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Lula visits Biden with a challenge to support the defense of democracy without provoking China and Russia


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On a lightning visit to Washington this week, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) will have the challenge of celebrating the rapprochement with the United States of Joe Biden and the alliance of the two countries in defense of democracy, without, however, positioning as an antagonist of China and Russia.

Both countries have survived coup attempts and violent depredations—January 6, 2021 in Washington and January 8, 2023 in Brasilia. Biden called Lula shortly after the Three Powers attacks and “conveyed unwavering US support for Brazil’s democracy.” The PT, in turn, has repeated that international action is needed to contain the advance of the extreme right.

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With solidarity as a backdrop, the two leaders will make the meeting in Washington a kind of kickoff to resume dialogue between the US and Brazil. Although it was maintained at a bureaucratic level in the two years that the democrat lived with Jair Bolsonaro (PL) in power, the relationship between the two countries was practically nil at the presidential level.

There are divergences, however, in the vision that each of the countries has on the defense of democracy. Biden will invite Lula to participate in the second edition of the Summit for Democracy, in March. The first meeting, held in a hybrid form in December 2021, was sold as a way for democratic countries to react to the rise of authoritarianism in the world, but had a poorly disguised character of opposition to China, whose regime is autocratic and is the main geopolitical rival. from the USA. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, was not among the more than 100 invited leaders and will certainly not be on the list for the new meeting.

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Invited by Biden, Lula will hardly be able to refuse to participate – which should displease Beijing, which will also receive the PT with pomp and circumstance for a state visit in the same month.

“It will be an opportunity for the two countries to strengthen the already close relationship,” said this Monday (6) the spokesman for the US Department of State, Ned Price. “We look forward to the presidents discussing our strong support for democracy in Brazil and how the two countries can continue to work to promote inclusion and democratic values ​​in the region and around the world.”

Another thorny subject that Lula should bring to the meeting with Biden on Friday (10) is the proposal for a “peace club” to intermediate the peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Lula will insist on the idea of ​​aligning countries in the global South that do not want to enter the war, clearly supporting one of the sides, by sending arms and ammunition to Kiev, for example, and want to act as facilitators of peace negotiations. The president mentioned the initiative, which is still in its infancy, in interviews and alongside the German premier, Olaf Scholz.

This peace forum will be discussed during the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Delhi, which will include Brazilian Mauro Vieira. India has resisted Western pressure to impose sanctions on Moscow and has remained a major buyer of Russian oil. In Brasília’s view, Brazil and India would be especially well positioned for dialogue with Russia in an eventual peace negotiation.

But that’s a conversation Biden won’t like. The American prefers to focus his agenda on topics such as the environment — he was elected with an extensive climate agenda and last year approved the biggest incentive package to combat the climate crisis in the country’s history.

John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy, has met Marina Silva twice since the election — at COP27 in November and this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Kerry also met with Lula in Egypt and planned to go to Brazil in the first few weeks of this year, but postponed the trip due to the Brazilian president’s visit to Washington.

There is a demand for the US to join the Amazon Fund, an initiative to raise funds for conservation and combating deforestation in the forest, funded by Norway and Germany — and, to a lesser extent, by Petrobras.

Since the Ricardo Salles administration in the Environment, during the Bolsonaro government, Brazil has asked for resources from the American government to help with environmental preservation, but the negotiations did not advance because the USA did not see signs of commitment from the former president in the matter.

Kerry, now, would have signaled positively for entry into the Fund. It would be a change in posture by the US government, which is more reticent than other rich countries, especially in Europe, in allocating resources to similar initiatives.

Lula’s trip to Washington has been called “political” to justify the lean schedule and the low expectation of major announcements. According to those involved in preparing the trip, it will be the inauguration of a new phase: neither the absolute subordination of Brazil to the US at the time of Bolsonaro and Trump nor the estrangement and anti-Americanism of other PT governments, including Lula himself.

Brasília also attributes the lightning visit to logistical difficulties. There was pressure from the US for the trip to Washington to take place before the PT member went to China. But the date offered to the Brazilian government, a Friday, was ungrateful — it is difficult to schedule events on Saturday. On the same day as the meeting with Lula, Biden will receive a group of governors at the White House and, the next day, will promote a gala ball. The time of the meeting between the two leaders in the Oval Office was changed because of this. It would be in the morning, and now it is scheduled for the afternoon.

The expectation is that the two leaders talk for more than an hour. In part of the meeting, they will be accompanied by ministers confirmed in the delegation –Marina Silva (Environment) and Anielle Franco (Racial Equality)— in addition to Mauro Vieira and international advisor Celso Amorim, present at all times.

On Friday morning, President Lula should grant an exclusive interview to the American CNN, probably to the anchor Christiane Amanpour. The petista should also meet with a group of around 20 democratic legislators, among them Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. both from the far left wing of Biden’s party. They have been very active with letters and resolutions condemning Bolsonaro’s environmental policy and authoritarian threats, and some of them are pressing the FBI and the White House to re-examine the former president’s visa.

There is still the possibility of a meeting between Lula and leaders of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the USA. Richard Trumka, who was president of the union for 12 years and was close to Lula, even visited the president in prison, in Curitiba. He passed away in 2021.

Lula is expected to stay at the Blair House, the US government residence that serves as accommodation for some heads of state and is located across the street from the White House. The Brazilian stated that he preferred to stay in a hotel, but security issues were taken into account, due to the aggressiveness of some Bolsonaro supporters and the possibility of demonstrations.

At Blair House, the security scheme does not allow any type of non-peaceful protest, and access to the square where the residence is located is usually restricted during the visit of foreign delegations.

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