Lula

Good, bad, ugly

Read above the article published in opinion and editorial's page from El País. The article was wrote by Moisés Naím, an economist and editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Lula: Good, bad, ugly

Time magazine has just included Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva on a list of the planet's most influential people. Certainly his actions have affected the lives of millions of people and, in the case of his compatriots, very positively. But Lula does not only merit applause. Some aspects of his record are shameful. Let's look.

The good. Ten million Brazilians have joined the middle class between 2004 and 2008. Poverty fell from 46 percent of the population in 1990 to 26 percent in 2008. Inequality in income distribution has diminished. Hyperinflation is now a thing of the past. External debt stands at an enviable four percent of GDP. And in the next decade, Brazil may become an important producer of petroleum.

Thanks to its success and its size, Brazil is now a presence in international negotiations on climate, energy, trade, finance, development, nuclear proliferation and other challenges that face the world. Thus, Lula has rendered obsolete the old joke in which Brazil was the land of the future, and always would be. Brazil has already fulfilled much of its potential.

The bad. Lula is not very generous. He ought to share the credit with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, his predecessor as president. Lula inherited a reformed economy, advanced social policies and a very solid basis for continuing on the path of economic liberalization and deregulation.

Lula's great merit has been that of having maintained, extended and defended these policies, in contrast with the ideological positions he held for years. Lula led the opposition to the reforms that have won him the world's applause. While at revolutionary summits with Chávez, Castro, Ortega, etc. Lula waxes lyrical about socialism, but in his actions in Brazil socialism is conspicuous by its absence. He has been one of the most pro-market presidents in the recent history of Brazil. He often says that his market economic policies serve to build the groundwork for socialism. Few believe him. And it is easy to guess that one of the nonbelievers is Lula himself. Meanwhile, the struggle against corruption has never been much of a priority for Lula.

The ugly. Lula has been very good for Brazilians, and bad for millions of his neighbors. The despots who are lucky enough to be Lula's friends, and who are ruining their own countries while Brazil progresses, know that they can count both on Lula’s strident support and on his compliant silence.

His unconditional public backing gives them valuable international legitimacy, so they can act with even greater impunity within their own countries. It would be naive to expect Lula to be the region's guardian of democracy and human rights. But it should not be naïve to expect that those who repeatedly violate basic rights should be, at least, unable to count on Lula's indulgent silence, and his fraternal embrace at summit meetings.

Lula's list of inconsistencies is long, and grows weekly. The most recent example has been his causing the new president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, to be excluded from an upcoming summit meeting. Lula says that Lobo —who won the elections without the fixing common in the regions of Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega —lacks sufficient democratic credentials to attend the meeting. This comes from the same president who told the world that Mahmud Ahmadinejad won his election honestly, and that the massive protests in Iran were like the irate fans of a losing soccer team. While Lula was saying this, Ahmadinejad was ordering death sentences for some of the protestors. Ugly, isn't it?

Lula will be remembered as a good president for his own nation, and a bad neighbor for those who love liberty.

(Published by El Pais – May 10, 2010)

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