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Al Jazeera Forum: Lula da Silva
The former president of Brazil addresses the Sixth Annual Al Jazeera Forum on the topic of the Arab world in transition.
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2011 09:09



It is a great pleasure for me to be back here to Qatar, where I was already here twice as president of the Republic. In March of 2009 to participate in the 2nd summit meeting of Arab and South American countries and in May of last year on an official trip for business meeting between Brazil and Qatar. On these two occasions I was received by my friend the Emir of Qatar and it is a great pleasure for me to be here in this event that is being promoted by Al Jazeera, a very important broadcasting company not only for the Arab countries, but also for the rest of the world, for which I have given nothing less than four interviews as president of Brazil.

I could not refuse the invitation made by Al Jazeera to participate in this forum in such a crucial moment where the peoples of so many Arab nations raised their voices and stand up to demand democracy, social fairness and the creation of opportunities.

In a moment where Al Jazeera has played and continues to play such a relevant role in informing about these events demonstrating high regards for these facts and great tuning with the feelings and demands of these people, and more giving first hand the Arab viewpoint about the unfolding events, in the Arab countries without the need of third party mediators, and how good that is for the world to have that viewpoint.

I came here to learn with all of you, to get to know your experience, to feel what happens in your hearts, especially from the young people, the youngest ones, that with great enthusiasm, experience and courage are writing a new page in the history of this region.

I could not miss such an opportunity. But I also came here to convey our experience of Brazil and of South America in the struggle for democracy, for economic growth, and for social inclusion.

Latin America has experienced dictatorial regimes till the decade of the eighties of the last century. These were difficult times, the people had no voice, they had no opportunity, they could not speak out, and they were not heard. Thousands died so that this terrible page of our history could be overcome. To conquer democracy, our peoples had to make great sacrifices to struggle a lot and to go through great political maturity.

Now here, I would like to - I'm not going to extend myself too much, because my minister of foreign affairs of Brazil, he was here my foreign minister last week in Qatar and he had a discussion about the authoritarian regimes in my country, and we discovered that democracy is not only a speech, is not only a discourse, it is a very difficult construction that demands the participation of all, the respect of differences of opinion, and the maturity to know how to live with divergences, although they could be very annoying.

It is a very complicated construction that demands patience and determination and that also demands a deep understanding that the people should be in the core, in the centre of the political life, and that they need to have their demands listened to and they should be taken into account. It is the people and not the rulers that are the driving force of transformation. It is the democratic institutions that were built by the people and not by the leaders, even though they may be very competent, it is the democracy built by the people that should prevail.

And here I would like to mention one example in my country. Very recently in Brazil we had presidential elections in October of last year. And in the year 2009 my party wanted for me to discuss at the national congress the possibility of a third term so that I could continue in power in the presidency of Brazil. And I said that I was against this idea of a constitutional amendment for my third term. I never accepted the idea that any leader can not be considered as someone who cannot be replaced, or someone that is considered indispensible. When a leader thinks he is indispensible, or that he could not be replaced, then we start to see the birth of a dictator, or the birth of a dictatorship.

Change in power is necessary so that we can guarantee the strengthening of democracy, and democracy can only be the winner when we have clear cut rules of the game defined, and everybody, everybody, without any differentiation should respect the rules that were defined by everybody. Because democracy, maybe it is not the most perfect regime that the world needs, but certainly at least till now, no one yet has presented anything better than democracy, so that we can exercise politics and for us to rule.

Maybe many of you are not aware of my personal story. But I believe it is important for you to know why I value so much democracy. I come from a very poor region in Brazil, which is the northeastern region of Brazil. I am the son of small family farmers. I did not manage to have access to higher education, I do not have a university degree. I only went to vocational training school and I became a lathe operator in my country. As a metal worker, I was the first son of eight brothers and sisters that managed to have a house on my own, have a TV set, that could buy a refrigerator. I was the first one in the family to earn a little bit more than the minimum salary.

And due to this profession that I learned, I became a labour leader. But it was not foreseen in the annals of political sociology that a metal worker could build a political party that could build a national labour federation and that could become one day the president of the country.

