Lula inaugurated, emphasizes sovereignty in Brazil’s future course
Lula’s inauguration ceremony on January 1 followed all the traditional steps that the peaceful transfer of power has followed since the return of democracy in the late 1980s.
The representatives who showed up to ring in Lula’s unprecedented third term, not to mention what the new chief executive himself had to say about his foreign policy vision during his various inauguration day addresses, offer clues as to the changing role of Latin America’s largest nation on the world stage in the years to come.
Perhaps the clearest indication that Lula intends to break from his predecessor and keep Brazil outside the geopolitical camp of the United States was the warm welcome he offered to the representatives of both Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Ahead of his swearing-in, Lula met individually with Valentina Matvienko, Chairwoman of the Russian Federation Council, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko. In his post about his meeting with Matvienko, Lula “thanked her for Putin’s greetings and expressed Brazil’s desire for peace and for the parties to find common ground to end the conflict.”
From Svyrydenko, he received well wishes from President Volodymyr Zelensky and an update on the war with Russia. “In Brazil,” he noted, “we have a tradition of defending the integrity of nations and we are going to talk to whoever is possible for peace.” Taken together, these statements offer insights into how Lula sees the conflict raging in Eastern Europe and foreign affairs more broadly.
Clearly, respect for national sovereignty will be an important pillar of Lula’s foreign policy, be it in Europe or in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, Lula has often referred to national sovereignty in denouncing foreign interference in countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, even as he has periodically criticized their regimes. By emphasizing Ukraine’s sovereignty, Lula is making a larger point about non-intervention. This is in line with what Celso Amorim, Lula’s former chief diplomat and most important foreign policy advisor, said in March of last year: “I am against the unilateral use of force…I cannot condemn the U.S. invasion of Iraq and accept another invasion.”
The fact that Lula received a Russian delegation, however, signals his intent to keep lines of communication open even as relations between Moscow and Washington, for example, have deteriorated dramatically in recent years.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who had vehemently criticized the Bolsonaro government during her time in Congress, led the U.S. delegation, calling it “the honor of a lifetime” to represent the United States at Lula’s inauguration. “As a former Congresswoman,” she tweeted of Lula’s swearing-in ceremony, “I was honored to witness democracy in action from the floor of Congress. Today’s inauguration is an exciting step forward in the work ahead for the U.S. and Brazil to ensure our strong democracies work for the benefit of all people.” It is difficult to imagine any other political gathering that could unite and excite delegations from Russia, Ukraine, Venezuela, and the United States.
Washington should recognize the exceptional nature of Brazil under Lula and not seek to unduly force his hand on matters of international affairs. Lula has demonstrated equal measures of eagerness and competence on the world stage that deserve a degree of latitude, if not deference, from the United States in this new political moment.
Until the morning of Sunday’s inauguration, it had been anticipated that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would attend the ceremony but, in the end, he failed to show although representatives of his government were present. Reportedly, fears of running afoul of U.S. sanctions had interfered with Maduro’s plans.
Indeed, Washington’s relations with Caracas will almost certainly be an issue on which Lula will seek to play a proactive role. The Biden administration, which has shown glimmers of receptivity to a new approach toward Venezuela after the gung-ho regime change efforts of the Trump administration, would do well to embrace Lula’s unparalleled credibility with left-wing governments across Latin America. In regional disputes and beyond, Lula will want to position Brazil — and himself — as a go-between for sticky diplomatic problems. A pragmatism rooted in a generally progressive worldview looks to be his administration’s calling card.
In his address to Congress, Lula also reiterated his commitment both to regional integration and to reviving the BRICS, the noted confederation of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, that rose to global prominence as promising emerging economies during Lula’s last stint in office.
“Our leadership will materialize through the resumption of South American integration, from Mercosur, the revitalization of Unasur and other instances of sovereign articulation in the region,” he declared. “On this basis we will be able to rebuild the proud and active dialogue with the United States, the European Community, China, the countries of the East and other global actors; strengthening the BRICS, cooperation with African countries and breaking the isolation to which the country was relegated.”
He went on to make a broader case for Brazil’s independence on the world stage, with a distinctive international profile that does not fit neatly in the category of pro- or anti-United States. “Brazil has to be its own master,” he stated, “the master of its destiny. It has to go back to being a sovereign country. We are responsible for most of the Amazon and for vast biomes, large aquifers, mineral deposits, oil and clean energy sources. With sovereignty and responsibility, we will be respected to share this greatness with humanity—in solidarity, never with subordination.”
Washington might see Lula’s foreign policy as a hurdle to its designs in the Americas. After all, Brazil does not perceive potential threats around the world in the same way that the United States does. This, Washington must recognize, is legitimate. It is valid that Lula, having been democratically elected, will seek to reinitiate a foreign policy agenda to which he was so committed over the last two decades. Brazil has just emerged from a perilous moment for its own democracy and will likely seek a new era of an assertive profile in international affairs. For those invested in a peaceful, and cooperative world order, Lula offers useful insights.
The United States should welcome the emergence of a bolder, democratic Brazil. A stable, confident Brazil is good for the entire Western Hemisphere — and the world.