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Lula in London

Arthur Ituassu
8 March 2006

When Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva toured the Tropicália exposition at London's Barbican Centre during his state visit to Britain on 7-9 March 2006, he may well have recalled part of the song named for the cultural movement that changed his country in the late 1960s: "I run the movement, I guide the carnival, I open up the monument".

Tropicália was a passionate and articulate response to the military regime of the time – which quickly cracked down on the movement, arresting (among other key figures) the musician Gilberto Gil. At Lula's side as he toured Tropicália was Gil, his minister of culture.

As several British newspapers pointed out on the eve of his trip, Lula now has many reasons to feel proud of his political performance. For almost two years, he has been hobbled by a series of corruption scandals that mocked the image of purity that his Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party / PT) had preached since it was fighting military rule in the 1980s. Now, with just seven months until the presidential election in October, Lula is doing well again in the opinion polls. And the PT's most dangerous enemy, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso's Partido Social Democrata Brasileiro (Brazilian Social Democratic Party / PSDB), has been embroiled in an internal dispute and has not yet decided whom it will run against Lula.

Arthur Ituassu is professor of international relations at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro. His website is here

Also by Arthur Ituassu on Brazil in openDemocracy:

"Lula and Brazil: new beginning or dead end?" (May 2005)

"A big mess in Brazil" (June 2005)

"Lula: the dream is over" (August 2005)

"Brazil: never the same again" (October 2005)

"Farewell José, farewell 2005"
(December 2005)

"Lula's flame still burns" (January 2006)

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The numbers in São Paulo are representative of Lula's current strength, since both of the PSDB's candidates are paulistas. While José Serra is running the city, Geraldo Alckmin is the state governor. The most recent poll in São Paulo indicates that neither of the two Social Democrats would defeat Lula today, countering perceptions that the president's popularity was growing only in poor regions of the country – particularly in the northeast, where support for Lula is very strong.

Confident and far from PSDB's internal conflicts, Lula can use the luxury of being in London to gain more political ammunition for the election battle. Two big issues are the main focus of his British visit: agriculture and ethanol. Both can help him be re-elected.

"Britain is the most important partner for us in the agriculture business", says a Brazilian diplomat, who asked not to be identified. "London is also not happy with the common agricultural policy of the European Union, which benefits mostly the French."

It is natural, then, that Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim, has been invited to speak at the London School of Economics on 10 March about commerce and agriculture liberalisation. His ministry, the Itamaraty, is not hiding anyone who still has hope for the Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on lowering trade barriers.

Also on 10 March, London will host a crucial gathering of one of the WTO's many sub-groups, the Group of Six (the United States, the European Union, India, Japan, Australia, as well as Brazil itself) to discuss the Doha round and seek ways forward. Meanwhile, Lula will certainly try to persuade British prime minister Tony Blair to support a heads-of-government meeting before the WTO's next round of talks expires. The American trade representative, Rob Portman, has already told Brazilian diplomats that President George W Bush is "100% ready" for Lula's initiative. If Lula wins something in the historically unfair commercial and agriculture environment, he would surely use it in the election campaign.

Lula presented the other issue – ethanol - himself in a newspaper article on the opening day of his visit. He wrote: "In the search for new, sustainable economic models, the international community is coming to recognise the need for a radical rethink in relation to the generation of energy, and Brazil is responding by using clean, renewable, alternative energy sources to an ever-greater extent. [...] The ethanol Brazil produces from sugar cane is attracting worldwide interest, for it is one of the cheapest and most dependable types of fuel derived from renewable sources" (see "Join Brazil in planting oil", The Guardian, 7 March 2006).

In London, Brazilian diplomats will be discussing with Britain the possibility of producing ethanol in a joint venture in and with South Africa. This is part of a major economic and political partnership involving India, Brazil and South Africa (the "India, Brazil and South Africa [África do Sul] Dialogue Forum", thus "IBSA" or "IBAS"). The initiative, in which energy diplomacy plays a key part, would give the country a role in the world energy market through exporting ethanol as well as the technology for using it as a day-by-day resource.

Brazil has more than its share of economic and social problems – and has been too slow to improve the lives of its poor through basic education, health care, public security and equal access to justice. But at the end of its first term in office, Lula's government is putting its muscle into diplomacy as a way to consolidate its political platform internationally, differentiating itself from past administrations. It is now a matter of identity.

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