Lula’s False Narratives

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (l.), Brazilian president, receives Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro prior to a luncheon in Brasilia’s Itamaray Palace. Photo: Andre Borges / EFE

The difference is that Lula’s narrative is based on his personal opinions while Boric or Lacalle, base theirs on real facts.

By Fernando Mires (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – I had been intending to write an article this weekend about the very important municipal elections that took place in Spain. However, my interest quickly shifted to the exchanges between the Chilean and Uruguayan presidents on one side, and the president of Brazil on the other, when speaking about the inclusion of Venezuela – which no one had questioned – in the Latin American summits.

The problem, if we can call it that, was sparked by Lula himself, who declared the predominating narrative about Venezuela invalid. His remarks referred to the view that it’s an authoritarian, even autocratic, government that disrespects human rights and the democratic norms, even though it had an electoral origin. What Lula didn’t mention is that this portrayal is based on real facts, for example the testimonies documented in the 2019 report elaborated by the Bachelet Commission under the auspices of the UN, among many other reports. Needless to say, had Chilean President Gabriel Boric accepted Lula’s narrative, it would have signified nothing more or less declaring false the “narrative” constructed by Chile’s own former two-term president, Michelle Bachelet.

In truth, neither Boric nor Lacalle [Uruguayan president] was considering imposing conditions on Maduro, much less questioning Venezuela’s rightful – natural, we could say – participation in the 2023 South American summit [held in Brasilia on May 30]. The conditions for an eventual exclusion were set up by Lula himself by proposing a revision of the prevailing opinions about the Maduro government. I don’t know if this was a conscious provocation or a verbal blunder on the part of the Brazilian government, although I incline towards the former view. Maduro and Lula had held a secret meeting before the Conference began – something highly unusual according to President Lacalle. The fact is, it was Lula, not Boric or Lacalle, who set Maduro to dance on the table top.

Lula – we’ve continuously seen this – doesn’t disguise his desire to appear as a continental leader, a statesman who heads a major nation.  For some strange reason I don’t fully understand, Brazil is classified as an emerging power. Moreover, it’s a nation whose government now forms part of a macro-plan directed from Beijing with two objectives, one immediate and one long-term. The immediate objective is to form a front of “non-aligned” nations under Chinese hegemony, with the idea of creating a mediation group for the war between Russia and Ukraine. That front or “club for peace” (in Lula’s words) would be made up of nations like India, South Africa, Iran, probably Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. According to the Chinese plan, which is no secret, it’s a matter of constructing over the long term a bloc for world decision-making that could form an alternative to that currently formed by the western nations allied with the United States.

The kind reader may well be asking: What does this have to do with Maduro? More than a little.

President Lula’s reasoning

Venezuela under Maduro can be considered an ally of Putin’s Russia. At the same time, it’s currently an economic, political and probably military ally of China. In a few words, Maduro could represent an important piece on the Russian-Chinese gameboard. It’s no coincidence that Sergei Lavrov, Putin’s international arm, traveled to Latin America (in April) to hold interviews with the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Brazil. He wasn’t motivated by tourism – those are precisely the countries that the Russia-China axis sees as potential allies in Latin America. Maduro’s Venezuela could become a political piece in the new world order that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are dreaming of, together with Lula, president of the Latin American country most dependent on China. I’m not exaggerating: China is Brazil’s largest source of foreign investment, with an accumulated investment of 66.1 billion dollars from 2007 – 2020, according to a study of the Conselho Empresarial Brasil-China (China-Brazil Business Council). Brazil absorbs 47% of the total Chinese investment in Latin America.

The problem for the China-Brazil project is that, together with Daniel Ortega, Maduro is almost universally vilified. In the words of journalists, “he’s a pariah.” From there, we can understand Lula’s interest in whitewashing the Maduro government. Thus seen, the narrative that Lula seeks to impose wasn’t the result of a rash act or an unchecked impulse, but a well-concocted move with an eye on the configuration of an international strategy in the “Global South” (to use the new language of the Moscow-Beijing bloc). Finally, a Putin supporter who’s been democratized thanks to a continental leader named Lula. I don’t know this was exactly his thinking, but the pieces fit.

They fit even better if we link what happened in the Brasilia summit with Lula’s recent international behavior. Since being in government, Lula hasn’t shown the least trace of sympathy for the Ukrainian people’s national liberation struggle. Quite the opposite – he’s even gone so far as to blame Ukraine for the invasion perpetrated by Putin.

While Lula had to recognize, in the face of international pressure, that the war with Russia stemmed from an invasion, he’s refused to listen to the official Ukrainian representations, to the point of hiding from Zelenski during the G7 summit in Hiroshima, when the Ukrainian president requested to meet with his Brazilian colleague. One of those accompanying Lula told journaists: “They set a trap for us.” Lula, noting the blunder, added that he was unable to speak with Zelenski due to agenda issues. That’s a strange expression from a president who seeks to present himself as the founder of a “club for peace,” yet refuses to exchange words with one of the sides involved in the war. That’s the reason that the governments of countries rarely heard in the international arena, like Chile and Uruguay, didn’t want to accept Lula’s narrative about a democratic Maduro, adding that this didn’t mean opposing Venezuela’s participation in the event.

We use the word “narrative” as Lula did. Effectively, if we follow Lyotard [Jean-Francois Lyotard, French philosopher], the world is constructed of different narratives. However, the narratives depend on who’s relating them and how they do so. There are narratives based on opinions, and there are others built on real facts. That’s the difference between Lula’s narrative, based on his personal opinions, and that of Boric and Lacalle, constructed on the basis of real facts.

