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Brazilian President's Africa Visit Aims to Boost Cultural, Economic Ties - 2003-11-06

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva is on a five-nation tour of Africa. Analysts say the trip is aimed at reinforcing economic ties between southern Africa and Latin America, and at boosting the developing world's global influence.

The Brazilian leader, called by his nickname, Lula, is making his first trip to Africa since his election last year.

The first three nations he visited - Mozambique, Angola and Sao Tome and Principe - are all former Portuguese colonies, with which Brazil shares a common language and historical ties. President da Silva is also visiting Namibia, and he will end his tour in South Africa.

Professor John Stremlau, head of the international relations department at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, says the Brazilian leader wants to build on his country's cultural and economic ties with Africa. Nearly half of all Brazilians are of African ancestry, making it the country with the world's second-largest black population, after Nigeria.

"The trip is a signal of Brazil's reawakening to the importance of Africa," he explained. "He is pursuing a new foreign policy, it seems, one less focused on engagement with the United States, or indeed even Latin America, and emphasizing good relations with his immediate neighbors and then [the] south-south connection."

The south-south connection refers to ties among developing nations, many of them in the southern hemisphere. Rather than the East-West divide, many development scholars now think of the world as divided between the rich countries of the north and the poor nations of the south.

Mr. Stremlau believes President da Silva is especially interested in cultivating his relationship with South Africa, the continent's single most powerful economy, and with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who shares his worldview.

"Da Silva has talked a lot about the need for strategic partners in the south, which resonates very positively with Thabo Mbeki and the South Africans, who are also interested in forging meaningful," he said, "and I stress meaningful partnerships, not grand talkfests such as the Non-Aligned Movement, but those kind of building blocks for U.N. reform, for dealing with the World Trade Organization's problems, particularly in agricultural subsidies, for promoting bilateral and multilateral economic links."

Mr. Stremlau and other international relations experts say a strategic alliance is building in the developing world, linking Brazil, South Africa and India. He says they are driven by their common interests, problems, and goals.

"All three countries have huge inequities within their own society, all three countries are democracies. All three countries are prepared to engage in the globalization process, but they want a fairer deal, so they will work together on that," he said.

Analysts say Brazil can also offer Africa lessons in providing affordable AIDS treatment. Wednesday, Mr. da Silva vowed to help Mozambique fight the AIDS epidemic. He announced that a Brazilian drug company will start producing generic anti-AIDS drugs in Mozambique.

Because Brazil has been manufacturing its own cheaper generic versions of the drugs, it has been able to make them available to any Brazilian who wants them.

But some analysts caution that Brazil's experience is of limited relevance to Africa because its AIDS problem is vastly different. According to the United Nations, about half a million Brazilians are HIV positive, only about one-quarter of one percent of the population. By contrast, South Africa alone is estimated to have more than five million HIV positive citizens, about 13 percent of the population.