By Tara John, CNN
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the divisions in his country were no worse than the political split in the United States, in an exclusive CNN interview Friday ahead of his meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House.
“Here there’s also a split, much more, or as serious as Brazil — Democrats and Republicans are very split up. Love it or leave it, that’s more or less what’s going on,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Washington, adding that Brazil does not have “a hatred culture.”
Both Lula and Biden saw government buildings sacked in the aftermath of their presidential elections by far-right elements that have posed huge tests for their respective democracies.
“Never could we imagine that in a country that was the symbol of democracy in the world — someone could try to invade the Capitol,” he said about the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot in the US.
The similarities between the January 8 attack on Brasilia and the US insurrection include former President Jair Bolsonaro’s close alignment with former US President Donald Trump.
Lula calls Bolsonaro a “faithful copycat of Trump,” saying both men “don’t enjoy trade unions… They don’t like workers, don’t like women. They don’t like Black people.”
Both ex-leaders were repeatedly criticized during their terms for using racist and misogynistic language.
Even so, Lula is not convinced all Bolsonaro supporters are adherents to his views. “I am convinced that not everybody that voted for Bolsonaro follows Bolsonarism,” he said.
After his election loss, Bolsonaro decamped for the United States. He has been living near Orlando, Florida, for more than a month, prompting some Democratic Party lawmakers to call for him to leave the country.
Will Lula ask Biden to help extradite Bolsonaro back to Brazil? “I don’t know, I’m not going to talk about President Biden about that, this will depend on courts,” he replied. “One day he has to come back to Brazil and face all the lawsuits against him.”
Bolsonaro faces “almost 12 lawsuits against him in Brazil, more cases will come in,” Lula said, adding that he believes his former rival will “be convicted in some international court because of the genocide with Covid (outbreak) because half of the people that died in Brazil during Covid was the responsibility of the federal government.”
He also alleged that Bolsonaro could be “punished” by courts for “the genocide against the Yanomami indigenous people” after illegal mining in their protected territory soared during his term.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has ordered an investigation to determine whether the actions of the Bolsonaro government amounted to “genocide” of the Yanomami — who have seen disease and malnutrition tear through their community in the last four years.
Bolsonaro has previously called such accusation a “left-wing farce” on his official Telegram channel.
Lula’s talks with Biden on Friday are expected to center around combating climate change and tackling anti-democratic extremism.
While Lula believes “democracy will prevail” in Brazil, he worries about about the rise of extreme right groups around the world.
“It’s in Brazil, it’s in Spain, it’s in France, and they are in Hungary, in Germany. We have an organized extreme right in the world and if we’re not careful, this will be a Nazi attitude from there. This is a denial attitude we haven’t seen before,” he said.
He agrees there is much to be done in Brazil about the climate, saying the country’s commitment to “reduce greenhouse emissions” by 39% would have to include rewarding local “mayors and governors, who guarantee no more burning of the forests.”
By extending an early invitation to Lula to visit the White House, Biden hopes to cultivate closer ties and demonstrate his support for one of the Western Hemisphere’s key players.
Biden quickly called Lula following his victory late last year, hoping to demonstrate support after Bolsonaro had laid the groundwork to question the election results. The move was received well among Lula’s officials, who saw it as a sign Biden was looking to restore US-Brazil ties.
They have met previously — when Biden was vice president, he met Lula on the sidelines of a gathering in Chile. But as counterparts, they will look to deepen what has traditionally been a key bilateral relationship in the Western Hemisphere, strained in recent years by the diametrically opposed Biden and Bolsonaro.
While they have much in common, Lula — like many leaders in middle income and developing countries — has adopted a policy of non-intervention over the war in Ukraine.
He has rebuffed efforts led by Biden to unite the global community in opposition to Russia’s invasion.
Speaking to CNN, Lula said that Ukraine had the right to defend itself “because the invasion was a mistake on the part of Russia.”
He explained he refused to provide ammunition to Ukraine because, “I don’t want to go join the war. I want to end the war.”
Lula has sought be a global statesman who could broker a truce between Russia and Ukraine, telling CNN that he has begun this “work” by speaking to the German Chancellor, who visited Brazil in January.
“I want to talk about peace with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I want to talk about peace with President Biden, I want to talk about peace with (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping. I want to talk about peace with India, with Indonesia… because for me the world will only develop itself if we have peace,” he said.
Another thing Lula shares with Biden is age. They are both elderly presidents: Biden is 80 years old, while Lula is 77.
When asked about it, Lula said aging only exists for those who don’t have a cause to fight for.
“I am 77 years of age, and … I have the energy and power of someone who is 30 years old,” he said. “I don’t sleep because my home is the Brazilian people — I have to improve the lives of my people.”
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