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Will Brazil's Leftist Presidency Affect Relations with US?


In Brazil, the election of a leftist president is raising questions over how future relations with a Republican U.S. administration will develop. But for now, both Washington and top advisors to President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are expressing optimism over the future.

Mr. da Silva, known as Lula, is the first left-wing politician to be elected president of Brazil. He won a resounding victory in the October 27 election, after running unsuccessfully for president three times since 1989. Mr. da Silva, a burly former metalworker, owes his victory in large part to having moved himself and his leftist Workers' Party, or PT, toward the political center.

However, Mr. da Silva and the PT in the past have criticized U.S. policies in Latin America on a range of issues from free trade to Cuba. On the other side, hard-liners in Washington's foreign policy community view the leftist president-elect with deep suspicion. Constantine Menges, former national security council aide in the Reagan administration warned Mr. da Silva could create what he called a new "axis of evil" if he formed a partnership with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Brazilian political analyst Luis Pedone acknowledges Mr. da Silva's past could raise some concerns in Washington.

"What type of Lula are we going to have: a sheep in wolf's clothes, a wolf in sheep's clothes, or are we going to have a sheep in sheep's clothes, or a wolf in wolf's clothes," he asks. "I'm not sure which Lula will come out, but I'm sure it will be a prudent Lula."

For now, the Bush administration appears to have chosen to focus on the "prudent" Mr. da Silva. The State Department issued a statement after the election saying the United States looks forward to building a strong partnership with Mr. da Silva, adding the two nations share many areas of common interest.

A top foreign policy advisor to the president-elect, Marco Aurelio Gracia also stresses the positive. Mr. Garcia, who for 10 years headed the PT's foreign policy secretariat, tells VOA: he is optimistic about future relations between Brasilia and Washington.

"So far, what we've seen is a positive attitude on the part of the U.S. government," he says. "One sign of this is the conversation President-elect Lula had with President Bush, and the talks we've had with U.S. officials during the campaign. I don't doubt there may be difficulties in the future, such as over trade, but I think relations have started off well, and for our part we will make every effort to ensure they continue to be good."

The proposed hemisphere-wide free trade zone is likely to bring out serious differences. During the campaign, Mr. da Silva sharply criticized the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the U.S.-backed proposal which aims to open trade from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in 2005.

Mr. da Silva called the proposed free trade area, known by its Portuguese acronym ALCA, an attempt by the United States to annex Latin America's economies. After being elected, Mr. da Silva pledged to negotiate in the interests of Brazil's sovereignty. His comments pleased the Brazilian left, which has long opposed ALCA.

Former Brazilian foreign minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia says there is no question Brazil will take a much harder line toward ALCA. "As far as the ALCA is concerned the left feels rather negatively about it, and I think that in that respect I believe that Brazilian foreign policy might be, let us say, less inclined towards an agreement than it is at this point," he says.

After meeting with Mr. da Silva last week, the U.S. ambassador in Brazil, Donna Hrinak, acknowledged to reporters that the ALCA negotiations will be tough. But she said she remains hopeful they will eventually bear fruit.

Other issues may create differences as well. The Workers' Party opposes the militarization of the war in Colombia as Washington sends more military assistance and advisors to help the Colombian government fight Marxist rebels. Cuba is another potential sore point: Mr. da Silva has had a longstanding friendship with Cuban President Castro.

Mr. da Silva also has made comments that appear to criticize President Bush's war on terrorism saying during the campaign that resolving problems through war is not the best solution.

All this prompted a top State Department official last week to issue a warning. James Carragher, who heads the Department's Brazil and Southern Cone office, told a Washington seminar that Mr. da Silva, as president-elect, should now choose his words more carefully. The language that a president-elect and a president uses, he said, is now more important than it was as a candidate.

Mr. da Silva's foreign policy advisor, Marco Aurelio Garcia, reacted sharply to these comments.

"This was a lack of education on the part of a lower-level official, because he should know that a president of another country should be treated with respect," he said. "So I consider it a comment from someone who is new to the job, and with little diplomatic experience. I also think it contradicts the State Department's attitude, which has been one of respect and balance." Both countries have a lot to lose if the relationship turns sour after Mr. da Silva assumes the Presidency in January. U.S. companies have $38 billion invested in Brazil, while Brazil earned an estimated $14 billion in exports to the United States last year. Irritants may arise in coming months, but for now, the Bush administration and the incoming da Silva government have taken a measured tone in the hope of creating a working relationship.