“We cannot be treated as a banana republic Luis Inacio da Silva affirms that his government will reclaim the Brazilian economy’s weight in the international context: “We have to occupy the space that belongs to us and be respected”. “Trade must be a two-way street where everyone comes out a winner without the subjection of some”
BY DEISY FRANCIS MEXIDOR
“My principal reason for becoming president of Brazil is to give our country a new direction,” affirms Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the recently elected leader of that South American nation after standing on three previous occasions, in an exclusive interview. Lula, for the Workers Party (PT) in a coalition with the conservative Liberal Party and other left groupings and movements, gained more than 60% of the vote, with Jos Serra, the government candidate, trailing behind.
Familiar with the lives of the workers, from whose ranks he emerged in the metallurgical sector, he was born in October 1945 in Valle Grande, now Caets, into a campesino family. The exact date of his birth is subject to controversy, because his father registered him on October 6, but his mother insists it was October 27. In any case, it is some coincidence that 57 years later, the first and second rounds of the presidential elections in the country were held on those same dates. Closely following events at that time, we sought a way to establish contact with Lula. We were aware it was no easy undertaking given the maelstrom of Brazil not just in the run up to the elections but now, with the transition toward a new government that takes possession in January; moreover, trying to do a long-distance interview is like throwing a bottle into the sea: it might get lost.
However, thanks to the collaboration of Giancarlo Summa and especially Rodrigo Savazoni, the press advisor in Lula’s campaign, we achieved our aim and, via e-mail, received Lulu’s answers to each of the formulated questions, in a file named: lulaparacuba.doc
FTAA: AN UNACCEPTABLE PROPOSITION
The first question was on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and its consequences for the peoples south of the Ro Bravo if it is implemented.
“I am a defender of Latin American integration, not just its economic and commercial integration but likewise in the political and cultural context,” he admitted.
“The FTAA proposition in its current context is unacceptable. It is not a Free Trade Treaty with the United States, it is a proposal to annex the economy of South America and the Caribbean to the U.S. economy. Without Brazil, the FTAA cannot exist; apart from that, a genuine integration would include Cuba.
“An integration proposal presupposes a certain equity among the participating members. The United States maintains technological, military, cultural and economic hegemony and does not propose to exercise a compensatory policy like the European Union has for Spain, Portugal and Greece, for example.
“The Brazilian people have paid a very high price for Brazil’s submission to the neoliberal globalization commanded by the United States. Our country has given in to the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and has been timid in its approaches to the World Trade Organization, all organizations controlled by the richest countries. Everything indicates that that cost is going to increase even more if Brazil submits to its forced integration into the FTAA.
“A study undertaken by the Brazilian embassy in Washington confirmed that Brazilian exports to the United States are subject to an average tariff of 45%, while U.S. exports to Brazil have an average of only 15%. The Bush administration wants to discuss the FTAA without bringing those tax limitations imposed on virtually all the products in which Brazil is most competitive to the negotiating table.
“So what are we going to discuss? Nothing more than the reduction of MERCOSUR Common External Tariff or the Informatics Law that we have just approved? Or the simple annexation of Brazil to the United States?
“Trade must be a two-way street, where everyone comes out winning without the subjection of some. The Bush government has taken protectionist measures to the detriment of other nations and that cannot be consolidated into a general free trade agreement.
“In terms of U.S. products, with rare exceptions they enter Brazil freely. Sixty percent of Brazilian exports to the United States come up against some kind of obstacle before entering that territory. With surcharges like those on steel and orange juice – when there aren’t import quotas as in the case of sugar, or anti-dumping and phyto-sanitary actions – all of that reduces Brazil’s export potential.
“We have lost ground in international trade in the last decade, purely due to unfavourable trade agreements and the government failure to take advantage of the spectacular trade expansion evident in the world. In that context it is not possible to enter into a new commercial venture where nothing is offered and much is asked of Brazil,” Luis Inacio affirmed.
“Our government is not going to submit and will firmly defend the nation’s interests, giving value to its weight in the international context. Our present participation is small, but could be increased; Brazil is still the tenth largest economy in the world. We cannot be treated like a banana republic. We have to occupy the space that belongs to us and be respected.
“We are going to combat protectionism by trying to open markets to Brazilian products and above all by defending our sovereignty.”
