Brazil’s Lula will aim to be the leader of Global South

Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat and Vladimir Mitev hosted the Romanian political scientist Sergiu Mișcoiu in a Cross-Border Talks episode on the victory of Lula in the Brazilian presidential elections.

Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat and Vladimir Mitev hosted the Romanian political scientist Sergiu Mișcoiu in a Cross-border Talks episode on the victory of Lula at the Brazilian presidential elections. Mișcoiu observed that Lula will be a president, while center and right-wing are strong  in the Brazilian parliament. Therefore, he will be a leader that has to seek compromise and consensus. Right now a large part of the countries in Latin America are ruled by left or center-left governments. But they are ruling in worse economic and political conditions than those during the first left-wing wave in the region some 20 years ago, believes Mișcoiu. He also thinks that there is a misunderstanding of the role and essence of Russia in international relations among the left-wing forces in Latin America. Putin’s Russia’s role  is frequently confused with the role the Soviet Union was playing during the Cold War. Mișcoiu expects that Lula’s Brazil will be following a course of non-alignment and neutrality with regards to the war in Ukraine and thus try to be a leader of the Global South. However, the Westerners will certainly try to convince the Latin American leaders that in the war in Ukraine Ukraine is a victim, “which is quite obvious”, underlined Mișcoiu.

Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-FIgat: Welcome to another episode of Cross-border talks – the International Relations, seen from a humanist and social perspective, possibly your favorite show on international relations on the Internet. I am very happy to welcome Sergiu Mișcoiu, our frequent guest and the friend of the project, again in our studio. These are Brazilian elections that are the reason that we record this time. However, what was predicted to be a big victory of the progressive forces in the end is just a narrow margin victory with the smallest distance between the winning and losing candidate ever in Brazilian presidential elections, which raises very questions about how legitimate is the victory? How many Brazilians actually put hope in him, and what is the future of the biggest country in southern America if the society itself is so much divided over visions of its future? Also, we can’t put aside the questions of Brazil’s role in international relations and Lula’s possible relations with other left-leaning presidents who are now an absolute majority in the region. But before we ask the first question now, Vladimir, it is your time to tell our viewers more. Who is Sergiu Mișcoiu, whom I welcome warmly in our studio?

Vladimir Mitev: Yes. Welcome to Sergiu Mișcou and hello to all the listeners and viewers. We need to say that Sergiu Mișcoiu is one of the leading Romanian political scientists. He’s an expert on European studies as well, and he’s from the University of Babeș-Bolyai, which is the best university in Romania, having also a lot of international students. A lot a lot. I mean, thousands of international students are being engaged in the international relations of university there. So it also has a lot of contacts with people from various countries, including from the third World. And that is why we decided to invite him also for this talk.

First of all, Sergiu, let us start with the fact that in Brazilian society right now, there is great polarization, even though Lula won. The difference, the margin between him and Bolsonaro, the right wing candidate, was very small. So what are your expectations in this regard from the kind of politics which will be led and what is to come forward in Brazilian politics and social affairs with such a small margin?

Sergiu Mișcoiu: Thank you, dear Malgorzata and Vladimir for inviting me to this show once again. I’m always very glad to be here. To answer your question, I think that it was a surprise as compared to the polls during the last three months, but less of a surprise if we take into consideration the results of the first round. The final result was due to the extent to the transfer of votes of the third candidate, the moderate Simone Tebet, who is the leader of a rather center-right moderate party and who considered that Bolsonaro is too dangerous for for Brazil to be elected for another term in office, and that this needed to be changed, although let’s say from a very wide ideological perspective and if we take the classical divide left, right, her views were naturally closer a little bit, at least closer to the ones of the radical right of Bolsonaro than of the left of of Lula. But nevertheless, this transfer created the majority.

This way Lula has not only a very narrow margin for victory, but this victory was obtained also by the fact that the center helped him win over the right.

 And this, of course, creates a major debt for Lula. His promises  already are much more moderate than they were in the previous two terms in office. Lula has now to compose politically with this depth for his election with the center, but also compose politically with the center and even the center right in the Congress, because the results for the Congress were quite bad for his political movement and alliance.

More than 185 MPs were elected under the banner of Bolsonaro’s Coalition. More than 100 representatives of the Liberal Party of Bolsonaro himself were elected, and only a minority of employees elected from the Lula’s Federation. And there will be a very difficult game also in the Congress in composing majorities. Quite a reasonable scenario would be to believe that these majorities will be occasional majorities related to specific projects. And this is because there is no possibility to build a long-standing, clear and solid majority for the next four years. 

All these elements put Lula in a quite difficult situation in spite of his election, which is remarkable and was saluted by all those who believed that the far right has no place to lead countries in the world, and more specifically, one of the most mixed ethnically, socially, racially, religiously countries of the world that is Brazil. But all those who fought against Bolsonaro and elected Lula will now have a problem in determining the policy of Brazil. It will be a specific compromise based on different projects.

