A strong, fair and sovereign Brazil is an essential force for world peace: an interview with Elias Jabbour

Elias Jabbour

By Fiona Edwards

The recent election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the end of 2022 represents a significant victory for the people of Brazil and for progressive forces throughout Latin America and across the world. What are the prospects for Lula’s Presidency domestically and internationally? What changes can we expect?

I interviewed Elias Jabbour, Professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University, author and Winner of the Special Book Award of China 2022, to discuss the situation in Brazil, the prospects for Latin American integration, the role of Brazil-China relations and the importance of resisting the US’s threatening new cold war agenda.

Fiona Edwards: Lula inherits a situation in Brazil which has been scarred by four years of a far right government led by Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s government also has to operate in a context of an international economic slowdown. What difficulties does Lula’s government face and how can these be overcome? What are your hopes for Lula’s Presidency?

Elias Jabbour: The difficulties are immense. A very divided country, a minority in both legislative houses, 100 million people living in a state of food insecurity and a State destroyed after six years of savage neoliberalism. The Brazilian challenge has become something generational. Our reconstruction will be the work of generations. I believe it will be a victory if Lula manages to maintain the same broad base of support that defeated Bolsonaro and initiate policies capable of changing the lives of the population.

FE: Lula won 50.9% of the popular vote, over 60 million votes, in the second round of Brazil’s Presidential election. Bolsonaro secured 49% of the vote, 58.2 million votes. Whilst Lula secured a clear popular mandate, the threat of the far right, which remains a major force, is still present. This was underlined when the far right attempted a coup in January of this year – an incident which made headlines across the world. What is your assessment of the balance of forces in Brazil and the importance of the fight against the far right?

EJ: This is the point. Brazil has been fascist-ized in recent years and Bolsonaro has created a very large political base. That is why I believe that the most important thing is for the government to maintain the broad front that elected it. The fight against the extreme right is something strategic; it must be a priority in several fields. Brazil cannot succumb to a new victory for the extreme right in the next elections. At this moment, it is up to the Brazilian communists to have a broad view of events, to stay away from “leftism” and think beyond the horizon.

FE: A progressive economic policy is crucial for Brazil – in terms of tackling poverty, spurring social progress and developing the country. China has achieved a spectacular economic rise over the past 40 years which has brought over 860 million people out of poverty. As a Brazilian economist and an expert on China what do you think Brazil and other Latin American countries can learn from China’s economic success?

EJ: The fundamental thing we can learn from the Chinese is in politics: how to build a political majority around strategic issues and how to keep that political majority solid over time.

FE: A weakness of Brazil in the past period, compared to China and East Asian countries, has been its low level of investment. How do you think that can be overcome?

EJ: We must assemble a new political majority to reverse the institutional frameworks implemented by savage neoliberalism in Brazil. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for the Brazilian left. For example, state intervention in the economy is prohibited by law in Brazil and the Central Bank now has autonomy, but under broad control by the interests of the financial system. Lula has clearly positioned himself firmly against this system as a whole. But the solution involves the consolidation of another political majority in Brazil. Even in the Lula government there are neoliberals in key positions. It is the price we pay for composing a broad anti-fascist front.

FE: Lula is a champion of Latin American unity and integration and regionalism is at the heart of his programme. What are the prospects for regional integration in Latin America and what could this mean for Latin America’s independence from the US’s attempts to dominate the region economically and politically?

EJ: Brazil’s role under the command of progressive forces is fundamental for the dream of Latin American unity and the formation of an independent bloc. But that path will never be easy. A lot depends on the possibility of weakening the United States in the face of Russia and China and on how Biden will face the country’s great internal challenges. The stabilization of the Brazilian political framework and overcoming the serious economic crisis in Argentina are two major fundamental issues for the future of Latin America. And, of course, the deepening of ties with China is fundamental.

FE: Whilst the US’s approach to Latin America is to regard the region as its own ‘backyard’, China takes a radically different approach with a foreign policy based on respect for sovereignty and ‘win-win’ cooperation. What do you think China’s role should be in pursuing mutually beneficial relations with Brazil and Latin America? And how does this interact with the agenda of regionalism put forward by Lula and others?

EJ: China and its role in the world is fundamental for the future of Latin America. Agreements like the one recently signed with Bolivia to build an industry to process Bolivian lithium is an excellent example of cooperation to be studied and followed. In this sense, China’s relations with Brazil have a strategic dimension.

FE: At the heart of Lula’s agenda is a progressive, independent foreign policy. Following his election victory Lula said: “Brazil needs to return to being a country that is a citizen of the world. We will not accept a new Cold War between the United States and China. We want relationships with everyone.” What role do you think Brazil will play in international affairs during Lula’s Presidential term in office?

EJ: Brazil will play a role in the world in line with its real size and importance.

FE: It is reported that Brazil’s former President Dilma Rousseff is going to be appointed to be the head of the BRICS New Development Bank which is based in Shanghai. What would be the significance of such an appointment? 

EJ: There is still nothing official on this topic, but it would be great news for all those interested in enhancing the Bank’s role in deepening financial and investment relations between the BRICS member countries and the Global South. In addition to President Dilma’s solid political commitment to the objectives of the BRICS, she is a very prepared woman in all aspects. A rare name that combines all the qualities of both a great political leader and a highly qualified technical staff. On the other hand, it would only be part of the reparation that the Brazilian Motherland owes to this heroine of ours. Nothing will be enough to repair what they did to President Dilma Rousseff and Brazil.

FE: The United States and its imperialist allies are simultaneously increasing aggression against both Russia and China, two nuclear armed states, with the goal of maintaining US global hegemony. What is your perspective on this escalating new cold war agenda, the threat is poses to humanity and the prospects for international resistance to this US aggression?

EJ: Tensions in the world tend to rise in the same proportion as the hegemony of the United States is being increasingly contested. We will live in an increasingly dangerous world with tensions everywhere on the planet. Currently, in addition to Ukraine, I see the Taiwan Strait and Brazil as the main points of world tensions.

FE: What do you see as Brazil’s role and the role of the Global South more generally in the struggle for world peace, sustainability and prosperity?  

EJ: A strong, fair and sovereign Brazil is an essential force in the struggle for development and world peace. We need greater political, economic, trade and investment coordination with the People’s Republic of China. The path of the Global South to socialism passes through the deepening of relations, at all levels, between the Global South and China.

The above article was originally published here on Eyes on Latin America.