to meet with traditional allies.

In addition to not acknowledging the fact that Lula has visited old and new allies, the treatment that Lula has received in the Brazilian and international media lacks the necessary historical perspective. For more than a century, Brazilian diplomatic efforts have been in defense of multilateralism, peaceful conflict resolution and self-determination. Furthermore, its own foreign policy has been largely defined by the need to serve as an instrument for the country's own development.

Lula's overtures to traditional and new trading partners and his defense of the need to find ways to resolve the impasse in Ukraine are therefore not surprising. Perhaps some of his statements about the war could have been couched in more diplomatic language. But he is right to point out that Brazil can serve as an intermediary to defend peace, which can only be achieved when the Russians are brought to the negotiating table – an invitation that Brazil has a privileged position to present.

Despite speculation about Brazil's changing allegiances in the growing economic, geopolitical and diplomatic rivalry between the US and China, the fact is that Brazil cannot afford to choose sides in these disputes. If China now wields tremendous economic influence in transporting most of Brazil's impressive agribusiness exports, Brazil's economic, cultural, diplomatic and historical ties with the United States and Europe are not going to disappear anytime soon.

It is not clear whether Lula can revive the balancing act he managed so well twenty years ago, as the situation is much more difficult now. Global economic and geopolitical disputes are increasingly likely to include a military dimension, and the war in Eastern Europe has no end in sight. And while Brazil may indeed play a peacemaking role, neither side of the conflict seems ready to negotiate peace.

At the same time, however, shortly after Lula's visit to China, the US government increased its economic commitments to the Amazon Fund tenfold, demonstrating that in this increasingly divided and conflicted world, Brazil still has a role to play. play and that automatic alignments with any country is not in the interest of a complex and powerful country like Brazil.

*Rafael R. Ioris is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Denver (USA).

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