Friday, July 09, 2010

Lula – one of the world’s most intelligent politicians

Lula – one of the world’s most intelligent politicians
By The Post
Fri 09 July 2010, 04:50 CAT

It is not surprising that Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva is the first Brazilian President to visit our country. It takes an intelligent leader with a clear and correct view of the world like Lula to do that. There is no doubt Lula is one of the world’s most intelligent politicians today with a messianic view of the world.

And it is a great honour for our country to host such a leader even if it was just for one night. We would have loved to have him in our country for a much longer period so that he can meet many Zambians from various walks of life and have a proper feel of the challenges and problems facing our people and the prospects for the future.

And looking at where Brazil is coming from, its subservient past, bound to the United States national security strategy as any in Latin America in the decades before, the reforms that have taken place in that country are a source of great pride and hope for all the peoples of the Third World.

A reformed Brazil has shed its subservient past. Instead of becoming a victim of globalization, like many in the underdeveloped South, Brazil emerged a victor to claim a leading role in world affairs.

Just how much Brazil’s standing under the presidency of Lula has changed was recently evidenced during United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s trip to Latin America in March this year. While in Brasilia, Clinton requested Brazil’s support for a new round of sanctions against Iran for its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Her plea was a perfect chance for Brazil to fall in line with the United States after Lula’s recent overtures towards Iran, including a warm reception granted to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in November last year.

Instead, Brazil bluntly dismissed Clinton’s petition, saying: “We will not simply bow down to an evolving consensus if we do not agree.” Brazil’s curt refusal to tow Washington’s line spoke volumes more about this country’s new found self-assurance.

The source of this new frame of mind is the country’s transformation from macroeconomic basket case to a stable economy during the past 16 years.

Under the leadership of two exceptionally good leaders, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula, the country improved its economic performance and, above all, cured a chronic case of high inflation. It accomplished all this while putting in place successful social programmes and preserving crucial state functions, notably in the realm of research and development.

The result has been a reduction of poverty – from 48 per cent of the population in 1990 to less than 26 per cent in 2009 – and rapid expansion of the middle class, always good news for democratic consolidation.

To put it simply, the convergence of political stability, honest and intelligent political leadership and sound economic policies allowed Brazil to unleash its natural potential just as globalization was gathering pace.

Exports of Brazil have grown five-fold in two decades, pushing trade from 11 per cent of GDP in 1990 to 18 per cent in 2009.

Crucially, this trend has been coupled with more diversified trading relations, in which countries like Iran and, above all, China play more visible roles. Indeed, in 2009 China surpassed the US as both Brazil’s largest trading partner and export market.

Massive recent oil discoveries give Brazil the second largest oil reserves in South America (12.6 billion barrels). Combined with large scale ethanol production (37 per cent of the world’s total), and huge soybean exports (32 per cent of the world’s total), among many other assets, Brazil has become an energy and commodity powerhouse.

This is not the only transformation Lula has brought that bolsters Brazil’s growing economic might. Once the largest debtor in the developing world, today Brazil is a lender even to the International Monetary Fund.

Even more remarkably, while the country continues to attract large quantities of foreign direct investment (US $45 billion in 2008 alone), it has become a major investor in its own right. In 2006, Brazil became a significant net foreign investor, a feat not seen in any other Latin American country.

Moreover, any account of why the country emerged virtually unscathed from the global economic crisis must take into account the conspicuous role of the state-owned Brazilian Development Bank, which today boasts of a larger lending portfolio than the World Bank.

The combination of heavy presence in the crucial commodity markets, more diverse commercial links and greater financial autonomy have compounded Brazil’s sheer size to give it unprecedented diplomatic clout.

Lula has intervened in most of the Latin American political or diplomatic crises. While Lula’s personal appeal is part of the reason, structural factors are at play, too, including the sudden proliferation of regional organizations – notably the recently launched Latin American and Caribbean Community of States – that threatens to hollow out the mandate and relevance of the US dominated Organization of American States.

The new outfits, which pointedly exclude the US and Canada, are tangible signs of Brazil’s intervention to redraw the western hemisphere’s diplomatic architecture, suiting the leadership role that the country envisions play in South America.

Nothing perhaps demonstrates Brazil’s new confidence as its relations with Iran, a trade partner to the tune of US $1.3 billion a year – nearly all in Brazilian exports. Iran’s nuclear dispute with the US and Europe offers Brazil the opportunity to assert its autonomy.

Brazil has not forgotten being at the receiving end of the US hectoring during the 1970s regarding the development of its own nuclear programme.

To those who don’t understand what is going on, giving Iran the benefit of the doubt on the nuclear issue may appear either as naïve or cynical on Brazil’s part.

Yet, for many Brazilians, the stance is simply a rejection of their past subservience to the US. Lula’s position on Iran may be irksome and even prove unsustainable, but it is not devoid of rationality.

Above all, it’s a message of independence vis-a-vis the United States that Brazil can afford as never before.

These are the benefits of having an honest, intelligent and well meaning political leadership. Those old jokes we used to hear about Brazil and its inflation are history.

A cruel and oft-repeated joke says that Brazil is the country of the future…and will always be. As Clinton found out, easy going Brazilians are not willing to be the butt of jokes anymore. They act as though the future has finally arrived. With a leader like Lula at the helm of Brazil, they may well be right.

Let’s learn from Brazil, let’s learn from Lula about how a country can transform itself in such a short time and how good leadership can make this possible.



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