Lula in Portugal Counters Opposition with Peace Proposal for Ukraine
April 24, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)—Brazilian President Lula da Silva arrived in Portugal on April 22 for four days, after which he will go on to Spain. Traveling with a large delegation, including eight cabinet ministers, his trip was intended to bolster relations with the European Union and sign important economic and trade agreements. Lula also said that he would use his trip to promote the free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and the four-nation Common Market of the South (Mercosur), consisting of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
That agreement is fraught with controversy, however, due to EU environmentalist demands made on the Mercosur countries and opposition from EU farm and industrial sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. Negotiations on the agreement have gone on for over 20 years and even though a draft agreement was signed in 2019, it has yet to be ratified.
Lula himself has said he wants the FTA to go through, but with the caveat that it must be “balanced” so as not to interfere with Brazil’s reindustrialization plans. The EU wants this agreement, to allow it greater access to Ibero-American markets and diversify “away from China”; but recognizes this will require large investments in energy, digital and other sectors to compete with China which is a major trading partner to several countries in the region.
Brazil has an important historical, cultural, economic and trade relationship with Portugal, and Lula’s trip was intended to restore those relations after four years of the fascist Bolsonaro government. Although Portugal is a NATO member which solidly backs Ukraine, Lula was warmly greeted by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister Antonio Costa and signed 13 cooperation agreements. But there was an obvious attempt by the political opposition and allied media to create a hostile environment for the Brazilian President around the Ukraine issue, which wasn’t entirely successful.
Prior to Lula’s arrival, on April 19, Politico reported it had accessed a confidential document prepared by EU foreign affairs officials for today’s meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, saying the EU was “concerned about Brazil’s position on Russia’s war on Ukraine and Brazil’s lack of delivery on climate [and] environment,” fearing this could jeopardize the entire EU-Mercosur FTA. Politico editorialized that Lula’s remarks in China, arguing that the EU and U.S. weapons flow into Ukraine was prolonging the war and that Ukraine was as responsible for the war as Russia, “signal a clear shift toward Beijing, away from neutrality.”
At Lula’s April 22 joint press conference with Rebelo de Sousa, some media confronted Lula on his Ukraine policy, and a group of Ukrainian exiles staged a protest in front of the Brazilian Embassy. Lula was to have given an important address in Parliament on April 25, the 49th anniversary of the 1974 “Carnation Revolution” which put an end to the dictatorial Estado Novo regime in Portugal imposed by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, but he canceled his appearance, as the political opposition had planned to stage a walkout or some other form of protest during his speech. Rui Rocha, leader of the Liberal Initiative, warned that the Parliament “cannot receive an ally of Putin like Lula.”
Lula nonetheless skillfully countered hostile questions at the press conference with a discussion of his peace initiative. He condemned Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, which he said violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but insisted that what Brazil seeks is peace. Since neither Ukraine nor Russia have shown they want to stop the war, he said, he announced he would travel to neither Kiev nor Moscow until “there is a possibility of effectively having a climate of building peace.” On April 21, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy had invited Lula to Kiev to witness the effects of “Russian aggression,” but Lula said he would send his foreign policy advisor Celso Amorim instead.
“The war is doing great harm to humanity,” Lula explained, so “we have to find a group of people willing to talk about peace ... rather than choose sides, I prefer to find a third way,” UOL Noticias reported him saying. “If you don’t talk about peace, you’re contributing to war.” He recalled that he turned down German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s appeal for Brazil to send weapons to Ukraine, because, had he agreed, then Brazil “would be in the war and Brazil doesn’t want war.” The only war that interests him, he said, is the one to combat hunger in his country which affects 30 million Brazilians.