What the meeting with Fernández says about Lula's future foreign policy in Latin America

The return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) to power in Brazil encouraged left and extreme left leaders in Latin America. Shortly after being declared the winner of the election, the president-elect received congratulations from several neighboring heads of state, such as Gabriel Boric of Chile and Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. One of the most enthusiastic was the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, who, in addition to celebrating Lula’s victory on his social media, came to Brazil the day after the election to greet him personally.

In a video published after the meeting, Fernández stated that “Latin America has been working together, in recent years, to defend democratic coexistence”. “Lula is a central actor to guarantee the unity and regional integration of our peoples”, he added. The Argentine president also stated that Lula should pay a visit to his country even before assuming the presidency of Brazil.

Lula’s election is seen as a good news for the Fernández government, which is facing, in addition to an economic crisis, a political crisis and is concerned about the impact this could have on the presidential elections of 2023 in Argentina.

“Within Kirchnerism, Lula’s triumph is seen as a reason for hope. Thus, they try to link themselves to Lula’s victory to show that their allies win in the region, as has already happened in Colombia, which could also happen in Argentina. . As if the regional could impact the place, when in practice it is not so”, evaluates Flavio Gonzalez, lawyer, master in International Relations and professor at the University of Buenos Aires.

He highlights that the bad political moment of Fernández and his group is related to the poor performance of the economy and the high inflation. Last month, the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Census announced that inflation accumulated in 33 months reached 2008%.

The commercial relationship between Brazil and Argentina was one of the subjects discussed by Fernandez with Lula. According to the Argentine newspaper Pagina , the import of gas from the Vaca Muerta megafields into Brazil was one of the topics of conversation. “The gas that we can extract from Vaca Muerta can supply the entire south of Brazil,” the Argentine president told journalists who followed his trip to São Paulo last week, adding that Lula was “very interested.”

“Argentina has the gas pipeline that we are building, which finally has a second section that will reach the border with Brazil and has the possibility of giving Brazil the gas that needs and that today Bolivia, due to a drop in production, is not able to supply either Argentina or Brazil”, he explained.

An “A” in the BRICS?

Another point of interest for Fernández in a closer relationship with the Lula government is a possible support that Brazil can give for Argentina to be integrated into the Brics, a bloc that brings together the largest emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The agenda did not advance in the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL), which has resisted the entry of new members into Brics as it understands it as a more select group of countries. The Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, on the other hand, defended the inclusion of Argentina in the Brics Bank, as the New Development Bank (NDB) is known.

Lula did not comment on the topics discussed at the meeting with Fernández, but the PT’s main adviser on foreign policy matters, Celso Amorim, defended the inclusion of Argentina in the BRICS.

“It’s good to have balance within the BRICS and have a bigger role for Latin America,” Amorim said in an interview with Reuters in mid-October. “I think the eventual inclusion of Argentina would be positive,” he added. Other countries are also interested in being part of the BRICS, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Lula should seek resumption of UNASUR

In the succinct plan of government guidelines that he presented to the electoral justice as a candidate, Lula defends the integration of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, “with aimed at maintaining regional security and promoting an integrated development of our region, based on potential productive complementarities between our countries”.

He quotes, in addition to the BRICS, the strengthening of Mercosur, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), a bloc that seeks cooperation between 33 countries in the region.

UNASUR, created in

by Lula and other leftist presidents of the time who sought to create a space independent of the influence of the United States, is a different case. The group was practically emptied in 2019, after the election of several right-wing presidents in South America. At the time, these leaders created Prosul, which is also a regional cooperation group, but which distinguished itself mainly by opposing the Venezuelan regime of Maduro.

)Just four years later, the scenario was reversed. The resumption of power in several South American countries by the left – such as Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia, in addition to Brazil – will give strength to an eventual resumption of UNASUR.

However, for Carlos Eduardo Vidigal, PhD in International Relations and professor at the University of Brasília (UnB), the recovery of regional forums will also depend on the US position in relation to these institutions.

“The South American Defense Council, linked to UNASUR, had no US presence, but US security concerns [na região] I don’t know if there will be political conditions for this resumption”, ponders Vidigal.