I've lost three presidential elections before I was elected. And I accepted the results of these three defeats that I suffered, and instead of giving up, every time that I lost a presidential election, I prepared myself even more to run for the next presidential elections. In the fourth presidential race, I managed to win the elections in Brazil for the presidency.

And I learned saying something to the Brazilian people, democracy is not a vague concept. Democracy is not a state of spirit. Democracy is an achievement that society as a whole conquers and exercises in a collective way. Democracy is not only the right to shout out and say that you're hungry, it is the right for you to have food on the table. It's not only the right that you want to work, it's really to have an opportunity to work. It's not only to have the possibility to shout out that you want to study, but you have to study truly when democracy at work when they meet these interests of society, then democracy will be consolidated and then the people will see and live in peace and tranquility.

So what happened in the Middle East many people can say that it was a spontaneous movement. A lot of people can say whatever they wish. It's too early for us to have the exact dimension of what's happening in the Middle East. The only thing that we have certainty is that if a fruit is rotten in the tree after a certain period, the political leaders also, they reap and the fruit gets rotten when time is overdue for changes. And possibly, this maybe has been the determinant factor so that at the same time so many people decided to shout out and stand up, and this happened in Brazil in the 1980s.

We only managed to overthrow the military regime when millions and millions of Brazilians went to the streets and to shout out and stand up for direct elections for the presidency, and that's when we managed to achieve democracy.

These were workers in the streets going on strike, we had students going on street demonstrations, women complaining, the youngsters in the streets struggling until the moment we managed to achieve democracy in Brazil.

And so I have reached where I reached, in my journey, because of democracy. I achieved what I achieved through democracy. Only through democracy a worker, someone that was born in a very poor family like I was, could reach the presidency of a country of one-hundred-and-ninety million inhabitants that Brazil has, and today a country that is amongst the ten largest economies of the world.

Or only democracy could allow someone from the indigenous people to reach the presidency of a country like Bolivia, and only democracy allows that a black man could reach the presidency of the US, or a black person that is majority could reach the presidency of South Africa.

But our arrival in government also meant that people wanted democracy and something more than what they had till then. They wanted to be treated with respect and dignity. The people want to work with great pride in their own country. The people wanted opportunities, jobs, decent work and salaries, the possibility to progress in life, and to leave for their children a better life.

In summary, they wanted social inclusion and the end of the absurd inequalities that existed in our countries. We were not elected to do more of the same thing that was done in the past. No we were elected to change what was wrong and to give a better present and future of hope to the Brazilian people.

In all its history, Brazil was ruled only to reach the demands one-third of the population. Two-thirds of the people were excluded of the opportunities made by progress. The rulers considered them as weight - a heavy weight, and an annoyance. They closed their eyes to the suffering of two-thirds of the people. So we decided that if the people had the courage to elect a member of the working class for the presidency of the republic, the president should also have the courage and the determination to govern for all Brazilians.

And we proved that the people were not dead weight, but the people represented energy. The people were not an annoyance, they were our major asset. So that's why we had to confront prejudice, false truth and the dominance of the ruling thought that was sold as if it were the only possible way to think things.

Dear friends. In the 80s and 90s of the 20th century, hegemonic conservative thought imposed backward economic adjustment models that were discriminatory and very empty in terms of social concerns. These policies separated economic growth from income distribution. They said they would privilege to stability and they made our countries deepen recession, unemployment and macroeconomic chaos.

We do not accept these absurd ideas. Just to start with, we decided it was necessary to give the minimum conditions of survival to the poor, and I said to govern a country is to govern a household. The mother should take care of the children in the same way but should give special attention to the weakest, to the needy.

So that's why we decided to develop public policies that would put a little bit more money in the hands of those that were in need. And so Brazil was a capitalistic economic country that had no capital - neither to fund production, and neither to fund agriculture.

