Human Rights,  Latin America

Lula and his successor

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will complete his second four-year term on January 1, 2011. He will be succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president and the winning candidate for president in this year’s election. Like Lula, a former trade union leader, Rousseff is a member of the leftwing Workers’ Party.

By many measures, Lula’s presidency has been a tremendous success. As The Washington Post reported in October:

Under Lula, Brazil became the world’s eighth-largest economy, more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty and Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first time the Games will be held in South America. So much oil has been discovered off Brazil’s coast that energy experts talk of this country becoming a major exporter of crude.

At the same time, Lula’s government undertook innovative programs to aid Brazil’s poor– including the Bolsa Família, which provides stipends to indigent families on condition that their children attend school and are vaccinated, and the Fome Zero program to eradicate hunger.

In addition, Brazil has reduced deforestation of its Amazon region to the lowest rate since satellite observations began in 1988, an important achievement in the effort to reduce global warming.

However Lula’s approach to foreign relations has often been informed by an almost reflexive “anti-imperialist” outlook.

Earlier this year Labour MP Denis MacShane published an open letter to Lula expressing his dismay at the Brazilian president’s embrace of Iran’s despotic president Ahmadinejad on a visit to Tehran.

And while Brazil under Lula has developed into a strong democracy in which freedom of expression is protected, the Brazilian leader has all too often been willing to excuse the increasingly despotic regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with patronizing references to respecting the “local cultures” and “political traditions” of different countries.

So it was somewhat encouraging to read the following in a Washington Post interview president-elect Rousseff, who was jailed and tortured by Brazil’s military regime in the early 1970s:

Does having been a political prisoner give you more sympathy for other political prisoners?

There is no question about that. Due to the fact that I experienced personally the situation of a political prisoner, I have an historical commitment to all those that were or are prisoners just because they expressed their views, their public opinion, their own opinions.

So, will that affect your policy toward Iran, for example? Why is Brazil supporting a country that allows people to be stoned, that jails journalists?

I believe that it is necessary for us to make a differentiation in [what we mean when we refer to Iran]. I consider [important] the strategy of building peace in the Middle East. What we see in the Middle East is the bankruptcy of a policy – of a war policy. We are talking about Afghanistan and the disaster that was the invasion of Iraq. We did not manage to build peace, nor did we manage to solve Iraq’s problems. Iraq today is in civil war. Every day soldiers on both sides die. To try to build peace and not to go to war is the best way.

[But] I do not endorse stoning. I do not agree with practices that have medieval characteristics [when it comes] to women. There is no nuance; I will not make any concessions on that matter.

Brazil abstained from voting on the recent U.N. human rights resolution.

I am not the president of Brazil [today], but I would feel uncomfortable as a woman president-elect not to say anything against the stoning. My position will not change when I take office. I do not agree with the way Brazil voted. It’s not my position.

I don’t understand what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have to do with human rights in Iran. But let’s hope Rousseff will be less cozy with Ahmadinejad than Lula was, and more willing to speak out about repression in Iran and other countries, particularly against women.

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