Differences over the war in Ukraine were not enough to undermine the revival of Brazil-U.S. relations that Lula was aiming for with his visit to Washington. But even though his meeting with Biden was a success, those differences remain: Lula said no, loud and clear, to his U.S. counterpart regarding any involvement by Brazil, just as he had said first to Macron and then to Scholz regarding the supply of tank ammunition to Ukraine.
The role he wants for his country is something very different: as he reiterated in the interview granted to Globo’s Washington correspondent Raquel Krähenbühl, he envisions “a kind of G20 for peace”: a group of neutral countries with enough cards to play to try to convince both Putin and Zelensky to stop the war (not without acknowledging that the former was “wrong” in invading Ukraine). “Brazil can do it,” Lula claimed, together with Mexico, Indonesia, China, India: “We can find a solution to pacify the world.”
After all, faced with the risk that the war will be prolonged indefinitely, “there has to be an argument to convince [Putin] to stop the war,” Lula continued, sharing that he had proposed to Biden an initiative along these lines coming from his government, in line with what Brazil had done with the U.S. at the time of the Iraq war and with Iran on the issue of enriched uranium. In short, this would be a matter of “putting into practice” the country’s previous experience in order to find a solution. And, while Lula understandably did not want to share anything about Biden’s reaction, he expressed confidence that the latter had “clarity” about his message: “I think he got my message, and let’s see what happens from now on.”
Whether Biden got Lula’s message or not, his administration seems, on the contrary, to be sparing no effort to involve Latin America in the conflict as well – at least according to Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, who revealed at an Atlantic Council think tank event in mid-January that Washington had asked six Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru) to donate military equipment they had purchased from Russia to Ukraine – because that’s what Ukrainian soldiers are most used to – in exchange for having it replaced with U.S. equipment.
The response, however, was not what they had expected. “I prefer that such old Russian weapons remain as scrap on Colombian land rather than using them to promote the armed conflict in Ukraine,” said Gustavo Petro on January 25 about the answer given to Gen. Richardson during her visit to Colombia in September, stressing that the country’s constitution called for peace in international relations.
On the same day, Mexican President López Obrador, who had criticized Germany’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, was equally clear-cut. The most Washington had gotten, in the end, was the silence of Ecuador and Peru.
Speaking before the Atlantic Council, the Southern Command chief was even more revealing: after pointing to China (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru’s main trading partner) and Russia as the major rivals of the United States in Latin America, Gen. Richardson listed in the clearest terms all the real reasons for the region’s fundamental importance to U.S. “national security”: lithium, oil, rare earths, the Amazon and freshwater reserves. “We have to step up our game,” she concluded – a strange coda, seeing that the “game” has been ongoing for a very long time.
In any case, Gen. Richardson’s “game” also involves Peru, where Ambassador Lisa Kenna, who (in an uncanny coincidence) met with Defense Minister Gustavo Bobbio Rosas just the day before Castillo’s ousting, immediately offered full support to the “traitorous” new president Boluarte. All this with a twofold objective: to hinder Chinese investment in the country (amounting to $30 billion) and to obtain the renewal, on the most favorable terms, of mining concessions to companies such as Cerro Verde and Southern Copper Corporation, which are expiring this year.