The Bolsonaristas’ attempted coup threatens to undermine Brazil’s new international clout. With Lula, the country is “returning to the world stage” with the full weight of its status as a continent-scale state, and with the recovery of a diplomacy that had earned it strong international prestige.
According to a number of analysts – such as former Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera – Lula’s election is confirmation that Latin America “is experiencing a second progressive wave,” although he warns that this phase – unlike the first wave that began with Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela in 1999 and lasted until 2014 – is “marked by moderate progressivism.” Moreover, as the Argentinian Daniel García Oleado argues, the subcontinent “is at the center of the dispute between two great powers: the United States and China.” A trade war that is giving Latin America a new opportunity, while also drawing its ideological limits.
Lula’s presidency, with its weight, can improve relations among progressive governments on the subcontinent (from Mexico to Chile, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina), facilitate integration projects and accelerate the process that should allow the region to speak with one voice in the international arena. Substantially, this is about putting the policy of integration and sovereignty of Latin America at the center, modeled after the European Union, as long proposed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). It is a project that was also taken up by Lula last August, when he formally declared his candidacy for president of Brazil. On that occasion, he also spoke about the need to create a single Latin American currency.
As AMLO stated on several occasions, such a project does not involve ideological antagonism with the U.S., but a policy of dialogue and mutual exchange with both the American giant to the north and the Asian giant, China, based on the core principle of Latin America’s sovereignty.
This policy presupposes the strengthening, or revitalization, of Latin American institutions established in the first progressive wave, such as UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), the expanded MERCOSUR and also CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), which, with Brazil rejoining – a decision made by Lula on Friday, January 6 – acquires continental scope.
According to AMLO’s theses, with Lula’s presidency, this new progressive alliance would allow Latin America to negotiate “continental agreements” with the U.S. on certain strategic sectors: food, the fight against inequality, the environment, emigration – applying across the region that the U.S. calls the “Western Hemisphere,” an area where China – and to a lesser extent Russia – is becoming a competitor to the United States.
That is the gist of the package of proposals AMLO is expected to present at the North America Summit that begins on Tuesday in Mexico City, attended by President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The first proposal is to move toward continental economic integration: “Let us produce what we consume in America, throughout the continent,” said the Mexican president. Second is the creation of an “Alliance for Welfare,” agreed upon between North and South America, to “reduce poverty, promote inclusion policies and reduce migration flows, through investment and job creation.” The third proposal concerns the policy framework in which the previous two should fit: ending the Monroe Doctrine, and thus the U.S. policies of interference south of the Rio Bravo, and replacing them with others based on respect for the sovereignty of Latin American countries.
These are issues to which Biden and part of the Democrats are receptive. In November, the president appointed former Senator Chris Dodd as special adviser on the Americas. Biden considers him “a leading voice on Latin America.” Asking him to step in means that the White House chief has realized that his administration’s policy towards the countries south of the Rio Bravo is not effective, in a situation of competition with China.
One of the causes of this failure has been the substantial continuation of the policy of extreme sanctions against Cuba (and Venezuela), decided by his predecessor Trump and rejected by all major Latin American countries (and also by Canada and the EU). Both Biden and especially Dodd know that the “bloqueo” policy has been a failure, as Obama had already said in 2014.
The Cuban leadership also recognizes that the policy of hard head-on confrontation promoted by Trump and which has had such damaging effects on the island doesn’t serve U.S. interests either. This is why they have said they are willing to pursue a policy of rapprochement, even with a limited scope. In Maduro’s Bolivarian Venezuela, such a line has already been in place for months.