The veteran leftist is back in power after a narrow win, but his power to bring change is very limited
The results are in for Brazil’s presidential election, which has drawn serious international attention. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known mononymously as Lula, won the contest with 50.9% of the vote, to incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro’s 49.1%, which is in line with what polls suggested would happen. My best friend, who I mentioned in my last column on this topic for RT, thankfully was not left in tears this time, but was shrieking over the phone in glee.
And that’s because Lula’s victory, as I outlined, represents a massive step forward for Brazil. It means that the rich-poor divide has a chance of shrinking, that the South American country has a shot at getting off the world hunger map, that people might enjoy expanded social services, and that Brazil might return to its rightful place as a major power player on the world political stage. It also means, hopefully, the preservation of Brazil’s nature, namely the Amazon rainforest, commonly referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’ for its role in pumping oxygen into the atmosphere and expelling carbon.
As I noted weeks ago in my piece, this has serious implications for Latin America and the world writ large. It means a serious blow to American imperialism, given Bolsonaro’s status as a running dog for the Yankee empire and its projects in the region such as the destabilization of Venezuela and expansion of the so-called War on Drugs. It could also mean more business dealings for Beijing on the South American continent, for example, if Brazil joins the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
If you’re someone like me that values multilateralism, peaceful human development, and global stability, then this is all reason enough to rejoice. But we should pump the brakes on our expectations to maintain a realistic perspective on the situation and understand the limitations of a Lula presidency. As my friend and former colleague Camila Escalante, who is now Press TV’s Latin America correspondent, noted quite rightly prior to these results, “Socialism is not on the ballot in Brazil.”
To paraphrase her observation, not only were Brazilians not seeking a fundamental re-draw of their social order, they wouldn’t even have voted for it had it been an option. The term ‘imperialism’, as she described, was not even in usage during this latest presidential campaign, and people are not demanding fundamental overhauls of the class order of their country, let alone Latin America as a whole. Indeed, social movements that use this sort of language exist – but they are not forming governments in Brazil or anywhere else in Latin America aside from four countries.
As polling data indicates, she noted, a lot of people wouldn’t even pledge their support for the Workers’ Party (PT) beyond Lula, which suggests that his victory required connecting with people that don’t consider themselves traditionally ‘left’ or ‘right’. And this was indeed reflected by the way he campaigned on some issues, such as abortion, where he made overtures to the Catholic Church while alienating out-and-out leftists by saying, for instance, “nobody wants regulation like Cuba.”
Of course, if you didn’t think that Lula was tolerable to the broad masses outside of leftist book clubs, then look no further than the fact that US President Joe Biden quickly congratulated Lula on his victory. While it’s easy to overlook these sorts of things, and indeed they are quite typical, the speed with which this statement was issued fulfilled a key role – legitimizing Lula. That’s important because Bolsonaro’s camp was reportedly planting the seeds for a voter fraud scandal, much like the strategy used by former US President Donald Trump in the lead-up to the January 6 Capitol riot.
Somehow, Brazil’s election transported us into an alternate reality where the US and its associated intelligence agencies, like the CIA, aren’t trying to sponsor a right-wing coup in a Latin American government. Actually, the White House’s reaction suggests the opposite. The US is, if anything, trying to stop that before it could even potentially occur – and that’s quite a 180 given the suspected US role in Lula’s jail sentence over trumped-up corruption charges and the ouster of his ally, Dilma Rousseff, from the office of the presidency in what was a clear soft coup.
It begs the question of why the US would go from being hostile to a Lula government to ostensibly supporting it. That’s because, first of all, as I’ve already mentioned, Lula did not campaign on any platform that would revolutionize Brazilian society, nor did he point the finger at the US empire. He is not that radical, especially taken together with his center-left running mate.
Second of all, Lula won a lot of votes by meeting people in the center – but those people did not vote for the PT beyond him. This means that he will be very limited in what he can do from a legislative perspective, given the fact that Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) is the largest in both chambers of the Brazilian Congress, controls key governorships across the country, and enjoys wide support. Bolsonarismo apparently has wider support than the polls even accounted for.
So, from Washington’s perspective, this makes sense. Would they have rather seen South America’s largest country descend into chaos and perhaps push more migrants to their border? Or would they be content with their former enemy winning an election but being neutered when it comes to governing? Clearly, the latter is a more desirable scenario. The fact is that Lula’s victory is a step forward for Brazil – but a very, very limited one.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.