 There will be situations where the majority won’t be obtained in the Congress. And at the same time, we have in Brazil a Court which is also independent. It tackled Bolsonaro several times during his term, preventing him from advancing with some projects that were quite dangerous for Brazil. But it is the same court which initially judged and convicted Lula before canceling his conviction last year. This being said, we see that Lula had lots of enthusiasm for his re-election, but at the same time a basket which is very full of of troubles rather than opportunities, and this will be increasingly difficult, I assume, for a president who is no longer in his young age and who will be under heavy pressures from all sides.

Okay. It is indeed a very challenging situation for Lula, including because he chose as a vice president, a person who is also not exactly of the left wing tendency, but more considered to be so-called neoliberal tendency. So if we look at the political or social or economic challenges to Brasilia, what’s your judgment on the possibilities of Lula to act and adopt policies which are in line with the needs of the wider part of the population? What do you expect from him as political actions?

He will have to govern around the center, not around the left, as he did last time. If you compare the context of his first elections in 2003 and the context of this election in 2022, we have a very different situation than we had back then, a growing world wide economy, huge expectations, but also a huge potential for growth. For instance, countries like China had an impressive growth of over 10% or 11% back then, and there were resources that could be invested and redistributed. Now we are in a quite opposite situation with crises, lack of solutions, especially in terms of investment.

And one of the rare opportunities for Lula, especially in order to recreate trust and boost a little bit the lower classes who have been affected by the radical neoliberal policies of Bolsonaro would be to bet more on the raw materials, especially on resources, gas, oil and coal and other such resources. Their prices are, of course, now climbing. This could be, I think, the opportunity. The problem is that investments in these areas are bringing their fruits only several years after or the expectations of all those who mobilized for electing Lula are short term.

Another crucial file that he will have to solve quite rapidly is related to the Amazonian forests. If Bolsonaro lost massively in that area in his elections and if he was very much criticized, it was also because of his attitude towards indigenous people and because of his attitude related to the Amazonian forests with huge investment projects that were about to transform this area from a natural rampart against human and entropic intervention into business opportunities for very highly profiled business circles.

Lula will have to work in the sense of protecting Amazonia. He will have to find nevertheless alternative solutions for development, which is not easy because of course, for Bolsonaro it was not very difficult to decide that everything will be modernized and everything will be reorganized in productive, businesslike environment, not keeping into account the need for protection of the patrimony of humanity. And this will bring some development. Now, Lula has a huge problem. It would also be easy to block at the first with one in one move this these projects. But then how can you ensure the growth that is so much expected? Now we have more than a couple of millions of people waiting for solutions in order to avoid the very difficult social and economic situation, isolation and even maybe starvation for some. For some communities, that’s one really essential problem that Lula will have to solve. And there is a limited bunch of alternatives he can use. All these alternatives need consensus or what we have today is one of the most divided societies in the world if we look at the results of the elections.

For the international left Lula’s victory was the reason to celebrate not only because of Amazonia, which, if it is really saved, will contribute to saving us all as from the climate change, but also for the fact that now with Lula at the head of the biggest and most populous country in Latin America, there is only a handful of states in Central and Southern America that are led by right wing leaders. So the question is, how can in this new situation a transnational progressive policy emerge in Southern America? Perhaps our expectations as the left are too big, given the fact that Lula will need to seek compromise to keep control even of his own country. But nevertheless, I would like to ask these questions: what are the perspectives of transnational progressive policy in Latin America now? And can we expect new social models and new hope for humanity, new hope in the fight against the capitalist system emerging now from this region of the world?

I think that we are having expectations that are quite beyond the possibilities of Lula himself. Nevertheless, we also have this laboratory that will be now Brazil, with a clearly left-wing person as a president placed in a very difficult environment, forced to compromise. And of course, in these situations where you have difficulties and you have to improvise them to be inventive, maybe lots of interesting solutions will emerge.

There is indeed a group of presidents in Latin America who are all from the center left to a clear stance on the left these times. And the expectation is that Latin America will become itself a bigger laboratory of projecting and trying social inclusive policies with a specific model of development through state investments and through the equalization of the macroeconomic situation of different regions that are hugely, hugely unequal now in Latin America. I’m afraid that the timetable will be quite unfriendly for these presidents, that the period is too short to show something.

And again, if we compare with 2003 when there were opportunities for Lula and also a context of different changes in different Latin American countries, we do not have to forget that it was for the first time back then that there was a change in Bolivia with Evo Morales, who was elected as the first four decades left wing president in that country coming from an indigenous community. So back then there was a similar situation, but with a much better social economic situation and with a much higher score for these elected presidents. Now we have the same situation in that we do have majorities of the left kind in power, but with huge challenges in the social and economic terms.

