Visit to the US

Lula and Biden condemn extremism, discuss war and governance against the climate crisis

Brazil’s president said the US should join the Amazon Fund and that a group of countries should discuss peace in Ukraine

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Caracas (Venezuela) |
Lula and Biden on Friday (10) at the White House - Ricardo Stuckert/PR

On Friday (10), President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party) met with American President Joe Biden during his first visit to the US since he took office in January. During the meeting, the two presidents talked about cooperation between the US and Brazil on the climate crisis, the violent acts by the Brazilian and American far right and the war between Russia and Ukraine. 

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In official statements to the press after the talks, Lula said that the US could be part of the Amazon Fund, an initiative supported by countries such as Norway and Germany that had suspended fund transfers to Brazil during the government of former president Jair Bolsonaro. Nevertheless, Brazil’s current president made clear that he did not discuss, specifically, the US joining the conservation initiative but the “need for rich countries to finance all the countries that have forests,” not just those in South America but also the African ones. 

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“I believe [the US] will join the Amazon Fund. It’s not just about me believing it will happen. It is quite necessary. Brazil won’t give up territory over which it’s sovereign,” he said.

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Lula also said he talked with Biden about "more authoritative global governance [and] that other countries may participate in the Security Council so that some decisions on climate can be taken at the international level”. 

“I felt the American president was prone to contributing to it. Our staff will keep dialoguing in all areas so that Brazil and the United States can progress together. I’m convinced that we are living in a new era. Brazil returns to the world stage using its political power and the respectability the country has acquired to comply with the task that we have to comply with before humanity,” he said.

Giorgio Romano, a professor of foreign affairs and member of the Foreign Policy Observatory of the Federal University of ABC (UFABC, in Portuguese), believes that US support for the Amazon Fund would be of importance not only for the financial contributions, but also in recognition of Brazil's sovereignty over environmental policies aimed at preserving the Amazon rainforest. 

“The US support for the Amazon Fund is a clear sign of confidence in the new Brazilian environmental policy. The core idea of the Amazon Fund isn’t financing, because it was conceived with Germany and Norway to be a cooperation initiative in which Brazil is the one deciding the policies. Therefore, [the Amazon Fund] shows Brazil’s political sovereignty over the Brazilian Amazon,” he said.

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Romano explained to Brasil de Fato that with the Lula government, now Brazil will probably boost international dialogue on tackling climate change, which were postponed due to geopolitical disputes.

“A lot has been said about the environmental issue as a positive area where it’s possible [to build] international cooperation among China, Europe, the US and countries from the south. However, tensions between the US and China have been increasing. Consequently, it stopped, at a certain point, negotiations on climate issues. Brazil can join these discussions decisively, having the trust of all the big players to be a guardian of this cooperation,” says the professor.

"Attacks need to stop"

To the press, Lula also said that he talked to Biden about the war in Ukraine and his proposal of creating a group of countries to discuss ways to end the conflict. “I said to him what I had already said to [French President Emmanuel] Macron and [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz about the need for creating a group of countries that are not directly or indirectly involved in the Russian war against Ukraine to discuss possibilities for reaching peace,” Lula added. 

Since he took office, Lula has been showing his intentions to negotiate a peaceful way out of the conflict, building what he has called the "peace club", with countries such as China, India and Indonesia, besides Brazil. The US, however, has been one of the major supporters of Ukraine, providing millions in military aid to the government of Volodymyr Zelensky.

According to the president, Biden has "the same concern”. “Nobody wants this war to continue. We need partners able to assemble a group of negotiators [and] we need both sides to believe and understand that the first thing to do is to end the war. After that, there will be talks about the future. But first, the attacks need to stop. Otherwise, there won’t be a solution,” he added. 

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Professor Romano said he is skeptical about Lula’s idea of creating a group of countries to negotiate the end of the war, since “there is a very intense political and military game [being played] and, as far as I’m concerned, up until now nobody asked Brazil to mediate this issue.”

“The US and Europe's interest now isn’t to work on a peaceful solution but to defeat Russia. Russia also has no political conditions to change its decision because it invaded Ukraine. I think it is unlikely that there are real conditions to create this group and, if there is such a group, we will have to see how the US will try to manipulate this,” he says.

Bárbara Motta, a professor of Foreign Affairs at the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS, in Portuguese) and researcher at the Defense and International Security Study Group of the São Paulo State University thinks another way around. To her, it is still possible “to establish some sort of negotiation to build peace.”

