Brazil or a divided world again

Brazil by Raphael Nogueira from Unsplash

There is a tendency to talk badly about the Middle Ages, to say that the world was a cruel and dark place – that some people were killed for their beliefs, while others believed that the earth was flat. Statistical truth shows that most people were killed for their beliefs in the 20th century and that in the early 21st century, there are far more people who believe in horoscopes than in the truths of natural science.

In my humble opinion, the Middle Ages were good. Our Lithuania stretched from sea to sea, there were more people wanting to join than wanting to emigrate, and eventually, the Middle Ages ended with the discovery of America. The reason I have made these remarks in writing about Brazil is that if it were not for the knowledge that the earth is round, there would be no Brazil.

So, the great geographical discoveries of more than five centuries ago were financed mainly by the monarchs of the Iberian Peninsula, the centre of Europe and the world at that time. A very round world, by the way, shared equally between the then rulers of Spain and Portugal in 1494. The so-called Treaty of Tordesillas was signed, whereby the dividing line of the newly discovered world “crosses” the New World into a Portuguese and a Spanish part. That Portuguese part (east of the line) became Brazil, became the largest Portuguese possession, today 20 times larger than the “mother” Portugal, today the largest country in the whole of so-called Latin America, and indeed with ambitions to be not only large but also great, by all the criteria of such a state. Just as Portugal can never be Spain in Europe, so Brazil can never be like the ‘ordinary’ Latin American countries in South America. And not just because of size. Because of politics. Both those for “internal consumption” and those for the world.

What is specific about those policies for the world, we will discuss later On the internal consumption, it has to be admitted that Brazil has all the region’s specific troubles-troubles. The country’s new-old President, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, is one of the almost-numerous leaders of the region’s countries who are popularly known as Leftists. Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru are therefore led by similar politicians. Most of them have been elected very recently, and this seems to be the trend in politics. It is also a trend that such politicians do not usually become ‘patriarchs’ and are quickly whistled down, but President Lula is really different. He has come in for a second time, he has defeated the Latin American ‘Trump’ of Bolsonaro, so it is not surprising – he does not hide the fact that he has big ambitions. The days when the country was just a big coffee plantation are over. Today, there is much more.

So what does Brazil want to achieve (and what can it achieve) with an old-new president?

The old-new is not just for the sake of it; Lula has bought into the thesis that his return to power is also the return of the whole of Brazil to world politics. However, that world politics is not so simple. However much the Brazilian President may dislike it, the biggest and most influential country in the world is still the US, which is the one that should not be friends with because it was the one that his predecessor was friends with.

There is also China, but to be with it is to be in its pocket, and to be in its pocket is not to pursue Brazil’s policy but rather China’s. There is also Russia, but it is not the one you want to love; it is the one that is better not to be nervous about because it is nervous as it is. There is the whole world of the poor, which is best represented by a group of countries called BRICS, but it is more of a symbol than a real alliance. Democracy or human rights of any kind are not a big thing in the BRICS, and there is a lot of selfishness and cynicism.

The BRICS format, from a very formal point of view, may appear to be a way of creating what is called a multipolar world, with Brazil itself as one pole. The multipolar world that the Chinese and the Russians talk a lot about is in fact, built on two political pillars. One is to oppose the vision of multipolarity to the monopolistic American world, and the other is to become the largest in that multiply itself. Lula understands that Brazil may not become the most important very soon and probably never at all. It should not be forgotten that the biggest investor in the country is the US, and the biggest trading partner is China. Is it worth taking the risk of choosing one or trying to accommodate both?

In addition to the above, hostility towards America can have several unpleasant side effects: it can damage relations with the European Union, and it can become an ally of the Russians (even if it does not want to). With the Russians, President Lula is already ‘in trouble’. It is true that he later excused himself by saying that he did not want to admit so easily that both belligerents were equally guilty, but he still discredited himself considerably as the President of a country that claims to be the world’s great good peacemaker. In the Ukrainian war, there are not two ‘angry’ neighbours but an aggressor and a victim, and a compromise deal as a model of peace is completely inappropriate. It is better to come to an agreement with the EU, which wants to have a good trade business in South America, than to be angry, especially as there is a lot more to be had from Europe than the Chinese are offering. History teaches us that politicians are powerless in such difficult situations… take their time. So Lula, too, is very likely to postpone global decisions for the future, having travelled the world.

Another area of political ambition for Brazil is climate policy. The so-called deforestation of the Amazon has reached an alarming level, and if we do not stop the deforestation of the equator, all the dreams about stopping climate change will remain dreams. On the one hand, there is a real chance for Brazilian leadership, but it must also be acknowledged that pessimism is increasingly overtaking optimism in the climate change sphere, where the war is being won not by electric tanks but by far more “polluting” artillery.

There is also the desire to become a true regional leader, an ideologue of regional integration. It would seem that, as the biggest country, Brazil is a good bait for the smaller players in the political process to rally around it. But once again, we have to go back to a five-hundred-plus-year-old treaty that reminds us that Brazil is not like the rest.

It is not. In five hundred years, the world has divided more times than it has erased dividing lines. Globalisation, which came decades ago, was supposed to make the whole world united and friendly, but… it seems to have done something wrong again. Some countries are threatened with geopolitical loneliness, which is neither safe nor comfortable.

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