On October 30, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once again became president of Brazil.
In the first round of the election, Lula DA Silva won 48% of the vote versus 43% for the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Falling short of the 50% required to win in the first round, the election headed to a runoff vote between the two candidates. Lula won the runoff, defeating Bolsonaro 50.9% to 49.1%.
Lula’s victory could impact the world far beyond Brazil. It could send shockwaves that will be felt by the US led world order in a number of ways.
Latin American Integration
The US has long considered Latin America to be its backyard. In January, Biden promoted it to "America’s front yard." Front yard or backyard, for nearly two centuries, America has played in that backyard in a variety of meddling and violent ways that suited its own foreign policy wishes. Hegemony in its hemisphere has never been a secret: it has been official public policy. It was enshrined in the Munroe Doctrine and fortified by Theodore Roosevelt who made clear America’s right to intervene to enforce it.
Under the leadership of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an increasing number of Latin American countries are pushing back against the Munroe Doctrine, US hegemony and meddling in their region. With the election of Lula DA Silva, López Obrador and Latin America’s second largest economy is joined by Latin America’s largest economy and the most important country politically, creating a formidable partnership.
In his first incarnation as president, Lula, along with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, led the first wave of Latin American integration and resistance to American hegemony in the region; in his second, he will help lead the second.
During the campaign, Lula promised that Brazil would stake out an independent foreign policy. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and an expert on Latin America, told me that "Lula will be active in promoting economic integration in the hemisphere, as he was in during his previous presidency."
Campaigning in May, Lula stressed that integration, promising that "We are going to restore our relationship with Latin America," before suggesting that "we will create a Latin American currency." And it was not just a meaningless campaign promise. Lula’s idea of a Latin American currency called the SUR has been supported by the former Mayor of Sao Paulo Fernando Haddad and former President of Banco Fator Gabriel Galipolo.
Lula has also said that he will reorganize the Mercosur bloc, an economic and political bloc originally made up of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The isolation of Venezuela has been a corner stone of US foreign policy in Latin America. That cornerstone has recently shown signs of cracking. Argentina’s has announced that they will re-establish ties with Venezuela. Several other Latin American countries have reopened communications with Venezuela, including Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and Chile. Ecuador is also considering re-establishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela, while Argentine President Alberto Fernandez called on all Latin American countries to review their relations with Caracas.
Long the key US ally in the region in opposing and isolating Venezuela, Colombia just elected Gustavo Petro as president. On August 29, Columbia returned its ambassador to Venezuela as Petro fulfilled his election promise to fully restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
Adding the economic and political weight of Brazil would have a strong effect on the reintegration of Venezuela as Lula’s support of Chavez did in his first turn in office. In May, Lula said in an interview with Time that “I was very concerned when the U.S. and the E.U. adopted Guaidó as President of the country. You don’t play with democracy.”
Celso Amorim, Lula’s former minister of foreign affairs and his top foreign policy advisor has said that Lula’s election "would open the door for Brazil to re-engage diplomatically with neighboring Venezuela." He added that "Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump achieved little by breaking off relations with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro."
A Unipolar World
BRICS is an important international organization that aims to balance US hegemony. Its members include Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. In his first round in office, Lula was a founding member of BRICS.
In his second round in office, Lula is likely to pick up where he left off. Weisbrot told me that Lula "will pursue good relations with both the US and China, which he also did in the past." Lula has made it clear that he is going to continue to develop economic relations with China and even friendlier relations.
The replacement of Bolsonaro with Lula could have a significant impact on the way the world sees BRICS. In Biden’s Manichean division of the world into democracies and autocracies, it was possible to paint BRICS as a block of autocracies. So simply dismissing it will be more difficult with the inclusion of Lula, a supporter of democracy, fairly elected in his country and a respected international figure. Lula helped give BRICS an important role in international affairs; his return to BRICS could have that effect again.
The election of Lula will strengthen both BRICS and Brazil’s relations with China and Russia.
Even under Bolsonaro, Brazil has been reluctant either to join the US led sanctions on Russia or to vote with the US against Russia at the UN. It won’t get any easier for the US under Lula. Lula has called the sanctions a political mistake.
More important for the US, in a May 4 interview, Lula told Time that “Putin shouldn’t have invaded Ukraine. But it’s not just Putin who is guilty. The US and the E.U. are also guilty. What was the reason for the Ukraine invasion? NATO? Then the US and Europe should have said: ‘Ukraine won’t join NATO.’ That would have solved the problem.”
He went on to criticize Biden and his lack of effort at a diplomatic solution: "I don’t think he has taken the right decision on the war between Russia and Ukraine. The US has a lot of political clout. And Biden could have avoided [the war], not incited it. He could have talked more, participated more. Biden could have taken a plane to Moscow to talk to Putin. This is the kind of attitude you expect from a leader. To intervene so that things don’t go off the rails. I don’t think he did that."
Lula could play a role in altering that lack of diplomacy. Celso Amorim, says that Lula could resume his leading role in global peace talks. He says that, under Lula, Brazil would resume its policy of neutrality and peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Amorim says both that BRICS, in general, could be a forum for negotiating an end to the war and that Lula, in particular, could play an important role. Lula has good relations with, and the respect of, Russia. He has "the disposition and track record to contribute to peace talks," according to Amorim. “He has the conditions to take part in a negotiating effort, which needs to be led by the European Union and United States, but with the participation of China, obviously. Brazil can also be an important country, whose voice resonates in the developing world,” Amorim said. “The BRICS as a group could help.”
The return of Lula to Brazil and the international stage could be a challenge to the US unipolar world both regionally and internationally. Regionally, Lula could be a force for regional integration and against being treated as America’s yard, front or back. Internationally, Lula could be a force in strengthening BRICS and improving its image, in leading Latin America’s continued improvement of economic and political relations with China and Russia and in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.