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Brazil’s Lula visits EU amid US document leak drama

The president of South America’s largest economy is pushing initiatives to de-dollarize international trade, while his position on the West supplying arms to Ukraine has provoked criticism in Washington and Brussels.

(CN) — Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is currently visiting Portugal and Spain as his foreign policy draws criticism from the West, with a leaked document revealing concerns among European Union foreign ministers about Brazil’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The confidential briefing was meant for EU foreign affairs ministers to discuss during this week's summit. Lula had condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and suggested a peace initiative involving a group of neutral nations coming together to help negotiate a peace deal. It calls for Russia to return territory taken since last year’s full-scale invasion, with Ukraine giving up Crimea — an idea rejected by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The proposal followed a statement in which Lula criticized the West for supplying arms to Ukraine and prolonging the war, adding that “the United States needs to stop encouraging war and start talking about peace.” It quickly drew backlash from Washington. John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council accused the Brazilian president of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda.”

On April 22, Lula reaffirmed his peace proposal during a joint news conference alongside Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. “I am absolutely certain that we will find a far better outcome for the world if we manage to find a way to make peace,” said Lula. "This war shouldn't have started, Russia shouldn't have invaded, but it did. The fact is that it happened. So instead of choosing sides, I want to choose a third way, the construction of peace.”

During the foreign affairs summit, EU ministers heard from Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who briefed them on the latest developments of the war and their needs in terms of ammunition. The leader of the EU body affirmed continued military support for Ukraine. “We all want peace, first and foremost the Ukrainians. But it needs to be a just peace,” said Josep Borrell. “Recently, some ideas regarding peace were floated by China and also Brazil. For credible, honest peace efforts one needs to also talk to Kyiv.”

In a separate development, the spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, Oleg Nikolenko, reproached Lula’s intervention, rejecting the idea that countries arming Kyiv were prolonging the war and that his peace proposal treats “victim and the aggressor” the same.

Since taking office in January, the veteran leftist Lula promised to return Brazil to the world stage following four years of the far-right presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. With his commitment to protecting human rights, the environment and the country’s democratic institutions, Lula’s victory was celebrated in the West.

Among the high expectations in Europe of Lula’s return was the opportunity to conclude a historic trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, South America’s trading bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The free trade deal has been two decades in the making following multiple stalls and waves of opposition.

Since talks began in 1999, the landscape of interregional and international trade has transformed. At the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S. was the largest export partner of the majority of South American countries. Only three countries had a larger export partner: Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — all of which traded primarily with Brazil.

Over the 20-year period, China has transformed the export map in South America. Today, China is now the largest export partner of Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil and is deepening its relationships with other economies including Argentina and Paraguay.

During a visit to Beijing earlier in April, the Brazilian president signed a broad range of cooperation agreements with President Xi Jinping related to trade, renewable energy, meat production and space exploration.

The two leaders also reached a deal to de-dollarize trade between the two countries and instead use their own currencies. “Every night I ask myself why all countries have to base their trade on the dollar,” said Lula during his trip. “Who was it that decided that the dollar was the currency after the disappearance of the gold standard?”

While the U.S. continues to lose power and influence across South America to China, the European Union had hoped to ratify the major trade deal with Mercosur this July at the upcoming EU-Latin America summit in Brussels. One of the latest barriers to its ratification had been numerous environmental policies put in place by Bolsonaro that were red flags for Europe. 

Lula’s criticisms of countries supplying arms to Ukraine, which include EU members, may derail that timeline once again. 

Meanwhile, back home, the honeymoon period for Lula appears over. His approval rating has decreased three months into his third term, down from 40% to 36%. Those who disapprove of his performance rose from 35% to 43%.

Further complicating Lula’s early presidency is the resignation of his top national security adviser. General Marcos Gonçalves Dias stepped down after a broadcaster released footage of him inside the presidential palace talking to rioters during the storming of the capitol buildings in January. The general denied helping people enter the palace, claiming to have arrived after the rioters and pointing them toward the exit.

Courthouse News correspondent James Francis Whitehead is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Categories / International, Politics

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