The United States and Brazil, or Joe Biden and Lula da Silva, seem to have found in New York, last week, the most convenient distance to link up. It is a novelty in the bilateral relationship. But it also has a much broader meaning due to the place that both countries occupy on the global table.
International relations are much more determined than is assumed by the emotional climate that surrounds leaders. Biden and Lula sympathize. An important difference with the unrest that contaminated the Brazilian’s relationship with Barack Obama, especially after Brazil’s approach to Iran to try mediation on nuclear matters. To the perplexity of those who overestimate ideological affinities, Lula got along better with no American colleague than with George W. Bush. Something similar happened with the Spanish José María Aznar. The harmony of yin and yang.
The Lula and Biden meeting, organized on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, began preparations in May. But its celebration was providential for the president of the United States, due to the domestic context: the great conflict that confronts the union in the automotive sector, the Union Auto Workers, with the three large firms of Detroit: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. Biden joined the protest, not only to ratify his party’s alliance with unionism; also to neutralize the astute preaching of his rival Donald Trump, who accuses him of threatening jobs in that industry every time he promotes the expansion of the electric car.
Against the backdrop of this electoral contest, Biden took advantage of the meeting with the old turner Lula, a president who emerged from the ranks of automobile unionism, to jointly sign a declaration in favor of workers’ rights.
Regarding the electric car, the other convergence between Washington and Brasilia was the push for the environmental transition. Ecological concerns have been a flag of the Workers’ Party in its confrontation with the retarded Jair Bolsonaro. In the New York talks, a visit by John Kerry, Biden’s man for the climate agenda, was agreed upon, as well as several business missions to Brazil.
Lula and his diplomats made an adjustment in their external orientation to facilitate the reunion with the United States. The most relevant signal was the Brazilian’s meeting with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. The relationship between the two had hit rock bottom in Hiroshima, in May, during a G7 summit in which Lula avoided a meeting with Zelensky, citing scheduling inconveniences. Fifteen days earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had been received as a friend in Brasilia. It was the atmosphere in which the president of Brazil stated that “Moscow and Kiev have equal responsibilities in the war” and that “the United States and the European Union must stop promoting the conflict.” It is no coincidence that it was at the end of that sequence, in May, when the State Department and Itamaraty, as the Brazilian Foreign Ministry is known, began talks to recover the axis of the bilateral relationship.
Before the meeting with Zelensky, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Mauro Vieira, spoke with his Ukrainian colleague, Dmitro Kuleba, in front of whom he recalled that his country had condemned the Russian invasion and that, in addition, it defended the principle of territorial integrity for Ukraine. Lula clarified that it was Zelensky who had requested the New York meeting. For him it was, despite his expressive sobriety, a success: Zelensky recognized him as an agent of pacification, a role that the Brazilian has been pursuing since March, when the two had their first virtual conversation.
The recomposition of the link with Lula has a special scope for the United States. Brazil is, perhaps, the member of the BRICS group most closely linked to the defense of democracy and the rule of law. Having a friend in that club is invaluable for Washington, beyond the good deal with India. Especially since the BRICS have become a platform for China’s geopolitical operation.
Brazil’s relationship with China is very good, but it is crossed by a dissidence that is difficult to correct: the old and insistent aspiration of Brazilians to occupy a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. An objective that they share with Japan, and that the Chinese refuse, reluctant to give up their veto power. The reform of the United Nations organization was one of the axes of Lula and his team’s trip to New York, where Sergio Danese, one of the most qualified Brazilian diplomats, is stationed as a representative.
Integration into the Security Council represents Brazil’s South American leadership. The PT administration carries out a constant exercise to underline that supremacy. It takes advantage, among other circumstances, of the subordination of the Argentine Government to the protection of Lula. The Brazilian was the credit manager in front of Xi Jinping and also the one who nominated Argentina as a potential member of the BRICS. In front of Biden, he issued a warning about the danger that democracy faces if Argentines take the far-right Javier Milei to the presidency.
Lula knows that by making that statement he is collaborating with Biden’s electoral campaign. Milei, in addition to being an ally of Bolsonaro, has very strong sympathies for Trump. In other words, Lula activated Biden’s reflexes against the so-called “reactionary international.” This game, in which the conditions of domestic policy on foreign relations are evident, is at the origin of the deal between the presidents of the United States and Brazil. Washington supported without a shadow of a doubt the electoral process that brought Lula to power, despite Bolsonaro’s challenges. PT officials often allege that their North American friends have exaggerated this support until they see themselves as the fathers of the Lula administration.
The bond between the two governments was subject to a pendulum movement between that friendship and subsequent disagreements. In both capitals, Washington and Brasilia, they hope that the New York meeting has made them find the right middle ground.
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