With the new year quickly approaching, it is almost time for Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio da Silva to take office. In October 2022, president elect Luiz Inacio da Silva, popularly known as “Lula” was announced the winner of Brazil’s 2022 presidential elections. With his victory, there is much to consider for the direction of Brazil’s foreign and domestic policy, as well as what this election means for U.S. Foreign Policy.
Lula’s recent win over Bolsonaro leaves nations breathing a sigh of relief, as many were worried about a smooth transition should Bolsonaro be defeated. At the beginning of his reelection campaign, Bolsonaro threatened that he would either “be arrested, killed, or declared winner” in the upcoming election. After his loss, he did not appear in the public for two days, causing many to worry about a potential constitutional crisis. However, the transition went smoothly, thanks in part to high ranking officials acknowledging Lula’s win, as well as the supreme court of Brazil refusing to meet with Bolsonaro until he recognized his defeat. World leaders acknowledged Lula’s victory as well, with Biden congratulating him on his “free and fair election”. With this “win for democracy”, what comes next as Lula takes the stage once again?
Lula has a long history with Brazil’s elections, beginning with his victory in the presidential election back in 2002. He was president for two terms, before being defeated in 2010. During his presidency, Lula gained popularity by being known as a man of the people. He was seen as a man who made significant strides against corruption, and was able to work with the elite in Brazil, as well as working to empower the poor class. Others saw him as a polarizing figure who only wanted power to build upon his own agenda. These differing views have given Lula the title as the “most hated and most loved man in Brazil.” In addition to his history in politics, Lula has another history of corruption. After being voted out of office at the beginning of 2011, Lula became involved in a corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash. This scandal put him in jail for over 600 days, rendering him unable to participate in the 2018 presidential elections.
Current Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro could not be more different than Lula in regards to foreign policy. Since Lula’s defeat in 2010, Brazil has turned inward and focused less on internationalist policy. While in office in his previous presidency, Lula focused largely on building international relations with other countries and pushing for a place for Brazil in world politics. Because of this background, Lula will likely force his foreign policy views upon Brazil when he enters office, marking a complete change from Bolsonaro’s presidency. Bolsonaro is known for his anti-globalist world view, and chose to focus more on domestic politics during his presidency. Additionally, since Lula left office, Brazil’s GDP growth has slowed down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a poor economy in place for Lula.
All these factors will make it hard for Lula to institute his planned domestic and foreign policy. Lula will likely turn to programs and policies he instituted in his first presidency, although in a less polarizing way, as he works to implement the lessons he learned from his last run in the office. One of his biggest promises is to work on controlling illegal activity in the Amazon rainforest. He also plans to increase social spending to help with the economic problems caused during the last presidency and because of the pandemic.
Lula’s history as an internationalist president poses many questions for the U.S. and their foreign policy. Due to the government’s unpopular and ineffective response to the pandemic, many citizens in Brazil are favoring more leftist policies. It is this leftist turn that is most concerning to the U.S., especially given their historic foreign policy in South America. Traditionally, U.S. foreign policy in South America has been to isolate leftist regimes and work with the other more powerful states in the area. However, this strategy is even more complicated now that Lula is back in power, as he pushes to become a larger player on the world stage. In his last presidency, Lula pushed the idea of the BRIC bloc of nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) as the countries that represent the emerging economic leaders of the world, as well as the biggest investors in South America - China is currently South America’s largest trading partner. Additionally, South America in general is becoming more leftist. In December 2021, leftist Gabriel Font was elected president of Chile. Colombia also elected a leftist president in June 2022. Lula has only indicated his desire to continue these leftist policies. He has expressed his intention to work towards “total peace” in Colombia, and has pledged to pursue “strategic non-alignment” with the world, showing that he will move away from traditional U.S. relations with Brazil, and not support a “new cold war between the U.S. and China”. Because of this, Lula will likely avoid picking a clear side in any conflict, including participating in the current sanctions against Russia for their part in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
With the shifting in South America, Lula has indicated his desire to move with these governments and build a new leftist order. This has several implications for U.S. foreign policy towards Brazil. There are disincentives continue to work with Brazil on isolating leftist regimes in South America. Rather, there are incentives for the U.S. to find new ways to push for “real democracy” in the region. The U.S. has been placed in a position which may force them to take a role similar to their role from before World War II - seeking to find common ground instead of wielding a large amount of power and influence to further their interests. The U.S. has an interest in new methods to continue promoting their interests in Brazil without losing all the diplomatic ground they have gained. Brazil has the potential to become a stable world democracy. Working with Lula to find common ground and new goals should be one of the United States’ top diplomatic priorities moving into the new year.