In addition to the international situation, the composition of the Brazilian Congress from 2023 may impose limits to more ideological impetus on the part of the PT government.

“Domestically Lula will be pulled to the center because Congress has a lot of participation in foreign policy. He will have to balance himself and make a policy that speaks to everyone, rebuilding ties mainly in South America”, says Vinícius Rodrigues Vieira, professor at FAAP (Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado) and at FGV (Fundação Getulio Vargas).

In addition to alliances with leftist governments, Denilde Holzhacker, professor of International Relations at ESPM, believes that Lula’s new government should also dialogue with governments of the center and right, as is the case with Uruguay’s current incumbent, Luis Lacalle Pou, who also congratulated Lula on his victory last week, to address economic issues, migration, combating drug trafficking, poverty alleviation policies and other social issues.

“It is a range of regional aspects that can be promoted, regardless of the ideological profile of the government of the surrounding countries. Uruguay and Paraguay, with governments more to the right, should also be part of this alliance”, says Holzhacker.

Partnership with Cuba resumed?

Miguel Díaz-Canel, dictator in Cuba, was also one of the first Latin American leaders to congratulate the elected president of Brazil on his victory. “Dear brother Lula, I congratulate you on behalf of the Cuban government and people, who celebrate your great victory in favor of Latin American and Caribbean unity, peace and integration. Always count on Cuba,” he wrote on Twitter.

The closeness between Lula and the Cuban leaders dates back decades. More recently, in January 2021, the PT visited Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. According to Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban dictatorship, Lula “thanked the Cuban people for the expressions of solidarity in demanding their full freedom and condemned the intensification of the blockade and the incorporation of Cuba into the List of Countries Sponsoring Terrorism by the government of [então] president [dos EUA], Donald Trump”.

One of the main milestones of this relationship between PT governments and the island was the Mais Médicos program, implemented by the then president Dilma Rousseff (PT) in 2013.

The program foresaw an increase in the number of vacancies for graduation in Medicine and in medical residencies, the improvement of the infrastructure of health equipment and the call of doctors to work in regions considered a priority by the SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde).

The call for hiring professionals gave priority to Brazilians, but foreign doctors could also participate, which made it possible to act. thousands of Cuban doctors in Brazil, through an agreement with the Castro dictatorship for the export of medical services. In November 2019, however, after several criticisms from Bolsonaro, Cuba announced that it would withdraw from the program.

Cuba continues to export medical manpower to dozens of countries. According to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, the sector represented half of all services exported by the country in 2020, which, in turn, totaled 80% of the country’s total exports.

But a reissue of the partnership in Brazil in the new Lula government is uncertain. There is no provision for an agreement with Cuba in the new version of Mais Médicos that the PT intends to implement, which should be more focused on Brazilian professionals.

The Senator Humberto Costa (PT-PE) stated, in an interview with the newspaper O Globo, that the government should pay good salaries and ensure that doctors do not stay “too long in places where living conditions are not easy”. “[Vamos analisar a questão de] housing, some kind of bonus. But we will unfold this when the transition team is assembled”, he said.

The PT is also studying to seek out Brazilian doctors trained abroad to work in places in that it is not possible to fill vacancies with professionals trained here. A smaller portion of the vacancies could be occupied by doctors from other countries.

Relationship with the Venezuelan dictatorship

Another regional change that should come with the new government is Brazil’s position in relation to Venezuela.

Since the beginning of his government, President Bolsonaro has adopted a stance of isolation from the Venezuelan dictatorship. He was one of the first rulers to recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela still in 2019 and approved the credentials of Maria Teresa Belandria as Venezuelan ambassador and representative of the Guaidó government in Brazil. With Lula, that must change.

Federal deputy Paulo Pimenta (PT-RS) said, in an interview with Folha de S. Paulo, that the recognition of Maduro as president of Venezuela “will be done immediately” by the Lula government, with the exchange of ambassadors at the beginning of


Regarding the situation of Belandria and advisors who work with her, Pimenta said that they will be able to remain in Brazil, but without the status of diplomats.

Last week, Maduro said, on his social media, that he spoke by phone with Lula. “We agree to resume the Binational Cooperation Agenda between our countries. We appreciate your willingness,” said the de facto representative of Venezuela.

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