The Itamaraty Palace is the headquarters of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It features a reflecting pool in front and a concrete bridge that opens onto the largest pillar-free lobby in Latin America: 2,800 square meters, which has one of the most beautiful spiral staircases in the world on its left bank. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the complex is crowned by a ground floor that forms a circular balcony. On Sunday evening the balcony was full of people.
17 Presidents and Heads of State and representatives of 120 countries awaited the arrival of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who at that time, around 9 p.m. in Brazil, was still in the Planalto Palace, the seat of the executive oath to his 37 ministers. When the host finally arrived, there was a great uproar. A “Lula, Lula” could be heard and cell phones blinked like stars. After four years of Brazil at odds with its neighbors, severed ties with the United States and attacked Chinese Communism, a new president has vowed to bring it back to the world.
During the first two Labor Party governments between 2003 and 2010, the world worshiped Lula and Brazil. Impossible not to be dazzled by this mechanical, ungraduate turner who rose to the presidency of Latin America’s largest democracy. And that has also lifted millions of people out of poverty. Those were years of telephone diplomacy. Dozens of trade disputes within Mercosur, the common market Brazil shares with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, have been settled by a call between the presidents. And if an obstacle was put in Unasur’s path, a conversation between Lula and Venezuelan Hugo Chávez was enough to remove it. With Lula, Brazil joined the Bric, the select group of emerging markets, complemented by Russia, China and India. He also managed to organize a World Cup and Olympic Games. During a G20 summit, Barack Obama went so far as to say he “loved” Lula.
The president has not lost his aura in the eyes of foreigners, given the reception he received in Itamaraty and the international appeal that led to his inauguration in Brasilia, three times that received by Jair Bolsonaro four years ago. Lula spoke of “reconstruction” this Sunday, and that includes external relations. “The eyes of the world looked at us during the elections. Our commitment is to Mercosur and the other sovereign nations in our region. We will conduct an active dialogue with the United States, the European Union and China. We will make more alliances from now on to have more strength. Brazil must be master of its destiny, it must be a sovereign country,” he said in his inaugural address to Congress.
If he wants to keep his promise, he has to retrace the path of his predecessor. Bolsonaro focused his entire foreign policy on the relationship with Donald Trump. When Joe Biden won the election, he was the last president to congratulate him. At the same time, he lashed out at China at the United Nations, viewing it as the evil country behind an alleged communist offensive in the world. Beijing this Sunday sent its Vice President Wang Qisha to Brasilia at the head of a high-level delegation, in a testament to the importance the two countries place on their trade relationship. 27% of all Brazilian exports go to China.
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Subscribe toThe King of Spain, Felipe VI, greets Lula, the new President of Brazil, in front of the Brazilian’s wife, Janja, during a photo session after the inauguration ceremony. Lela Beltrao
The new foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, has announced that Lula will visit Beijing in the first three months of his term. He will also travel to the United States to meet with Joe Biden. Relations with the United States have been hit the hardest. Washington sent a second-line delegation to Brasilia, led by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Juan González, the Colombian who is the president’s key adviser on Latin America.
Foreign Minister Vieria referred to the relationship with the European Union, which was strained by the delay in ratifying the free trade agreement signed with Mercosur in June 2019. Countries like France have so far refused to move forward because Bolsonaro is doing little against the EU’s defense of the Amazon. “Taking into account the environmental policy improvements announced by Lula, I believe that a number of difficulties can be resolved,” Vieira said two weeks ago during a press conference at the Cultural Center of the Bank of Brazil, seat of the Transitional Government. This Sunday Spain was crowned by King Felipe VI. represent. Emmanuel Macron did not travel to Brazil but posted a message on his social media congratulating his “great friend” Lula with a “We are together” between exclamation marks.
Lula will have fewer problems with his neighbors, who welcomed him with open arms. Bolsonaro had built bridges with most countries in the region — he didn’t speak to Argentinian Alberto Fernández and called Colombian Gustavo Petro a “former left-wing guerrilla fighter” — whom he accused of working in the service of communism. Lula’s accession to power heralds a radical turn in relations, as it completes the left turn initiated by Fernández and continued by Petro and Chilean Gabriel Boric.
The three were in Brasilia this Sunday, as were the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The big absence was Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro, despite Lula’s attempts to have him among the guests. The new president managed to get the Bolsonaro government to lift the ban on Maduro entering the country, but it was too late. Venezuela was represented by the President of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodríguez. Lula is back and hopefully Brazil will be too.
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