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Interview with Miguel Diaz, Director of MERCOSUR/South America Project


As Brazil prepares to inaugurate President-elect Luis Inacio da Silva, VOA-TV’s David Borgida had a chance to speak with Miguel Diaz, Director of the South America Project at CSIS, a Washington “think tank,” about the man known as “Lula.” Mr. Diaz provides details on Mr. da Silva’s political ideals and strategies of domestic and international affairs. How might this working-class leader affect the politics in Brazil and the rest of Latin America? Mr. Diaz gave us his opinion earlier on the program “NewsLine.”

MR. BORGIDA:
Now joining us live, Miguel Diaz, Director of the South America Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. Mr. Diaz, thank you for joining us today.

MR. DIAZ:
A pleasure to be here.

MR. BORGIDA:
Add a little insight, if you would, to the picture of Lula, the man they call "Lula." I know you haven't met him, but could you tell us a little more about him and the kind of person he is?

MR. DIAZ:
Sure. One thing for sure, he is persistent. This is the fourth time that he has run for the presidency of the country. He is dedicated to the democratic rules of the game. He was a prisoner during the military regime in the seventies, so he comes from that experience. He is charismatic, certainly more charismatic than his principal competition. Apparently he has learned, as well. There were some questions early on as to whether he was able to change his stripes, and he definitely moved towards the middle in this election. And that's the reason he won the election. My sense of the man is that he is committed to the mass of the population that really haven't done well over the last decade. He comes from those roots. He strikes me as clean. I cannot say that about a lot of presidents in the region as well.

MR. BORGIDA:
Clean in terms of not corrupted by anything?

MR. DIAZ:
Corruption, that's right.

MR. BORGIDA:
In terms of his worldliness, for lack of a better term, he really hasn't traveled extensively. How would you see his learning curve on the world stage, a great one? Is he a quick learner?

MR. DIAZ:
Well, he has big shoes to fill. Cardosa was exceptional in the international arena. Cardoso, prior to being President, was the Foreign Minister, was the Finance Minister, had lived abroad, so he had a pretty good sense of the world. Lula doesn't have that kind of experience. He has limited education and he has traveled pretty seldom. Even over the last decade, when he has been a prominent political figure, he has done very little travel. And he traveled not necessarily to the right places, in my view. He has been to Cuba. He has been to Venezuela. It has been four years since he came to the U.S., I understand. I'm sure he has been to Europe, but he does not strike me as worldly as his predecessor.

MR. BORGIDA:
I believe the President of the United States, George W. Bush, congratulated Lula on his victory. How do you see his relationship with the United States? Will it be mainly focused on his financial policies and monetary policies?

MR. DIAZ:
Well, his principal mandate is to deliver economic growth to Brazil. And given the constraints that he has on other means of generating growth -- there is very little to privatize, there is very little investment coming in, there are fiscal constraints on how much money the government can spend because of an IMF agreement -- the only option available to Lula is to be able to export and create jobs through exports. And what better market to export than the biggest market in the world, the U.S.? So, he has to see the advantages of having a working relationship with the U.S. Government. It should be said that over the last decade it has been a very positive relationship between the U.S. and Brazil. All you hear in the press are differences over commercial issues, which should be expected, but other than that, the relationship has gone pretty well.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's broaden it for a moment. Does he, you think, reflect a changing kind of a Latin American leader, or is he about where the region has been going in the last decade or so?

MR. DIAZ:
I think I take an exceptional view to this. I don't think Latin America is necessarily going left. I think Latin America is right now a little bit confused. In the case of Lula, I think he won for three or four reasons. One is his competitor was not very charismatic, as I said before. Polls show that if Cardoso would have ran against Lula, probably Cardoso would have won the election. But the voters also voted against the rising crime in the country. They voted against some of the corruption that accompanied the Cardoso administration. And Brazilians, like everybody else, wanted something different for a change. They got tired of politicians of the same mold, with the same world view and the same policies, and they decided that they wanted to experiment with something different. That's wonderful. That's what democracies are all about. I think Brazil has the luxury of experimenting. It has enough institutional checks on a bad president, like a very strong congress, a very strong and vibrant free press, that could protect the country from, let's say, a bad to mediocre president. Not every country in Latin America has the same luxury.

MR. BORGIDA:
In terms of international financial institutions, as I'm sure you know, Brazil has to deal with them on a regular basis. Anything that you see developing with his administration that might differ from the previous one?

MR. DIAZ:
Well, that's the principal challenge for Lula -- how does he go about winning the confidence of Wall Street? Wall Street has pretty much sold him off, and I think he is going to have to rebuild that confidence from scratch. That's why everybody is looking very closely at who his economic team is going to be. And hopefully that will be decided sooner, rather than later. But eventually the pie is going to be in the pudding. He has to implement policies that engender confidence. And that will take time. It will have to wait until he takes office.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of Miguel Diaz, Director of the South America Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. Thank you for joining us today. (End of interview.)

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