By John Fitzpatrick
President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has made Africa an important part of his foreign policy. He claims that Brazil owes a lot to Africa as much of the country’s wealth was created by black slaves. Lula has visited Africa several times over the last four years. He has reiterated Brazil’s connections and stated that he wants to see African countries get a better deal from the developed world. However, recent events have shown that while Lula is always ready to condemn the West for its treatment of Africans, his condemnation stops short of upsetting African governments which mistreat their own people. Brazil joined undemocratic countries like Cuba, China and various African and Arab states in refusing to support a United Nations resolution condemning the Sudanese government for its policy in the Darfur region where the UN says some 200,000 people have died since 2003. The mainly Arab government has supported militias which have been terrifying the mainly black Christian and animist population in a long-running war against rebels demanding greater autonomy. In this case, Lula has conveniently forgotten Brazil’s debt to the African people and turned his back on Darfur, a region described by the UN as the scene of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, mass rape, massive forced displacement and other abuses during the past three years.”
We should not be surprised at Brazil’s refusal to condemn the Sudanese government’s behavior. First of all, it will strengthen Brazil’s anti-American credentials with the developing countries Lula professes to represent. Secondly, it could bring a pay-off in terms of trade, as we will see later in this article, and thirdly, it reflects Brazil’s ambiguous record in supporting human rights.
For example, Brazil has never supported UN resolutions condemning human rights violations in Cuba. In this case, Brazil (and many other Latin American countries) has refused to do so in solidarity with Cuba in the face of the American economic blockade which has lasted 40 years. One can understand this since US policy against Cuba has been inconsistent, unfair and ineffective. Richard Nixon, a committed anti-Communist, traveled to China in 1972 to open diplomatic relationships yet no US President has had the courage to start a dialogue with Cuba. This behavior has only strengthened the grip of Communist dictator Fidel Castro and reinforced the widespread anti-Americanism in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
However, the Darfur case is different. Brazil has no historical or cultural links with Sudan. Full diplomatic relations were only established when Sudan set up its embassy in Brasilia two years ago. In fact, it was only this year that Brazil decided to set up an embassy in Khartoum. The Sudanese embassy has an impressive web site in Portuguese and English containing propaganda about Darfur including two anti-American articles published in 2004 and 2005 by the UK papers The Observer and The Guardian. I assume the headlines are original although I would not be surprised if they had been doctored. It is difficult to believe that even a left-wing paper like The Observer would publish a headline like “Darfur Wasnt Genocide and Sudan is not a Terrorist State.”
Lula’s reasons for refusing to back the UN condemnation are more likely to be connected to trade opportunities. The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper published an interview from Geneva with a senior Sudanese finance ministry official in which he said that within a few months an agreement was expected to be signed with Petrobras to allow it to exploit Sudan’s oil reserves. The official said negotiations were at an advanced stage. He added that agreements could also be reached in the sugar sector. An article on the Brazilian foreign ministry site, published by the Agncia de Notcias Brasil-rabe in February this year, says that Brazilian exports to Sudan rose from US$ 7.9 million in 2003 to US$ 48.9 million in 2004 and US$ 69.3 million last year. While this is a big increase, the amount involved is not impressive and promises of big deals in the future often come to nothing. It looks as though Lula is selling his conscience cheaply.
Lula’s craven approach has been condemned within Brazil but only by a small group of newspaper columnists whose views have no weight or influence. No political party has raised the issue and the churches have kept quiet. Brazil has enough problems of its own to tackle and Darfur is far away so Lula will come under no pressure to change his approach.
Finally, this issue highlights once again how Brazil’s black population is not nearly as organized or influential as American’s black population. President George Bush has come under strong pressure from black American and Christian groups – as well as entertainers like George Clooney who has recently visited Darfur – but Brazilian black and Christian groups have been virtually silent. It also shows that the newly-acquired politically correct references Lula made to helping blacks, Indians and women in his victory speech were meaningless.
Note: The sources for this article include the Estado de S. Paulo (15.12.06) and the following sites – United Nations, BBC World Service, Sudanese embassy in Brasilia and Brazilian foreign ministry.
John Fitzpatrick 2006
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?“