In the latest instalment of an effort to manage the optics of Brazil-US relations ahead of the October election, an apparent new leak, again from unnamed sources, and again to Reuters news agency, reveals an unannounced meeting between a close Lula confidant and the Biden administration in Washington DC. There is nothing especially unusual about the visit, and the report perhaps says as much about the role of Reuters as it does relations between Biden and Lula.
BRASILWIRE has previously analysed an apparent narrative shift from US officials, whom one month ago warned of threats to Brazil’s democratic process, but have since moved towards confident predictions of “free and fair” presidential elections.
Within hours of news that Joe Biden’s advisor and special envoy, former Senator Christopher Dodd, met with Jair Bolsonaro at the Presidential Palace, outside of the president’s announced schedule, Reuters reported late on May 25 2022 that: “Brazil’s leftist presidential frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva quietly dispatched his emissary, Senator Jaques Wagner, to meet with U.S. State Department officials in Washington in April, according to two people familiar with the matter.”
“Wagner’s private meeting with U.S. officials, which has not been reported before, is part of an effort by Lula and the United States to overcome lingering wariness of each other ahead of October’s election. Polls show Lula on track to beat far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. read more”
Neither Senator Wagner or the State Department have so far responded to the story.
The Reuters report continues: “The unannounced nature of Wagner’s Washington trip underlines the skepticism of Lula – and other Latin American leftists – toward the U.S. government. It also contrasts with Lula’s own high-profile tour of Europe in November, when he glad-handed with French, German and Spanish leaders.”
As was in the earlier leak of CIA director William Burns’ account of warnings to Bolsonaro government about threats to the 2022 election, looks especially candid for a Reuters report on this subject.
“Lula, a former union leader and president who was jailed on corruption charges that were overturned last year, harbors lingering suspicion of the United States, saying that U.S. investigators collaborated with the Brazilian prosecutors who put him in jail.”
Reuters’ wording here is particularly disingenuous. That U.S. prosecutors collaborated with the Lava Jato task force who jailed Lula is a documented fact, not a claim by the former president, as the news agency attempts to depict.
“Meanwhile, the United States takes issue with Lula’s public support for the left-wing governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, which Washington views as “undemocratic.””
This sentence is informative as it places Lula on the wrong side of a putative “good left/bad left” paradigm, unlike for example, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who has the tacit blessing of State Department and CIA-linked US business lobby Council of the Americas, and has been outspoken in his criticism of the Cuban, Venezuela and Nicaraguan governments.
“U.S. officials have also been careful of getting close to the Lula camp for fear of appearing to favor one candidate over another during what is likely to be a combustible election, the sources said.”
This is of course a key admission of the optics game and effort to appear neutral in the election, yet there has been a great deal of visible approximation with the current Bolsonaro government, including on energy policy, and this Jacques Wagner meeting is the first evidence of even minor dialogue with Brazilian opposition.
In addition, United States Under secretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland claims to have spoken to the Bolonaro government and “opposition” about the sanctity of Brazil’s forthcoming election, but there is no indication of which opposition parties or candidates she has communicated with. Nuland snubbed Colombian leftist frontrunner Gustavo Petro on her trip to the country earlier in the year. If she similarly did not communcate with the Lula camp and the Workers party, it would be a signal of U.S. preference in October.
“The specific details of Wagner’s discussions with U.S. officials were not clear. Sources said they talked about the possible contours of a future Lula presidency, and how he would approach U.S. relations, without giving further details. One of the sources said that when the U.S. government had previously spoken privately with Lula intermediaries, they had focused on the environment, which Lula’s Workers Party has identified as a key friction point between Bolsonaro and U.S. President Joe Biden.”
It is self evident that Lula and the Workers Party, like almost any incoming Latin American government, have been and will be seeking to allay any U.S. concerns about his presidency, and convince Biden that it will be better for both Brazil, the environment, and relations with the United States, than a continuation of Bolsonaro’s explicitly U.S. allied, military dominated, far right government. Lula’s inclusion of former adversary, Geraldo Alckmin, as his VP, has already been interpreted as an effort to these ends.
On the other side, if the diplomatic objective is obfuscation and mixed signals, the Biden administration is succeeding.