Lula da Silva used his state visit to Britain to champion the interests of the Global South, urge diplomacy over militarism and condemn the persecution of Julian Assange – a sign of Brazil’s new role on the world stage.

Lula’s visit to Britain signals Brazil’s new role on the world stage. (Photo by Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

As thousands of people took part in central London’s coronation festivities, Lula da Silva was nearby. After attending the King’s coronation, the president of Brazil was invited to 10 Downing Street, where he met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Minister James Cleverley.

In stark contrast to Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, Lula has begun his third tenure as leader travelling the world to promote Brazilian interests. During his recent visit to China, he signed agreements securing $10 billion of investment and a further $2 billion from the United Arab Emirates. In addition, he signed several agreements with Portugal and convinced Britain and the USA to commit to the Amazon Fund—a government project seeking to protect the rainforest’s future—with Spain and France also showing signs of engaging.

Lula’s prioritising of development and building relationships with the wider world are vital steps to restoring Brazil to where it should be on the world stage. For too long under Bolsonaro, securing better jobs and opportunities for the country’s people through international trade was neglected. Likewise, the opportunities presented by pursuing a transition towards a green economy were wholly ignored.

These trade agreements, though important, are not the ceiling of Lula’s ambitions for Brazil. Since his inauguration earlier this year, Lula has shown himself to be a champion of international diplomacy. He is an influential voice in calling for an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, advocating for a negotiated settlement. In my living memory, I cannot recall a time when the idea of peace was so immediately dismissed as it is today.

The eagerness to bolster Brazil’s position as a neutral negotiator is why the 77-year-old former metalworker and trade unionist came to Britain despite enduring a gruelling tour that took him to China, the UAE, Spain and Portugal. It is also why today, Lula’s special envoy and former minister Celso Amorim will be meeting Volodymyr Zelenskyy, having met Putin in March. These efforts are informed by the perspective that the international community must seek a real diplomatic solution to end a war that is corroding the two countries’ assets, infrastructure, health and generational potential.

However, Lula has a second objective. He wants—and can—put the position of the Global South on the table: beyond advocacy for peace for its own sake, the war in Ukraine is unwelcome by a large number of developing countries who do not wish to choose to trade with just the USA or Russia, and who cannot afford the economic impact of the soaring cost of Russian fertilisers that are vital to agriculture.

Lula’s foremost consideration of the Global South was evidenced during a press conference in London. He reminded a crowd of journalists of India’s importance, correcting a reporter that he had to yet speak to all the world’s most powerful nations as he hadn’t spoken to Modi, and stated that the coronation was an excellent opportunity to reach out to African leaders. 

With reform in mind, he offered constructive criticism of the United Nations, stating that they were too antiquated and stuck in post-1945 geopolitics. ‘We need to have a new world governance,’ he said, with ‘greater representation of other continents, more countries, and no vetoes from Security Council members.’ Brazil has long pressed for a permanent seat at the Security Council; Lula believes that closer inclusion in India, Nigeria and South Africa is also necessary for the organisation’s future relevance.

Returning to the climate crisis, Lula criticised European governments for not delivering the $100 billion promised for developing countries at COP15, saying that the ‘carbon debt’ used by the Global North for their own capitalist development must be paid to ensure that the Global South can develop without similarly dramatic harm to the environment.

Of course, he is right: all countries are responsible for protecting the environment, but this can’t be done if it means people in the Global South are forced to accept poor living standards. Mentioning a meeting in August with all Amazon South American countries, Lula pointed to France—technically an ‘Amazon country’ due to its overseas department of French Guiana—to urge its participation. He also said that Brazil would continue to meet with Congolese and Indonesian leaders about protecting the world’s tropical forests and that he was pushing for Brazil to host COP30 in the state of Pará, right in the heart of the Amazon.

Perhaps the most dramatic position taken during his time in Britain was over Julian Assange’s imprisonment. The issue is understandably close to the multiple-time political prisoner’s heart, and he has spoken on it several times. To a crowd of mostly unsympathetic journalists, he admonished them and himself, considering it ‘shameful’ how ‘a journalist that denounced the dirty tricks of [America] against others is in prison, and will probably die there—and we do nothing to free him.’

Lula’s government faces serious challenges—the chaotic aftermath of Bolsonaro’s rule, a right-wing majority in Congress, an ever-present fascist threat and institutional hostility from the banks and the media. But it should be a relief that a world leader sees international solutions as necessary for solving national problems. Lula’s positioning as a voice of the Global South that can crack the Global North’s navel-gazing in favour of collective action, solidarity and peace is a rare sign of light in an increasingly darkening world stage. Time will tell whether or not he will be successful.

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