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“Today’s meeting [between Lula and Biden, on February 10] may encourage these statements precisely because it comes from a player that has a less direct interest in the conflict, less geopolitical interests in it and less geographical proximity to the conflict-torn region and which has open channels of communication with key countries for [reaching] any peace agreement,” she said.

To Brasil de Fato, Motta explains that Lula’s stance on the conflict, particularly when he refused German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's request to send ammunition to Ukraine, maintains Brazil’s ability to assume the position of "credible negotiator" to advance the idea of the "peace club”.

“For Brazil to be seen as a player that has something to contribute to both sides of the conflict – especially one that has something to contribute to international security – it needs to present an image of a reliable negotiator, an mediator. By taking a side, whatever it may be, Brazil loses this possibility that seems to me the only one for Brazil to stand out diplomatically and produce some gain for the international community,” she says.

"Our democracies succeeded"

Lula’s statements to the press were made after a long meeting between the two presidents and some Brazilian and American ministers. Among them, there were Mauro Vieira (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Fernando Haddad (Minister of Finance), Marina Silva (Minister of Environment) and Anielle Franco (Minister of Racial Equality). On the US side, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were present.

Earlier that day, Lula and Biden met privately in the White House Oval Office. They talked about the US Capitol attack and the storming of the Three Powers buildings in Brazil. “Our democracies have been sorely tested and have succeeded,” said the US president.

Both presidents mentioned their respective predecessors when Lula cited the international isolation and the spreading of fake news adopted by former President Jair Bolsonaro.

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“[Lula to Biden] You know that Brazil spent the last four years self-marginalizing. [Brazil’s] Former president didn’t like to keep relations with any country. His world started and ended in fake news. He belittled foreign affairs,” said Lula. Then Biden replied by saying that “It sounds familiar”, referring to republican Former President Donald Trump. 

Lula thanked Biden for his solidarity in recognizing his electoral victory and praised the president for his “stance to defend democracy”. “Now, we have some problems to work out together. First, to prevent another Capitol and Three Powers attack," he said. 

To Romano, this position was expected because "the two largest presidential republics in the world resisted coup attempts. Both men won elections and were questioned, so both are tasked with trying to rebuild the image of democracy."

During his official visit to the United States, Lula gave an interview to CNN International / Ricardo Stuckert

However, he says that this position may be used by the White House in its “crusade to defend democracy” that intends, according to Romano, to divide the world between “democracies and autocracies”.

“This perspective on the world isn’t shared by Brazil. For sure, it isn’t Lula’s view on things because that is Cold War vocabulary, and Lula has to resist this. I’m sure the US will try to involve Brazil in this alliance for democracy taking advantage of the current moment the country is living in. But the US goal is another: to maintain its hegemony and to contest China," he says.

Professor Bárbara Motta also points out that, despite the joint statement of the presidents being very significant, it is powerless to inhibit the far-right forces, whether in Brazil or in the US.

Inhibiting the far right requires bringing charges against criminal acts, regulating the internet, and democratic and critical education. Does it mean that these statements [by Lula and Biden] are worthless? Of course not. They serve to reinforce the countries' positioning and commitment to a broad set of actions. It also serves to promote the possibility of exchanging experiences of cooperation. However, I wouldn’t say they prevent [the far right],” she emphasizes.

Meeting with Sanders

Before meeting Biden, Lula attended other events during his visit to Washington. The president met American senator Bernie Sanders, who supported Lula during the presidential campaign.

According to the Brazilian president, they talked about “democracy, the trade union movement and better rights and jobs for workers.” Sanders said that “it was a pleasure to receive Lula in Washington” and that they talked about “the importance of defending democracy, advancing workers’ rights and increasing environmental and climate cooperation throughout the world.”

After the meeting, Sanders even confronted a group of Bolsonaro supporters who were protesting in front of the residence where Lula is staying. When trying to talk to the press, the senator asked them to "calm down", as the screams prevented him from being heard. "There is a huge threat from right-wing extremists who are authoritarians – whether it's Trump or Bolsonaro – and who are trying to undermine democracy," he said.

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The Brazilian president also received a delegation of the Democratic Party that included Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the congresswomen/congressmen who demanded Bolsonaro be extradited from the US after the invasion of the Three Powers buildings in Brasília, on January 8. 

“We talked about social programs we developed in Brazil, our shared concerns about the environment and the future of the world, and the confrontation with the far right and fake news on social platforms," said Lula about the meeting. 

Edited by: Thalita Pires e Flávia Chacon