Don't worry, Brazilian Bolsonaristas — Lula's a lot like Jair (and Donald)
COMMENTARY Conservative Brazilians feared Lula's new presidency — but it turns out he's much like their man, Jair Bolsonaro, when it comes to not defending democracy.
I bear boas notícias — good news — for Florida’s army of Bolsonaristas. You may have won last October’s Brazilian presidential election after all!
I’m not saying your right-wing candidate — former President Jair Bolsonaro — actually triumphed in his re-election bid. He definitely lost (and despite every petulant fantasy you cling to, it wasn’t due to vote fraud). No, I’m saying that even though Bolsonaro tanked, it looks like you won — because the left-winger who beat him, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is turning out to be no different than Bolsonaro when it comes to clueless, callous disregard for defending democracy.
Lula’s clumsy bid to make Brazil a peace broker in Ukraine — an effort he’s trumpeting during his visit to China this week — is the latest example.
Lula himself may not be the wannabe autocrat Bolsonaro is. But in recent days he’s shown us again that he has a muito Bolsonarista soft spot for tyrants like Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — starting with his unwillingness to condemn the Stalinist madness of Putin’s year-old, Neanderthal invasion of Ukraine.
Last week Lula said that Putin “needs to think about” his murderous incursion there. (Whoa, Senhor Presidente, that must have made the Kremlin’s onion domes tremble!) Then in the same breath he suggested Ukraine give Russia the Crimean peninsula, which Putin already illegally invaded and annexed in 2014.
You tell a head of state who’s wearing socks with sandals that he “needs to think about it.” You tell a head of state who’s committing the criminal rape of a neighboring democratic republic that he needs to withdraw his troops and tanks before the sort of diplomatic negotiation Lula hinted at can even be considered. And until then, you don’t urge the victimized nation to make a concession that will only embolden the serial victimizer nation to keep victimizing other nations.
But as I mentioned, this is just Lula’s latest display of making apologies for despotic thugs.
He’s been uttering addled foreign policy statements since he started his 2.0 presidency on New Year’s Day. Like his jaw-dropping defense of Venezuelan dictator and lefty fraternity brother Nicolás Maduro back in January. Maduro stole his 2018 re-election; he’s engineered the worst humanitarian crisis in modern South American history; he stands accused by the U.N. of crimes against humanity. But Lula insisted he’s just a terribly misunderstood man of the people, put upon by U.S.-led “interference,” who needs some “carinho,” or affection.
You tell a head of state who’s wearing socks with sandals that he “needs to think about it.” You tell one who's criminally raping a neighboring democratic republic that he needs to withdraw his troops and tanks. Period.
I realize Lula is trying to pick up where his last presidency left off 12 years ago. Brazil had become the world’s sixth-largest economy, thanks largely to Chinese demand for soybeans. Lula wanted to parlay that into geopolitical clout and make Brazil an influential new international mediator — a more neutral alternative to U.S. hegemony in a more multi-polar world.
Which was all fine, even encouraging. Brazil’s big attempt at that time to prove itself a global go-between was a 2010 deal that it and Turkey crafted to let Iran pursue nuclear energy amid U.S. and international efforts to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. It was a welcome, well-intentioned effort, albeit one that was ultimately naïve and overly ambitious.
But Lula today doesn’t seem all that adeptly tuned in to the world that’s emerged since 2010. Maybe back then his non-interventionist ideals — a Latin American mindset born from the bruises of 20th-century U.S. meddling in the region — were still relevant. Today, when populist monsters like Putin and Maduro are increasingly the new order, they can feel precariously quaint.
It’s bad enough Lula looks aligned on Russia with leftist authoritarians like Maduro and Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega, who not only defend Putin but embrace him as a kindred, anti-U.S. spirit despite his own imperialist atrocities.
Lula also looks joined at the hip on the issue with all the right-wing anti-democrats he supposedly scorns. Like former U.S. President Donald Trump, an unabashed Putin admirer who just last month reiterated his own fawning apologies for the Ukraine onslaught, calling it a trifling “territorial dispute.” And especially the leader Lula just replaced — Bolsonaro — who on the eve of the Ukraine assault last year expressed his gushing “solidarity” with Vladimir the Terrible.
It's enough to make Bolsonaristas in Florida and across Brazil feel like winners again.