And so the first thing that we did was to develop a public policy of income transfer programmes through the family stipend - giving to the poorest - around 11 million people, we're talking 44 million people, 11 million households - they were receiving a stipend so that they could buy foodstamps and basic foods and we should give the money to women so that we would have the certainty that the money would reach the households and the mouths of the children through the housewives and the women of the households.

And at the same time we increased doing our term of the minimum salary by 74 per cent and we raised the salaries of the workers generally speaking. Besides that we developed the largest microcredit and credit policy in Brazil. In the year 2003 Brazil had 380 million Reais - which is the equivalent of 200 million dollars, in credit lines.

Today, Brazil has almost 1 trillion dollars in credit and credit now reaches the poorest, which had no access to credit in the past, to the retired worker, and to the ordinary citizen, making the Brazilian economy to have great dynamism through these credit lines.

During the global financial meltdown in 2008, I used to say that Brazil would be the last country to suffer with the crisis but would be the first one to get out of the crisis, and that's exactly what happened. We were the last country to be hit by the crisis because the poor people had a little bit of money and because of the development policies that we put in practice was already bringing extraordinary results for us. That's why we were less affected by the global financial crisis.

In Brazil, it went back to growth. The domestic market has grown and enhanced, and now 36 million Brazillians were lifted to middle class, and another 28 million were lifted above the poverty line. Investing in education, we created 14 federal universities, 214 vocational training schools, more than a hundred extension courses and through scholarship programmes for the poor students in the periphery, we put in 960,000 youngsters that lived in the periphery and marginalised now study in private universities in our country through scholarship programmes.

And at the same time, we perceived that it was necessary to solve the problem of unemployment, and in the 8 years of my term, we created 15 million new jobs. Just to have an idea what I'm talking about here, while Europe has 9.3% unemployment rate while the US has almost 10% unemployment rates while Spain has 20% unemployment rates, in December of 2010, Brazil had 5.3% unemployment.

That is to say, last year, where we had unemployment in all the rich countries in the world, we created 2.5 million new jobs in 2010. Just for that year.

Ten years ago, we were the 12th largest economy in the world, we are now the 7th largest economy in the world, by the concept of parity purchasing power. That is to say, Brazil today experiences an excellent moment. Our institutions are very sound and solid, and are improving themselves. We live in a society where everybody has free speech, the press can say whatever they want to say to, not always the truth, but they have the freedom to say whatever they wish to say and whatever they understand they should say.

We have now elected for the first time in our history a woman as president of the republic. You can not imagine how proud I felt as being the first worker to be elected president of the republic in the moment that a woman took office as president of my country.

That is to say, Brazil has managed to overcome prejudice twice. The fact of the matter in the last years, we have not only had extraordinary socio-economic progress, we also progress in the political arena. We deepened tremendously our democracy, and here I would like to mention above all that our friends from the Arab world pay attention to my next words.

I'm not aware, and I don't want to be presumptuous or arrogant, but I am not aware of any other government that has exercised democracy with the ultimate consequences as we have exercised democracy. In 8 years of my term in the presidency, I held 73 national conferences, each one of these national conferences that were called by the government we had 3 levels - the local level, the province level and the national level. These conferences helped to define the public policies the government should follow.

These were conferences to discuss women's issues, health issues, education, cities, land development, agrarian reform, black issues, indigenous people issues, communication, human rights issues, gays, street scavengers, homelessness, disabled people, 73 national conferences with the participation of more than 5 million people attended these conferences at these levels that helped us to define the public policies that the government should put in practice in our country.

And the result of all these conferences was extraordinary. The result was that - I don't know if there is any precedent in a government that ends its term after 8 years - with more positive ratings than when they won the elections and better ratings than in the first year of their term.

That is to say, we ended our term after 8 years in power with almost 90% approval of positive ratings from the people in the polls.

So what did we see? What we saw was that the result in the exercise in democracy is an extraordinary one. The ruler makes less mistakes in a democracy. The ruler is much more productive. The ruler demonstrates that they are there only to meet the needs of the people, that is to govern to the people for the people by the people.

