Lula and the discontented

27 January 2005

Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva came to town this morning and got a warm welcome, but not all the warmth was friendliness.  As around 12,000 people packed into the Gigantinho, or "little giant", stadium to hear the Brazilian president help launch a global campaign against poverty and hunger, a small angry section in the bleachers chanted abuse. Outside, a much larger angry group faced off with police and security services.

Inside the stadium the overwhelming majority of the crowd was "100% Lula!" so the opponents - who mostly identified with PSOL, PSTU and others among Brazil's dozen or so leftist political parties that don't get on with Lula's ruling PT - were largely drowned out, like a small band of away supporters at a home match.

The global call to action against poverty (www.whiteband.org) is mostly mainstream stuff that a Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would endorse (with a qualification here or there). It includes: cancellation of all (odious) developing country debt; "fair" trade (usually defined these days as an end to "unfair" subsidies by the rich northern countries); and the rich countries to allocate at least 0.7% of the GDP in official development assistance (something OECD nations agreed in the 1970s but have never come close to reaching with the exception of the Scandinavians).

Star speakers from Kenya, Mali, India and elsewhere joined Lula on stage, and icons in Brazilian cabinet including Gilberto Gil (rock superstar and minister of culture) and Marina da Silva (young, black, from the poorest of the poor and now minister of environment) smiled broadly in the front row of the audience.

Lula has a tremendous physical presence. He is passionate, spontenous and fluent. His voice is as powerful as Nelson Mandela's at the height of his powers.  One of those politicians you have to see in real time and space to understand.

But his opponents - who accuse him of fatal compromise with neo-liberalism, and the wrong kind of pension reform - are  having none of it.  Here are some photos from the demo outside. The T shirt of the bearded man in the second picture shows a US soldier on fire and in agony as he escapes from a Hummer. (click on a picture to enlarge it)


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