By MARCELO BALLVE
Brazil's Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva may be the world's most popular
president. But with growing influence comes more scrutiny. And he's
increasingly finding it hard to justify his policy of coziness toward
authoritarian states like Iran and Cuba.
The tension between Lula's prominence and his "come one, come all"
foreign policy was on evidence when the Brazilian president made an
unfortunately timed visit to Havana yesterday. As Lula and the Castros
engaged in back-patting and hand-shaking, Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata
Tamayo was being buried elsewhere on the island after starving himself
to death in a protest fast.
The hunger striker's death, the first such incident on the island since
1972, triggered widespread condemnation of Raúl Castro's government–
even from Spain, usually loathe to criticize Cuba.
Lula expressed regrets, but was his jolly self in the company of the
Castros, which enraged Lula's Brazilian critics. One of the harshest
criticisms of Lula's meet-up was a political cartoon showing him dipping
his toes into a blood-filled bathtub occupied by the Castro brothers.
The cartoon was published originally by a Cuban exile group in Sweden,
but republished by popular Brazilian blogger Reinaldo Azevedo.
In an accompanying post Azevedo took Lula and his Worker's Party to task
for their hypocrisy on democracy:
Not one word was heard from Lula in defense of democracy. No one!
He didn't touch the question of political prisoners, which may number as
many as 200.
Azevedo also accused Lula's Worker's Party of a veiled support for
nationalist or left-leaning authoritarianism that is to its ideological
taste, a notion I don't really agree with. But Lula's actions do leave
him exposed to such accusations.
Then there's Iran. William Burns, a high-ranking U.S. State Department
official, was scheduled to arrive in Brazil today to lean on Lula's
government for more of a hard-line against Iran and support for
U.S.-proposed sanctions. The United States was not pleased when the
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Brazil late last year.
More recently, Iran said Brazil was one of the countries where it might
send uranium to be enriched so as to provide third party guarantees that
the mineral would only be directed to peaceful uses. Brazil denied it
had discussed this possibility with Tehran, but Lula's diplomatic
dalliances with Ahmadinejad's administration put Brazil in the middle of
the U.S.-Iran dispute.
Clearly, Brazil wants its diplomacy to engage rather indiscriminately in
order to raise Brazil's global profile and thrust it into the sturm und
drang of international geopolitics. It's a respectable policy, and
Brazil has a right to an independent and pragmatic stance.
But it must be balanced with a thought to how Brazil, as an emerging
power, will be viewed through moral and human rights lens for how it
responds to autocratic governments. It's a delicate dance, but remaining
engaged with Havana and Tehran doesn't require deafness to pro-democracy
Brazilian leader under pressure for Cuba, Iran policy - Marcelo Ballve -
South Meridian - True/Slant (26 February 2010)