In another part of his reflections and in reference to MERCOSUR, the president elect noted: “For Brazil it is more interesting to defend it at this point, because it is going through a crisis, but it has been very important in terms of making trade among its
members more dynamic. Reinforcing it means attracting the Andean countries into the agreement, increasing its links with the European Union and expanding trade with China, India, Asia in general, with South Africa and with all nations where there is space to grow.”
DEBT TO BE REPAID
When Lula assumes the presidency in January 2003, he will be taking on a tremendous challenge with the millions and millions of men and women who placed their trust in him as an alternative for change, and he affirms that. “Brazil has a social debt with our people that at some point has to be paid. The press has talked about the external debt, the internal debt, but little of the social debt, which is very large.
“Our country is indebted to Brazilian Indians, black people, women, children, persons with disabilities, the homeless. We need to pay that debt.
“The Workers Party has stood out for the public policies it has developed in order to reduce Brazilian social inequality. Programs like the study scholarships, minimum rent, restarts, first jobs, among others, have generated positive results. That, in conjunction with the reforms that we are proposing – taxation, agrarian, political, labour, legal – is going to give force to the changes we want to improve Brazilians’ lives.
“I have always said that I am going to fight so that every person in Brazil gets at least three meals a day. The Zero Hunger project that we did in the Citizens’ Institute and which was incorporated into our government program demonstrates how to do away with the hunger of close to 50 million Brazilians within a four-year period. We have a historical commitment to social justice and decency and we are going to fulfil it.”
STRATEGY AND A NEW DIRECTION
According to surveys, Lula’s election was assured from the beginning. On this fourth occasion the analysts and surveys were not mistaken. At this point there is a 90-day period before he assumes power, during which, as Lula himself commented, he is to try and take advantage of the time available to set up his government and prepare the transition in the best possible way. “This includes extending and intensifying the channels of participation and discussion with the most diverse social sectors,” he stated.
On the other hand, in terms of the crisis and instability in the South American nation, which has not been solved via the neoliberal model, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva commented: “Brazil needs a president of the republic who has political leadership and a capacity for negotiation in order to undertake a new social contract.
“Everybody knows that I started to form my political convictions and develop my negotiating capacity by defending democracy in the harsh conditions of the military regime. My greatest dream is to contribute with my life and political experience to improving the situation of the Brazilian people.
“That means combating poverty and doing away with the hunger that is still punishing almost 50 million persons in national territory. It means making it possible for the great majority of the Brazilian people to obtain citizenship; that young people do not have to face the incredible difficulties that I and many other people experienced in our lives.
“Improving Brazil means giving our country the value that it merits, transforming it into the great nation dreamed of for generations. It means changing its direction, moving away from the situation of vulnerability to which it has been brought by the current economic policy. It means reassuming development with a distribution of the profits and social justice.
“But it isn’t easy. Above all, what is essential is a president committed body and soul to those objectives. I am preparing myself for that and I have that commitment.
“I made it clear in a letter to the Brazilian people, recently handed over to the nation, that a lucid and careful transition will be necessary between what we have today and that which society is reclaiming. What was not done in eight years cannot be redressed in eight days. The new model cannot be a product of unilateral government decisions, as is the case today, nor will it be implemented by decree, in a voluntarist way.
“It will be the fruit of a broad national negotiation that should lead to an authentic alliance for the country, capable of guaranteeing growth with stability. To do that, we are going to lower taxes, increase exports and offer incentives in a planned way for the replacement of imports, by resolving the issue of the Brazilian economy’s extreme external vulnerability.
“It is in that context that we will create better conditions for meeting contracts signed by the present government, without compromising the social goals of our government.”
On the issue of coalitions in his current campaign as a component of his victory, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was categorical: “The growing adherence to our candidacy has steadily assumed more of the nature of a movement in defense of Brazil, of our rights and fundamental desires in terms of being an independent nation.
“Popular leaders, academics, artists and religious figures spontaneously announced their support of a project for change in Brazil.
Prefects and parliamentarians of parties that are not in coalition with the PT have declared their support. Significant sectors of the business community have linked themselves to our project. This is about a vast coalition, supra-party in many aspects, seeking to open new horizons for our country.”
It is a fact that the die has been cast. Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has crowned his aspirations of reaching his country’s presidency. A difficult mission for the first president in the history of Brazil to have emerged from the ranks of the people.