The Biden Stop on Lula’s World Tour

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in Washington, D.C., last Friday for meetings with President Joe Biden and, earlier in the day, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Just over a month into his unprecedented third term, Lula is eager to turn the page on the calamitous administration of Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is traveling the world, visiting Argentina and Uruguay to signal a recommitment to South American integration, hosting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brasília, and meeting Biden to reset Brazil’s relationship with the United States. His aim is clear: restore Brazil’s reputation as a country that can collaborate with almost anyone.

Lula and Biden seemed to hit it off. A private meeting scheduled to take 15 minutes lasted almost an hour. Numerous reports pointed out the rapport the two men seemed to enjoy in the Oval Office, and Biden accepted an official invitation to visit Brazil at some point before the end of his term. Afterward, Lula called Biden the most worker-friendly president in US history, a dubious assessment the Brazilian president said was largely shared by union officials he met with on his last day in Washington. Lula and Biden had previously spoken over the phone, with the US president congratulating Lula on his election, his inauguration, and expressing his support after the antidemocratic insurrection in Brasília on January 8, but this was their first time meeting in person. The hope for both sides is that direct personal engagement can lead to the implementation of policies that both countries see as shared priorities.

In a joint statement released after their meeting, the two leaders committed to working together on several issues that are uncontroversial for their respective political projects—combating climate change and racism, supporting democracy and human rights. These are substantive matters that these hemispheric powers can and should be working closer to address. Biden, for example, reportedly said he will work with Congress to contribute $50 million to the Amazon fund, a mechanism through which foreign governments can contribute to preservation efforts in the world’s largest rain forest. Although the Brazilian government was hoping for more, this contribution—and US officials indicated that it was just an initial investment—is being hailed as an illustration of Brazil’s renewed stature in global affairs. (By contrast, Bolsonaro threatened violent retribution for any government that intervened in the Amazon.)

But there are also areas of disagreement that will test the relationship. Lula and Biden, the statement read, “deplored the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia and the annexation of parts of its territory as flagrant violations of international law and called for a just and durable peace.” This is the strongest language that the Brazilian government has used to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lula had previously offered oblique critiques of Vladimir Putin, but he had also suggested there was blame enough to go around and that parties uninvolved in the conflict should mediate a peaceful resolution. That position was discordant with the Biden administration’s insistence that it is up to Ukraine to decide when to talk peace and that, until then, the United States will continue to provide arms, aid, and other forms of support.

Read the full piece in The Nation.