RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazil’s new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has so far shown little concern for defying the foreign policy consensus in the West – even when it comes to dealing with authoritarian governments.
In recent weeks, Lula’s Brazil has sent a delegation to Venezuela, refused to sign a UN resolution condemning Nicaragua’s human rights abuses, allowed Iranian warships to dock in Rio de Janeiro, and flatly refused to send arms to Ukraine , which is at war with Russia.
Those decisions have raised eyebrows in the US and Europe, but experts said Lula is reactivating Brazil’s decades-old principle of nonalignment to develop policies that best protect its interests in an increasingly multipolar world.
Brazilian foreign policy is based on the 1988 constitution, which enshrines non-interference, self-determination, international cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts as guiding principles.
This includes “talking to all states at all times, without making moral judgments while respecting certain red lines,” said Feliciano Guimarães, a political scientist at Brazil’s Center for International Relations. Lula’s red lines aren’t clear yet, he added.
Last week, a delegation from Brazil led by Celso Amorim, a special adviser to the presidency and former foreign minister, traveled to Venezuela for the first high-level official visit in years. Under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, diplomatic relations with the neighboring country were severed. Venezuela’s left-wing President Nicolás Maduro has been accused of trampling on freedom of expression and persecuting political opponents.
Amorim’s team faced both Maduro and the opposition. Maduro posted pictures of the meeting with Amorim on Twitter and praised the “pleasant encounter”.
Brazil wants to promote democracy in Venezuela and push for more transparency in elections, which is why the delegation met with both sides, according to a State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Brazil’s representatives at the United Nations declined in early March to sign a Human Rights Council declaration condemning Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua. Ortega’s government has cracked down on dissidents, expelling more than 200 dissidents and stripping them of their Nicaraguan citizenship last month – prompting international allegations of what was seen as a recidivism and a form of exile.
In an interview with Brazil’s O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, published March 10, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said the declaration was not signed because of “differences in language and approach.” Vieira referred to Brazil’s historical position of seeking dialogue first.
But the controversy prompted the Brazilian government to later reiterate that it was “extremely concerned” about reported human rights abuses in Nicaragua and offer to take in political refugees who have had their citizenship revoked.
Lula made diplomacy a priority during his previous presidency from 2003 to 2010, and Brazil was widely respected on the international stage. The BRICS group, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, was founded in 2006.
Lula and Amorim held talks with US Presidents and senior Iranian officials to bring peace and negotiated with Turkey to slow Iran’s uranium enrichment. Efforts eventually failed, and Iran continued to enrich uranium.
Lula is trying to bring Brazil back onto the global stage after Bolsonaro, who showed little interest in international affairs beyond reaffirming his affinity with other right-wing nationalists like Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. He retained special recognition for former US President Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro’s trips abroad were few and far between. Lula quickly changed tack, traveling to Argentina in the first month of his presidency to meet with his counterpart, Alberto Fernández.
The returning president also wants to form a group of countries, possibly including India, China and Indonesia, to broker peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
According to the Russian news agency Tass in February, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin said Moscow is studying Lula’s proposal. He also shared this proposal with Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video call on March 2.
But Lula’s refusal to send arms to the occupied country has angered the West.
“Lula’s government applies the same principle of autonomy as during his first term, but the global scenario has changed,” said political scientist Leonardo Paz of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university and think tank.
Western tensions with Russia and China are heightened. But Russia is a key fertilizer supplier for Brazil’s soybean plantations, and its exports have become dependent on China.
In 2009, China overtook the USA as Brazil’s most important trading partner. Their economic ties have only strengthened since then. According to the Brazil-China Business Council, China invested US$66.1 billion in Brazil between 2007 and 2020.
“Brazil needs a strategy that allows maneuvering. The principle of non-alignment allows it to open channels to all states to protect itself,” Guimarães said.
Brazil has shown its willingness to pursue a foreign policy independent of the US and European countries when it allowed two Iranian warships to dock, Guimarães added.
The move led to reprimands from the US and Israel. “Hosting Iranian naval vessels sends the wrong message,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a March 9 briefing.
She added: “But Brazil is a sovereign country and you are free to decide how you want to work with another country.”
Another sign of Lula’s burgeoning foreign policy came this week with the announcement that starting October 1, Brazil will reintroduce the requirement for citizens of the United States and three other nations to obtain tourist visas, which Bolsonaro had abolished, though the four countries continued to require visas from Brazilian.
Bolsonaro’s decision was “a break with the pattern of Brazilian migration policies, which historically have been based on the principles of reciprocity and equal treatment,” the State Department said in a statement on Monday.
Bridi reported from Brasilia.