Sometimes the best way to begin a story is to start at the very end – and this can certainly be said for Lula’s Thursday press conference in Rome, where the president of Brazil, without being asked about it and quite unexpectedly, denounced the predicament of Julian Assange and called out the press, urging them to show support and finally demand his release.
“I’m outraged by the supposed defenders of press freedom in the world,” Lula said. “This can’t be happening, what we’re seeing: Julian Assange is in jail because he denounced U.S. espionage. He will be sent to the United States, where he’s likely to get life in prison, and not even the newspaper that published his articles is defending him, and that’s called cowardice. The work he did would deserve respect and praise from any journalist. He had the courage to reveal and denounce U.S. espionage, including on President Dilma, Kirschner in Argentina or Angela Merkel in Germany … And why is the press staying so quiet while this citizen is in jail and is going to be extradited? It’s important that we unite to say that Julian Assange must be freed and that we need to be told what crime he has committed. So, I want to express all my outrage at the lack of solidarity with a journalist who has reported what all journalists should be reporting.”
Outrage was a leitmotif of his speech and the talk with the media present: outrage at the war, at inequalities, at the endless money spent on weapons rather than on fighting hunger.
To stop this war, Lula said, it’s not possible for conditions to be imposed by one side alone, as the U.S. and E.U. would like: “A peace agreement is not a surrender, it means that both sides have to achieve something, otherwise it’s a dictate. Those who know what would be necessary to reach an agreement are the Ukrainians and the Russians. Brazil has condemned the territorial occupation of Ukraine, which is bringing death and destruction, but Russia is certainly not the only country that is an invader … think of the U.S. in Iraq or England and France with Libya.” All of them members of the UN Security Council, abusing their power and nullifying its authority.
“First stop the war and then sit down to talk until we find a common denominator.” Although this would be a slow process, it’s of the utmost urgency. Lula continued: “The European Union has what is needed to commit to peace, but it’s totally involved in the war … The time must come when reason will prevail.”
The Brazilian president believes in a non-aligned third front which, while recognizing the crime of the Russian invasion, can become the support for a diplomatic process for peace: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, along with some countries in Africa, with the fundamental support of the Pope as an autonomous personality who carries a serious juridical-moral weight.
Lula stressed we should not be investing in weapons and war, but in peace and education, as he did in Brazil during his previous governments with the investment in universities: “Although I don’t have a university degree, I am the president of Brazil who has invested in universities the most: we have built more campuses, invested in the expansion of university activities (the ‘third mission’), technical schools and federal educational institutions … Now we’re investing in a National Research Center, we are establishing full-time schools to ensure that young people can stay for the full day, we want to spread literacy to students at the right time, since after the pandemic we have a huge number of children and young people who can neither read nor write … In my government, it’s forbidden to use the word ‘burden’ when it comes to investment in education, the most sacred investment we can make in Brazil, as in any country in the world, because that is how we train qualified people who can help the country be more competitive. There is no model of a country developing without first making investments in education, a priority along with jobs and fighting hunger.”
As for the left, in Europe and Latin America, it must have more courage to stand up to the conservative parts of the political spectrum, particularly on the issue of immigration: “We must build a utopia that can defeat the utopia of the right, which says the state is worth nothing, the state must be weak and private initiative solves everything. We have to make sure that the movement of people is as free as economic movement. Money circulates between all countries without needing to show a passport, so we need more patience, more maturity to defend migrants – people who flee because they can’t manage to survive anymore. The human being is nomadic by nature – constantly in search of what to eat and how to work.” But he also stressed that “the ideological differences with Meloni are a separate matter from building diplomatic relations, as with any other country in the world.” There was no reference whatsoever to Bolsonaro in his speech.
In short, Lula did not care to name the one who has become unmentionable, and he constantly took up the role of all-around mediator, whether on wars, climate agreements not respected by anyone, including those who wrote them and agreed to join them, the very tense relationship between Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and the Catholic Church, an increasingly stuck-in-place ecological transition, or the problems with France over the UE-Mercosur agreement. And he announced that the upcoming 2025 COP – the summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – will take place in Amazonia, because, with the preservation of the forest and the enhancement of biodiversity, this is the place where possibilities can be brought to life so that the ship of planet Earth doesn’t end up sunk by those who are manning it.
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