Human Rights,  International

Open Letter to the President of Brazil

Labour MP, Denis MacShane, the former minister for Latin America under Tony Blair has written an open letter published in the Wall Street Journal to Lula da Silva asking why he, who once stood for human rights, is now standing with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran?

Caro Lula,

You don’t remember me but we met now and then nearly 30 years ago when you were an inspiration to labor movements around the world. Your struggle to create a strong, independent trade union in Brazil helped take your country to its democratic future.

I wrote articles about the great workers’ rights movement in the ABC region around Sao Paulo, where you organized strikes for fair pay and decent labor conditions. Proto-globalization helped you. European companies like VW and Renault had opened plants in Brazil. Your appeals for solidarity from European comrades were transmitted via the International Metalworkers Federation where I worked in exile from Margaret Thatcher’s anti-labor England. We sent over senior officials of German unions who sat on the boards of VW and Mercedes-Benz. It was one thing for Brazilian bosses to beat up Brazilian union organizers. It was another for European managers to disrespect powerful German trade-union leaders.

America’s United Autoworkers’ union also adopted you and made clear via the American labor federation that democracy in Brazil was now in your hands, not in those of the generals and oligarchs who held sway over the country. You came to Washington and I raised your case at the International Labor Organization. Don’t misunderstand me. Brazil was already en route to democracy, but you helped give it a final, decisive push.

Something similar was happening in Poland, in South Africa, and in South Korea, where worker-based organizations and independent trade unions that rejected communist and capitalist cruelties were created and helped open the way to the great democratization of the last quarter century.

That is why it is with the most profound sadness that I see you embracing the incarnation of everything that denies human rights, social justice and all the good that liberation trade unions stood for. The picture of you alongside the Iranian tyrant, President Mahmoud Ahminedejad, as if he was the best friend of democratic Brazil, has shocked all democrats around the world. This man presides over a regime that tortures, kills, imprisons and humiliates those of its citizens who dare to call for freedom and democracy. Teenagers are hanged from cranes. Street protesters are killed with impunity. Women are treated as second-class citizens and stoned to death. Writers and journalists are routinely imprisoned, their publications censured, and trade unions do not exist. Iranian gays live in terror that their sexuality will come to the notice of the fanatic, human-rights-hating clerics who rule the country with Ahmadinejad as their puppet.

Your new friend is an exterminationist who has called for the Jewish people in Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth. Your new companheiro sent rockets and bombs to Hezbollah, those terrorists and Jew-killers. He swaggers around the world threatening every democracy with his wrath. His regime is racing to obtain a nuclear bomb that would utterly destabilize the region, as Sunni powers would no doubt demand their own nuclear weapon to defend against this irrational Shia order that believes a second coming of the “Hidden Imam” and conflagration are just around the corner.

As a result, Russia faces a renewed threat from Islamist terrorism, and America and Europe have to spend billions to protect their citizens from the hate and terror encouraged and financed by your new chum.

What on earth happened to the Lula I supported and built solidarity for? I never had any illusions about Castro and the decadent, corrupt prison camp that is today’s Cuba, where writers rot in prisons and pro-democracy oppositionists like Orlando Zapata are allowed to die in jail. I did once hope that Hugo Chavez would use his charisma to make Venezuela a democracy where social justice would have more say and play. But he’s just another populist latter-day Perón. His opponents are often loathsome but his authoritarianism is not the answer.

Your global role as a champion of human rights, though, was admired everywhere. And yet, you stand with Ahminejehad, who is the negation of everything you once stood for, and everything the democracies of Europe and the rest of the world have built. Why has it come to this?

I enjoy flying in Embraer jets and support better trade and contacts with Brazil. Your great country has much to contribute to a better world, just as you once contributed to its arrival as a full, modern democracy. So why take tea with tyranny and shame your own life story?

Iran’s present leadership attacks every decent value you once represented. I still believe in those values that led me to support you against your dictators. I wish you would once again become the Lula who inspired the fighters for democracy and social justice around the world.