So what we are seeing and with great satisfaction is that this movement of social inclusion and democracy is also being experienced intensively by our brothers and sisters in Latin America. We experienced a historical moment of strong democracies and fighting inequalities in Latin America and South America. Never before have so many governments brought economic development and social fairness as being their core concern as we have today in our dear South America.

This has allowed us to advance an agenda of a new kind of integration, based on overcoming the asymmetries and the development of highway and energy infrastructure in Latin America. our policies are guided by the respect of diversity, and correcting situations that cause damage to our smaller partners in the regions of South America.

So I believe that the most extraordinary thing that we managed the achieve in Brazil and South America and Latin America today is our self esteem. I always say that no one respects somebody if they are not being respected.

And for a long time, Latin America, South America and my country, we were subordinated to a rationale, to logic that was determined by the superpowers, either the European Union or by the US. We were turning our backs to one another, Brazil was not looking toward South America, Brazil was not looking toward Africa, Brazil was not looking toward the Middle East. Brazil was looking towards Europe only, and only Washington in the US, or New York or maybe London. And so we decided to change our policy and to establish a new rationale and new logic for international relations for our country.

And then we decided to follow the international relations logic - I used to say that it was necessary to change this rationale of the world geopolitics and the rationale of the trade policies, so that's why my dear friends it does not suffice that we have democracy in our countries, it is necessary to prevail in the international relations democracy and in the international bodies.

In the same way that a country cannot be the property of one or another ruler, the world cannot be the property of one or another country. The multilateral bodies today need a democratic reform so that they can give a voice and a chance to all. They represent the political geography of 1945 and not the political geography of 2011. How can we explain that we do not have yet seats in the UNSC that the Arab countries don't have at least 1 representative, 1 seat in the UNSC? How can you explain that China is in the UNSC but Japan is not in the security council? How can you explain that Africa does not have a seat in the security council? How can you explain that Latin America has no permanent representative in the UNSC?

So the UNSC became a club of friends than a global governance body to try to help understand the issues that we face in the world today. So that's why we fought so much for a change in the UNSC, and that it should be a truly multilateral institution that should have an active voice, for example, in the solution of the crises in the Middle East. If the UN created the state of Israel, they should also give the Palestinian state, and give the guarantees for the Palestinian state to function.

But for that to happen, it is necessary for the UNSC to be more representative and to have much more people participating in that council, it's necessary to bring in more players, new players, we need new negotiators. It's necessary to have political will.

The truth of the matter my dear friends, is that for a long time, many leaders of the world believed that they did not need to rule their countries, to govern their countries, because the markets would do everything. The market would govern. But it would suffice to happen that the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy or collapse, or the subprime crisis in the US was - and people would start to understand that governments are elected to govern, to rule, and that the markets exist only to earn money and not to be concerned with social issues.

The markets are not concerned with education, the markets are not to be used for income distribution, the markets do not serve social fairness. Who has these concerns? It's the state - the government, not the markets. And what we perceived with the crisis is that those countries that seemed to know everything they know nothing actually, in the midst of the global financial meltdown.

Those that used to say to us how to solve the problems of the poor countries - they have their recipe - they did not know how to solve their own problems in the midst of the global financial crisis. For example, the IMF gave us the impression that they knew everything. They had all the prescriptions. But when the crisis hit the rich countries, the IMF didn't know what to do and had no solution for the crisis, the World Bank didn't know what to do.

Who was better prepared to confront the crisis? It was exactly the emerging countries. the emerging markets, the developing countries were better off. Countries like Brazil, China, India and others, had a better possibility to build a domestic market that would be very strong, and resilient to the global financial crisis. Just for you to have an idea, I went to the national TV broadcast to make an appeal to the Brazilian people to buy more, to consume more, to not allow the crises to be even worse in my country.

So dear friends, I would like to say to all of you that what is happening now in the Middle East is something easier to understand if we understand that the world needs more democracy. The world needs more freedom. And the world needs more equality.

In each one of our countries, as you are demonstrating now with your struggles, courage and willingness to confront sacrifices, I believe that the world needs and could end up with social unfairness, our economies would become stronger and not weaker, when everybody has the same opportunity.