The presidents of Chile and Uruguay probably think it’s more convenient to maintain a government like Maduro’s within the Latin American diplomatic framework. Outside of that framework, and together with Cuban and Nicaragua, it could attempt to generate once more an antidemocratic monstrosity like the now extinct ALBA that Hugo Chavez founded.

International associations shouldn’t be controlled by ideological determinations. There’s general agreement on that point, and the European Union is one example. Even a government like that of Viktor Orban’s in Hungary, which has taken it upon itself to dynamite many EU resolutions, has never been denied its right to belong to the association. The same thing should be true with Maduro’s Venezuela. However, just as in the EU no one is silent about the lack of freedom of opinion, of the press and even the harassment of Parliament in Hungary, Presidents Lacalle and Boric made proper use of their right to oppose Lula’s attempt to whitewash Maduro. In the case of Uruguay’s Lacalle, it’s completely explainable: Lacalle belongs to a democratic and liberal right, radically opposed to all the anti-democracies, especially those of the left. Boric’s case is somewhat more complex.

President Boric’s reasons

The Chilean president comes from an unrepentant left, a coalition where all the positions that ever existed in the leftist world have a place. Fractions of those lefts, especially that controlled by the Communist Party, maintain relations with, and even extol, the antidemocratic governments of Latin America. Boric, in contrast, is loyal to a position he’s maintained since his student days. He’s stated repeatedly: “you can’t be against a dictatorship of the right if at the same time you’re not against the dictatorships of the left. Human rights are universal.”

Thus, when Boric speaks up against Lula’s antidemocratic narrative, he’s also referring to the antidemocratic tendencies that form part of the Chilean Broad Front, including those displayed by certain representatives of the Chilean Communist Party (Jadue, among others). In doing so, Boric is clearly following the route traced by his predecessors on the left. Former presidents Ricardo Lagos, directly, and Michelle Bachelet, through the Foreign Ministry, pronounced repeatedly against the human rights violations committed in Venezuela under both Chavez and now Maduro. In that sense, Boric’s position represents a continuity and not a rupture with his predecessors on the left.

Such continuity is even more necessary if we consider the positions that have arisen in Chile. Together with the boom in populist nationalism on the right, headed by Jose Antonio Kast (very similar to the ideological Francoism of the Spanish Vox party), there are political groups attempting to defend the Pinochet dictatorship. According to the CERC-MORI survey (May 2023), 36% of Chileans justify the Pinochet dictatorship.

Boric’s reply in Brasilia was very clear: “Augusto Pinochet was a dictator with an antidemocratic essence, whose government killed tortured, exiled, and disappeared those who thought differently. He was also corrupt, a thief. A coward to the end, he did everything within his reach to evade justice.” However, Boric must also realize that the fact that Pinochet continues being popular in Chile, despite all his crimes, has to do with the support that leftist sectors have given to regimes like Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Russia and China. Effectively, that left is responsible for having converted the concept of dictatorship into drinkable water.

With his rejection of Lula’s narrative, Boric wanted to draw a line, aimed at the interior as well as the exterior of his country. He went a few steps further that Lacalle in that attempt. Not only did he refute Lula’s false narrative, he also pronounced himself against the sanctions the US has imposed on Venezuela. Did he do this to balance his words against Maduro? Possibly yes. But also, he did so in order to distance himself from an antidemocratic fraction of the Venezuelan opposition that, under the extremist leadership of Juan Guaido, Lopez, and also Machado, have played the card of an insurrection, without ever having the means to realize one.

Clearly, Boric is a new phenomenon in the Latin American context, even though he certainly will never be a continental leader. He comes from a country that is distanced from the world, with no international weight’ as if that weren’t enough, he lacks strong national support.

No brotherhoods in politics

Boric’s Chile reflects in a surprising way the tendencies that were seen in the recent Spanish municipal elections (about which I had originally thought to write). The left is undergoing setbacks, amid a strong advance of the right and the populist extreme right, with a very dangerous vacuum in the center. At least, Boric has understood that the primary task of our time is to defend the democratic spaces in the face of an autocratic wave that grows and grows. An autocratic narrative that Lula – like his predecessor Bolsonaro – has taken part in.

Lula can’t aspire to continental leadership either. He’s not an autocrat, but he lacks a coherently democratic narrative. His silence regarding the war in Ukraine, his political submission to the dictates coming from China, the way he’s distanced himself from the western democracies have all disqualified him from any pretensions of leadership. In the face of that absence of leadership, the Latin American governments will find themselves forced to create opportune coalitions among themselves, be they bilateral, like the one that occurred spontaneously between Boric and Lacalle, or of a multilateral character. That’s also the reason that meetings like the one in Brasilia, are so necessary. That’s where governments can discuss their respective positions, determine agreements and disagreements, unite and divide, in short, conduct politics.

In the end, all of the great political thinkers, be it Antonio Gramsci, Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Ernesto Laclau, Hannah Arendt and others, agree on one point: Politics isn’t a matter of forced unity but the unity that arises out of division and debate. Lula’s nostalgic moans that the brotherhood of yesteryear – when suitcases full of money flew from one side to another – no longer exists in Latin America, are out of place. In politics, there’s never been, nor should there be, brotherhood or sisterhood. If there were, politics and politicians would be unnecessary.

  • Article originally published in “blog Polis.”

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