Lula goes to Washington eyeing a ‘new era’ in US-Brazil relations
Brazil’s president will join Joe Biden for talks in US capital Friday amid political turmoil, deep divisions at home.
Newly elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will seek to “kickstart a new era of relations” with the United States during talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden at the White House, analysts and Brazilian officials say, but ideological differences are likely to persist.
Da Silva, commonly known as Lula, will meet with Biden on Friday in the left-wing leader’s first official visit to the US after he narrowly defeated Brazil’s former far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, in an October run-off election.
The visit, which will come just weeks after Lula was sworn in at the beginning of January, underscores “how much importance” the Brazilian president places on his country’s relationship with the US, said Filipe Nasser, a senior adviser to Brazil’s foreign minister.
Speaking during a panel discussion on Tuesday organised by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US-based think tank, Nasser said the timing of Lula’s trip “reflects how big a moment this is for Brazil-US relations”.
“I think this is an opportunity for the leaders to establish or re-establish a personal rapport between them,” he said.
While in office, Bolsonaro had expressed admiration for former US President Donald Trump, with whom he had close ties and often emulated, earning him the nickname, “Tropical Trump”.
The ex-Brazilian army captain also failed to quickly recognise Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory over Trump, who had falsely claimed the US vote was marred by widespread fraud, raising tensions between the two countries.
Lula’s recent election victory, which Bolsonaro still has not formally recognised amid his own false voter fraud allegations, has raised hopes that Brazil will be able to mend diplomatic relationships that were frayed during the former Brazilian president’s tenure.
Before Friday’s talks, the White House said Lula and Biden would discuss “the United States’ unwavering support of Brazil’s democracy and how the two countries can continue to work together to promote inclusion and democratic values in the region and around the world”.
The meeting will follow just weeks after thousands of Bolsonaro supporters overran Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and the presidential palace in early January to demand that the military intervene and remove Lula from office.
The January 8 incident in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia drew parallels to the January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, who were also seeking to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
US lawmakers and other observers had warned in advance of the Brazilian election last year that Bolsonaro could use his false fraud claims to refuse to recognise the results should he be defeated.
Biden rapidly acknowledged Lula’s victory on October 30, however, describing the vote as “free, fair, and credible” and adding that Washington looked forward to working with the new Brazilian government.
In addition to promoting democracy, the White House said Biden and Lula on Friday also were expected to discuss a range of common challenges, “including combatting climate change, safeguarding food security, encouraging economic development, strengthening peace and security, and managing regional migration”.
Andre Pagliarini, a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute, said during Tuesday’s panel that Lula has sought to reclaim Brazil’s place on the international stage, particularly in terms of the Global South and the fight against climate change.
Lula, who previously served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt in November and pledged to tackle record levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
He also has called for peace amid the war in Ukraine, but has been accused of equating Russia’s invasion of its neighbour with what he characterised as provocative actions by European countries and NATO.
Brazil’s approach to Russia and China has diverged greatly from that of the US, which Pagliarini said underscored how “Brazil is not necessarily casting its lot with the United States or China or Russia, but seeking to carve out for itself a distinctive role in the Western hemisphere and in the world”.
Brazil, Russia and China are members of the BRICS group of emerging economies, widely seen as the leading counterbalance to the Group of 7 top world economies, which includes the US.
Nasser, the Brazilian foreign ministry adviser, noted that while Brazil “is firmly [in] the democratic camp”, Brasilia and Washington do not always see eye-to-eye on how support for democratic ideals should be applied abroad.
“We’re also very cognizant of the need to respect other countries’ national sovereignty and the sacred principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of third countries,” he said during this week’s panel discussion.
Nasser said the US and Brazilian governments can find common ground on many things – from climate change and environmental protection, to the fight against hunger and racial discrimination – while also acknowledging that they will not necessarily see every issue in “the same light”.
“That’s why the leaders are meeting,” he said, “to compare notes and see where they can agree … and where [they can’t].”