And so I believe that the world is going toward a new global governance, and if the countries understand and the world trade organisation, the UN, the IMF, the WB, if we - the multi-lateral bodies, institutions - if they have this understanding that we are moving toward a democratic global governance.

And I would like to say to our friends that we need to rethink how to make world development reach and benefit all, how can we take care of the African continent, how can we develop and strengthen democracy in Africa, how can we develop the African economy - what can the rich countries do so that we can stop reading the newspapers to see Africa as a mirror of a poor continent when in the 18th and 19th century Africa was self-reliant in food production, and today they are dependent, they are not self reliant anymore in food production.

What can we do to guarantee democracy in the Middle East? And what can we do so that we would not allow democracy to be something that is considered to be a secondary issue.

I want to show my solidarity to all of those in the Middle East and in any part of the world that are struggling for freedom, that are struggling for democracy, that are struggling for social fairness.

I would like to say to all of you that with my experience in 8 years as president of Brazil, with my experience of someone that founded a political party - the workers party - and as someone who created the largest national labour federation in Latin America, with the experience I had that lost three presidential elections, and with the experience that I had of assuming commitment that I could not afford to make mistakes in my presidency. I would like to say to all of you that it is possible, yes, to build a new world.

Yes, it is possible to build a new political, economic and social order. It's necessary to live in peace and harmony in the world if we want to reach that. And it is also necessary to understand that change in power is not something bad, it is a need to bring oxygen to society and to democracy. I would like to say to all of you that I came here with great pleasure, so that I could convey a little bit of the experience of what happened in my country.

Those of you that would visit Brazil would perceive that Brazil has changed a lot in the last years. And Brazil has changed, changed in a democratic way, socially, and today the very few countries in the world that have a people that have a belief in their country as the Brazilian people believe in Brazil.

So we do not need to have middlemen in building a world we want to live. We don't need intermediaries. It suffices to build what we understand for all the world. And I can say to all of you that all my life I exercised democracy to its ultimate consequences.

I was elected as president of the trade union with 92% of the votes. In my 2nd reelection for the trade union, I could have continued another 30-40 years in the trade union. And when I was reelected as president of the trade union, I passed in the general assembly of workers that no president of the trade union should be reelected for more than 2 terms. In the presidency of the republic I did the same thing. I could have fought for a third term. But I believe that for a democracy, we should not play with democracy, we can't play with democracy, we have to respect the rules of the game.

And for us to respect democracy, it suffices that we should allow the people to stand up, to speak out freely, that the leader should not hide themselves from the people.

Usually when there is a crisis, the leader hides themselves in their offices and does not go out in the streets, but actually it is in the midst of crisis it's when the people standing up to the leader that was elected to govern and to rule then he or she should go to the streets and talk to the people directly.

And they should not see the opposition as the enemy. The opposition should be seen as a citizen who is not happy with what the leader is doing and that change is necessary.

And so I think that this is the extraordinary reason for which we should value so much democracy. It's to live with, in a democratic way, diversity. democracy, cultural democracy, mass media democracy, democracy in the economy, democracy in the society's demonstrations.

I say every day in my country, that there's no worse censorship for the mass media than the TV viewer, than the one who listens to the radio, than the one who reads newspapers. You don't need state censorship, government censorship. Whoever lies, for the better or for the worse, will lose all its credibility.

The only chance to survive, is a commitment with the truth. And above all today, when the internet, the world wide web, went beyond any communications limits that we had up till today. In the old days we waited 6 months to listen to news, and then we waited 24 hours for the news, 12 hours, 6 hours, now it's in real time and we get news and information.

There's no way someone continues to lie thinking that the people will not discover that it's a lie, and I think that the internet and the new means of communication are giving a lot of headache to some leaders in the world but they are providing an extraordinary service to the strengthening of democracy in my country, and in the world. And the almighty wish that some people that are interested in helping the Middle East should understand what is going on in our country in Brazil, what happened in Brazil. Because many of the things that happened in Brazil could serve to help you build a new democracy that the world is demanding.

Thank you very much.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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