Argentina and Uruguay are Lula's first State visits, between controversy and ambition

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The Brazilian president is scheduled to meet with the dictators Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, invited to Buenos Aires to participate in the CELAC summit. In Montevideo, he will have more meetings with members of the opposition than with the ruling party

Argentina and Uruguay are Lula's first state visits, between controversy and ambition

By

Maria ZuppelloFrom São Paulo, Brazil.

Argentina and Uruguay are Lula's first state visits, between the controversy and ambition

Lula da Silva arrived in Argentina

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will meet with the Cuban dictator, < b>Miguel Díaz-Canel, in a private meeting on the sidelines of the 7th meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). He was also going to do it with the Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro , until this Monday it was learned that the Venezuelan regime canceled the meeting. For Brazil it is a great comeback after former president Jair Messias Bolsonaro had suspended the country's participation from him. “CELAC has not produced results in the defense of democracy or in any other sphere,” the former foreign minister of the Bolsonaro government, Ernesto Araújo, had declared in 2020.

Founded in Caracas in 2011 by the then Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as “a great pole of power” against the United States that could replace “the old and ruined Organization of American States (OAS)”, according to his own words, he counts among his 33 countries members with the regimes of Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as Venezuela. The return of Brazil to CELACoccurs in a context favorable to consensus among member countries given the ideological convergence of Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Gabriel Boric in Chile, Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, Alberto Fernández in Argentina, Luis Arce in Bolivia, Xiomara Castro in Honduras, in addition to the dictatorships of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Among the topics for possible discussion, according to sources from Itamaraty, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, will be the financing of the block, the flexibility of the intergovernmental mechanism, the possible creation of an Executive Secretariat and the role of the OAS.

< p class="paragraph">In addition, just as Lula was traveling to Buenos Aires yesterday, news emerged of a joint document signed by the Brazilian president and his Argentine counterpart, Alberto Fernández, ahead of the CELAC meeting. The extensive text highlights the resumption of diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. Trade between Brazil and Argentina is booming and reached 26.4 billion dollars in the first 11 months of last year, representing an increase of almost 21% compared to the same period in 2021. The automotive industry leads the ranking of imports and exports between both countries. The two nations are the engine of the regional trade bloc, Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur), also made up of Paraguay and Uruguay.

The document signed by the two presidents also mentions the possibility of a common Latin American currency. “We have decided to continue the discussions on a common currency that can be used for both financial and commercial flows, in order to reduce operational costs and our external vulnerability”, reads the text.

This idea, first proposed by Hugo Chávez in 2008, was debated again in Brazil at the beginning of January, when the Argentine ambassador in Brasilia, Daniel Scioli, declared that both countries “would work together for a common currency.” This affirmation was denied two days later by the Minister of Economy, Fernando Haddad, who responded to a journalist who asked him for explanations on the subject: “this hypothesis does not exist”, telling the reporter to go “inquire”. Yet many in Brazil fear the idea of ​​linking Latin America's largest economy to Argentina's perpetually volatile economy. Argentina was largely isolated from international debt markets after the 2020 default and still owes more than $40 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the 2018 bailout.

Argentina and Uruguay are Lula's first state visits, between controversy and ambition

Lula da Silva (Reuters)

Beyond the single currency, Lula's trip to Buenos Aires It not only represents his first trip abroad of his third term, but also a return to his roots. Argentina was strategic in his first two terms, from 2003 to 2010, and one of the countries that Lula visited the most. So much so that the first president he received the day after his electoral victory in São Paulo was Fernández. “In recent years, it cannot be said that this relationship has been paralyzed,” said Ambassador Michel Arslanian Neto, Itamaraty's Secretary for the Americas, “but it has certainly been little used and now there is a spirit of urgency to resume it and make it march at forced marches, in a positive sense”.

Today, Lula will meet with Fernández, with whom he will discuss the Néston Kirchner gas pipeline project , which by connecting the Vaca Muerta region with the province of Santa Fe could extend to Brazil. Argentina wants to finance the works with 689 million dollars from the Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). However, according to Itamaraty sources, no cooperation agreement on the gas pipeline is expected to be signed on this trip. Lula will also meet with Vice President Cristina Kirchner, with whom he shares a friendly relationship but also similar judicial vicissitudes for which both have always expressed great mutual solidarity. Also traveling in Lula's delegation is his minister from the Social Communication Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic, Paulo Pimenta, who, after visiting the studios of Argentine Public TV (TVP), expressed his desire to sign an association agreement between TVP and the Brazilian public television company Empresa Brasil de Comunicación (EBC).

After Argentina, Lula will continue his official trip to Uruguay, which will not even Even having started has already sparked controversy. Although it is a state visit, the Brazilian President onlyhe will officially meet with President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou. The rest of his visit will be reserved exclusively for politicians who share his same ideological roots, from former president José “Pepe” Mujica to the president of the left-wing Frente Amplio party, Fernando Pereira. In the background there remains a matter of great concern for Lula's Brazil, that is, Uruguay's new trade agenda. During the Bolsonaro government, there were many points of convergence with the center-right government of Lacalle Pou, such as the easing of Mercosur to allow each member country to decide with whom to conduct trade negotiations outside of this trade bloc. Uruguay announced it in July 2021. A decision that had Brazil and Paraguay in favor and Argentina against. Then, in June 2022, Uruguay's announcement of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China created quite a bit of upset. Lula's meeting will be important to understand the evolution of the case. The Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, declared in recent days that “Uruguay's agreement with China would be the destruction of Mercosur”.

Although trade between Uruguay and Brazil registered a surplus for Brazilians of 1.06 billion dollars in 2022, Lula is interested in the issue of regional integration, in which Mercosur plays an important role. His objective, according to many Brazilian geopolitical experts, is to present himself as a leader at the continental level because Latin America cannot achieve any level of leadership without Brazil's commitment. “If Brazil is out of the game, the entire region is out of the game. We are the first country in the region for several reasons, because of our demographic size, because of our economy, because we share borders with almost all countries,” said political scientist Eduardo Crespo, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

< p class="paragraph">In short, the giant Brazil has woken up and is now looking for a common voice in Latin America. His return to CELAC will strengthen the body itself by allowing it to become a regional spokesperson in various multilateral arenas such as the UN. It could also give more continuity to other regional actions such as the creation of a Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ALCE) and the implementation of a comprehensive health self-sufficiency plan with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). A Latin American union, however, is something complex, as the very history of Europe teaches us, which took decades to come together and is still not fully united. Especially in the Latin American case, the question remains of how the principle of “unity is strength” can be implemented among countries that are in such different economic contexts and with a growing number of nations that are not democracies but dictatorships.

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