And that’s that it will be very interesting to observe what would be the model that they will try to pilot as much as possible in such a way that the state will come back as not only an arbitrator but also an investor and a protector for those who in an increasing number need protection. Once again, I do think that the only envisaged solution is related to the raw materials and to the exploitation of resources in such a way that these resources will be causing ecological damage. And this narrows a lot, unfortunately, the margin of manoeuvre of these presidents to act in a decisive way and to promote social fairness. At least I am not so confident that in the end they will be able to defeat the mechanisms of capitalist society. They will be maybe just corrected after this term, and even if they succeed in doing so, I think this could be considered as a big success.

In the end, I wanted to ask about Brazil’s place in international relations on a global scale. As the new Cold War is looming between the USA on one side, and Russia and China ,on the other side, the BRICS alliance and Brazil itself needs to take sides as well. So far, the Third World and the BRICS countries were absolutely unwilling to join the anti-Russian sanctions and the Western positions. The European positions are diametrically different from theirs. Also in Central European states, some of the left wingers were very unhappy with Lula’s position on Ukraine war and on his comments that they it needs to be resolved as in the way of negotiations through dialogue, which was, from our point of view, a proof of total misunderstanding of what is going on in the region and what is Russia and now doing with Ukraine and Europe. So the question is, what will be Lula’s positions in this big geopolitical game? Will he continue in the line that the BRICS sketches in the previous months or will there be some corrections?

Yeah, I think that we have been also quite Eurocentric and we as let’s say, being a leftwing progressive, attempted to have the temptation to consider that fighting dictatorship and fighting violation of international laws is conceived, is regarded, is measured in the same way in Europe and North America as it is measured in Latin America, Africa, South East Asia and so on. The fact that the president, the candidate is progressive in terms of inclusiveness, of minority, social and economic redistribution and so on, doesn’t automatically imply a certain political stance in favor of an actor, namely in this case, Ukraine against Russia.

Of course, there is a misunderstanding. Of course there is a myth about the USSR that was perpetrated under the shape of the myth of Russia, both in Latin America and in Africa. And it affected and still affects in a quite twisted way, the progressive forces in those countries. And that’s, of course, a problem of misunderstanding. And this also shows the fact that these progressive alliances and groups are not really communicating in an effective way, that they are not relying on each other in projecting a certain position. Of course, in the case of Lula, we can talk about anti-Americanism and anti capitalism and automatically, mechanically, this could lead to different position as the position of the US on the international stage, which is a mistake because at the same time, Russia is also ultra capitalist as an international actor and at the same time it’s imperialist and now is also based on warfare exported in other in other countries.

That being said, this miscalculation that is more explicable from Latin America or from the South more generally than from Europe will influence more certainly this term of Lula. And I think that the first instinct of Lula will be to try to become some sort of a leader of the BRICS and of the South Global South in an quite independent position that will be kept in relation with the Russian Ukrainian war and the politics of non-alignment in relation with with the the West will still be present, will be also more encouraged. Bolsonaro was not at all a fan of Zelensky and himself was not very clear on the position concerning the Ukrainian Russian conflict and. I think Lula will now be encouraged, given his victory and his good image abroad, to take the leadership of this global South by trying to impose this quasi neutrality. But lots of pressures will come from both sides, and I think that the Westerners will try to slowly but steadily influence Lula and the other presidents in getting more in line with their views, showing the fact that Ukraine is the victim in this war, which is quite obvious, and that the duty of all the progressive forces is to take the side of those who have been attacked, who have been humiliated, forced by the violations of international law, as is the case now with with Ukraine. I don’t know if this plan will work on a long term, but I think that the first first half year of 2023 will be quite important in assessing Lula’s position and more generally, the BRICS new tendency in international relations.

The year 2023 will be indeed exciting on many terms, and it will be a difficult year for Brazil for Lula to establish his positions, to win back this part of the electorate that did not trust him to win back. I mean here also those who should have trusted him, given their social class and their social positions, but who nevertheless believed Bolsonaro’s propaganda or Bolsonaro’s message that Lula’s good governance can only bring catastrophe to Brazil. Indeed, the biggest country of Latin America is entering a new turmoil period, and we will be watching this, knowing perfectly what the consequences for the whole region and the whole world Brazilian politics has. This was Cross-border talks with Sergiu Mișcoiu. Thank you, Sergiu, for being with us again.

Thank you for having me here.

Yes. And I wanted to remind everybody that Cross Border Talks is available on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify. So if you prefer to watch videos, if you prefer just to listen to our discussions, everything is possible. Everything is open to you and we are waiting for you. Don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you very much.

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