Lula da Silva’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election is a blow to the Trudeau government’s Latin America strategy. It is a further rejection of Ottawa’s effort to eliminate leftist governments in the hemisphere and exposes their complicity in the 2016 parliamentary coup.
Political developments in the region have turned sharply against Ottawa recently. The elections of Gustavo Petro, Xiomara Castro, Gabriel Boric, Pedro Castillo, Alberto Fernández and Andrés Manuel López Obrador have ushered in a new “pink tide” in the hemisphere. It has rekindled regional integration efforts, which are a blow to Trudeau’s Latin America strategy.
The Liberals multifaceted bid to overthrow Venezuela’s government has failed with even Washington looking set to jettison Juan Guaido. A more circumspect regime change effort in Nicaragua has also floundered. In Bolivia the October 2019 Canadian-backed coup against Evo Morales was decisively rejected a year later when Morales’ former finance minister, Luis Acre, won the presidency and his party took a large majority in the legislature.
A similar dynamic has taken place in Brazil. While Lula’s victory is less decisive and Canada’s role in the Workers Party’s downfall far less significant, the geopolitical ramifications of the reversal are far greater.
In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached through a “soft coup”. A little more than a year into her second four-year term, parliamentarians voted Rousseff out. They found her guilty of breaking Brazil’s budget laws. The impeachment was sparked by an economic downturn and the massive “car wash” corruption probe that targeted various politicians, including her Workers Party predecessor. There was no evidence Rousseff was corrupt and the case against Lula was flimsy. The lead prosecutor, who under the Brazilian system also acts as a judge, Sérgio Moro, later became justice minister in the Jair Bolsonaro government and in mid 2019 The Intercept released a trove of communications from Moro, confirming the political nature of the charges against Lula that weakened Rousseff. After spending a year and a half in prison on trumped up charges, Lula was released.
The Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster and persecution of the left. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. Soon after, Canada began negotiating to join the Brazilian led MERCOSUR trade bloc (just after Venezuela was expelled). They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership. In October 2018 former foreign minister Chrystia Freeland met her Brazilian counterpart. She tweeted, “Canada and Brazil enjoy a strong friendship and we are thankful for your support in defending the international rules-based order and holding the Maduro regime in Venezuela to account.”
In 2018 openly sexist, racist and anti-environmental Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Lula was blocked from running due to the politically motivated corruption charges. The Trudeau government was publicly silent on Lula’s imprisonment. The night before the Supreme Court was set to determine Lula’s fate the general in charge of the army hinted at military intervention if the judges ruled in favour of the popular former president. Not even that was criticized by Ottawa.
At the G20 in June 2019 Trudeau warmly welcomed Bolsonaro and Canada continued negotiating the Canada-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement with the new right wing government.
With over $10 billion invested in Brazil, corporate Canada appeared excited by the prospects of a right-wing president. After his election CBC reported, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”
Lula’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election is a rejection of the 2016 “soft coup” and persecution of the Workers’ Party. It’s also a rejection of Canadian policy in Brazil and the hemisphere. The new ‘pink tide’ and Latin American integration is a blow to Trudeau’s Latin America strategy.