October 28, 2022 – Vitalpolitik.com – The candidate and former labor leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is expected to emerge victorious in the second round of the general elections taking place this Sunday in Brazil. Lula has been leading the polls since the beginning of this year and in recent weeks and it is expected that he will win the second round against his rival, the extreme right-wing and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
A victory for Lula would have a significant meaning, both for the Latin American region and for the rest of the world, at a time when the international scenario appears uncertain and changing – marked above all by the war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine – from which several international forces and blocs are being reconfigured.
Under the Bolsonaro government, political repression against workers, unions and leftist movements has increased, in the same way violence against black people, indigenous people and the LGBTTQI+ community has been fomented, poverty has been criminalized again while the armed forces and the army increase their share of power and action in different facets of Brazilian social and institutional life. All this under the permanent shadow reminiscent of the coup d’état in 1964, supported by the United States, and which imposed a military dictatorship that lasted until 1985. Historical shadow that Bolsonaro himself has taken it upon himself to bring during the 2022 electoral campaign, alluding to that it may not recognize the result of the presidential elections, raising, in turn, the fear of a new coup (let us also remember that the Bolsonaro government is an indirect effect of the coup against President Dilma Rousseff in 2016).
If Lula wins in the second round, it would be his third term as president of the republic after holding office from 2003-2010. Although the contradictions and limits of his government should not be ignored, it should also be noted that his presidency was marked by important social transformations in which Brazilians saw a significant reduction in poverty. “The level of poverty in Brazil was evaluated at 35% in 1999. Later, this percentage declined: 26.9% in 2006 and 25.1% in 2007” said researcher Pierre Salama. In this sense, it is estimated that approximately 19 million people were lifted out of poverty under Lula’s first two terms. In addition, during the same period, 14 million new jobs were created and an increase in the minimum wage of 53.6% was achieved.
Beyond the internal dynamics of Brazilian society, a third Lula term would have far-reaching regional and international consequences. In 2010, at the end of his second term as president, the Lula government had managed to make Brazil a world reference, positioning itself as a powerful emerging economy, together with Russia, India and China; the four emerging powers known as BRICs (acronyms that correspond to Brazil, Russia, India and China). This position as an emerging economy on a global scale was consolidated when the Lula government solidified foreign trade, achieving an annual growth of 5.2% while increasing the trade surplus from $13.1 billion to $33.3 billion. In contrast, during the last 9 years, including the Bolsonaro government, the Brazilian economy has contracted, reaching a growth that barely reaches 1% per year; very similar to the percentage growth of its population, which actually means 0% growth in economic terms.
Lula’s election in 2022 would take place under a very different regional and international scenario. During his first term (2002) the world was entering a period with significant geopolitical effects with the so-called “war on terrorism” led by the United States and George W. Bush; growing social mobilizations of protest throughout the South American continent (Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador mainly) that responded directly to the crisis caused by the application of failed neoliberal policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund and Washington; the failed April 11 coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002; and the beginning, with the same Venezuelan process led by Chávez, of what would come to be called the “pink tide”: the establishment of progressive governments, including the one led by Lula, during the first decade of the 21st century.
Geopolitical expectations: regional currency, the United States, China and Russia
Based on the performance of the Brazilian economy during his first two terms, Lula has raised great expectations regarding what a third term as president would represent in geopolitical terms. On a regional scale, the new Lula government would join a new tide of progressive governments in the region, reconfiguring the real balance of forces on the continent that favors the establishment of local and regional policies that try to distance themselves from the interventions and interests of the United States (perhaps with the exception of the liberal government of Gabriel Boric in Chile, which is gradually moving towards the center-right). A Lula victory would be significant for two fundamental reasons: 1) It comes after the historic electoral victory of the first properly left-wing government in Colombia, a historic satellite of the United States in the region; and 2) Brazil is not just any regional actor, it is the leading economy in Latin America, contributing approximately 33% of the region’s GDP according to data provided by ECLAC.
Lula has given two important signals at the regional level: 1) Following a proposal by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, he has recently called for the creation of a Latin American currency. Although Lula has not been as explicit and confrontational on this issue, Chávez characterized the creation of a regional currency as a front against the “dictatorship of the dollar” alluding to the growing weakening of the dollar at the international level (something that has materialized during the last decade ) and the need to establish greater independence from the US economy. The currency proposed by Lula would be called “SUR” and “would be issued by a South American Central Bank, with an initial capitalization made by the member countries, proportional to their respective shares in regional trade,” said Fernando Haddad, former mayor of São Paulo and former presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party in 2018; and 2) As recently as last September 30, Lula has criticized the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, for having agreed and assumed the payment of the debt contracted by the neoliberal Mauricio Macri with the International Monetary Fund: “In this crisis, in a shameful pandemic, he should not have paid the IMF or compromised with the IMF”, Lula has sentenced. Both instances suggest the establishment of a more independent policy regarding the dictates and interests of Washington both in Brazil and in the rest of the region.
Certainly, a pragmatic approach will be expected in establishing relations with Russia and China. However, with regard to the latter, a tightening of trade relations is expected after some friction arose between the Chinese government and that of Bolsonaro around the pressure that the latter received from the United States Government to end economic relations with the Asian country; especially in commercial matters around 5G technology, vital for telecommunications. An increase in trade between the two countries would take place in a pragmatic and somewhat moderate framework, but in which “the fact that China is the fastest growing economy and will be the largest economy in the world by the end of the decade cannot be ignored”, said Celso Amorim who was minister of foreign affairs under Lula’s first two terms as president.
Regarding Russia and its special military operation in Ukraine, Lula has also developed his own voice (with some caution) by distancing himself from the chorus led by the United States, NATO and the rest of Europe in defining the controversy. Lula says in a recent interview published in the American magazine “Time” that: “It is not only Putin who is to blame. The US and the E.U. they are also guilty. What was the reason for the invasion of Ukraine? NATO? So the United States and Europe should have said: ‘Ukraine will not join NATO’. That would have solved the problem.” And he adds about Zelensky: “He wanted war. If he didn’t want war, he would have negotiated a little more. That is all. I criticized Putin when I was in Mexico City [in March], saying it was a mistake to invade. But I don’t think anyone is trying to help create peace. People are stirring up hatred against Putin. That won’t solve things! We have to come to an agreement. But people are rooting for [the war]. You’re rooting for this guy [Zelensky], and then he thinks he’s the strawberry on your cake.”
Lula’s position is very significant given that the rest of the BRICs, India and China, have adopted similar positions while increasing their commercial ties with Russia in energy matters with vertiginous increases in oil and gas imports. In this framework, it should be noted that India is a strategic ally of the United States. Certainly, India’s position responds to a cheaper offer of oil and gas than the United States and the West can offer; especially as a consequence and the boomerang effect of the economic sanctions imposed against Russia.
Lula’s election could mean the return of the South American giant to the world chessboard where it could join the nations that, as journalist Ben Norton highlights on his “Multipolarista” web page, increasingly advocate an international reordering on the political premises of the so-called “multipolarity.” As the Chinese foreign minister at the United Nations has highlighted, multipolarity is based on “…not looting and colonialization. It’s a win-win cooperative path, not a zero-sum game. And it is about harmony between man and nature, not destructive exploitation of resources.” And he adds: “Our greatest strength will come from solidarity […]. And the only way forward is through “win-win” cooperation and “South-South cooperation”.
Time will tell if a future Lula government will follow in the footsteps of its BRICs partners: 1) Seeking closer trade relations with Russia and China; and 2) Whether he will become another promoter of multipolarity as a renewed political and economic foundation in what already appears to be a period of reconfiguration in the international order.