Mar 27, 2009 - Uncategorized    16 Comments

The man with a vision

Anyone who is familiar with Tariq Ali knows his passionate and unwavering support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Back in 2006, he was in Karachi and during one session he suggested that Pakistan needs it’s own Chavez. I disagreed and said that Pakistan has had its own version of Chavez in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto back in 1970s. He not only gave into Islamists while drafting 1973 constitution, but he also nationalized private assets like Chavez and hindered the private sector growth is the country. Right now, we need a leader like Brazilian president Lula da Silva who has his head firmly screwed on his shoulder and who is a problem solver and not narcissist like Chavez. Tariq Ali obviously disagreed with my analysis.

Fast forward 2009, Chavez has amended the constitution to end limit on the number of terms a person can serve as the president and get elected because he thinks he is necessary for the country. On the other hand, we have Lula, who despite enjoying an overwhelming 84 percent popularity, refused to amend the constitution and will step down after his term ends because he “believes that changing the president is important for the strengthening of democracy itself.”

Here is the latest interview of perhaps the most popular president in office (Yes, his rating as the president is better than the bigO, President Obama) with Fareed Zakaria.

Once a leftist firebrand, Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned to free-market liberalism and helped make his country Latin America’s biggest economic success. Earlier this month he became the first Latin leader to visit President Barack Obama at the White House, and in April he’ll head to London for the G20 summit on the global financial crisis. He met with NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria in New York. Excerpts:

Zakaria: Your meeting with President Obama went longer than expected. What did you talk about?

Da Silva: We talked a lot about the economic crisis. We also decided to create a working group between the U.S. and Brazil to participate in the G20 summit meeting. I told Obama that I’m praying more for him than I pray for myself, because he has much more delicate problems than I. He left a huge impression on me, and he has everything it takes to build a new image for the U.S. with relation to the rest of the world.

You got on pretty well with President Bush. How are they different?
Look, I did have a good relationship with President Bush, it’s true. But there are political problems, cultural problems, energy-grid problems, and I hope that President Obama will be the next step forward. I believe that Obama doesn’t have to be so concerned with the Iraq War. This will permit him to explore the possibility of building peace policies where there is no war, which is Latin America and Africa.

You are probably the most popular leader in the world, with an 80 percent approval rating. Why?
Brazil is a country that has rich people, as you have in New York City. But we also have poor people, like in Bangladesh. So we tried to prove it was possible to develop economic growth while simultaneously improving income distribution. In six years we have lifted 20 million people out of poverty and into the middle class, brought electricity into 10 million households and increased the minimum wage every year. All without hurting anyone, without insulting anyone, without picking fights. The poor person in Brazil is now less poor. And this is everything we want.

There are people who credit high oil, gas and agriculture prices. Can you manage with prices going down rather than up?
The recent discovery of oil is very important, because part of the oil we find will help resolve the problem of poverty and the problem of education. Brazil does not want to become an exporter of crude oil. We want to be a country that exports oil byproducts—more gasoline, high-quality oil. The investments were calculated at the price of $35 per barrel. Now, at $40, we still have enough margin.

Critics say that during this period of high commodity prices, you did not position Brazil to move economically up to the next level.
This doesn’t make sense. When I became president of Brazil, the public debt was 55 percent of GDP. Today it is 35 percent. Inflation was 12 percent, and today it’s 4.5 percent. We have economic stability. Our exports have quadrupled. The fact is that the growth of the Brazilian economy is the highest it has been in 30 years.

Will Brazil’s economy grow this year?
I’m convinced we’ll reach the end of the year with a positive growth rate. But we did not foresee that the crisis would have either the size or the depth that it has today in the U.S. Now we need new political decisions that depend on the rich countries’ governments. How are we going to reestablish credit, reestablish the American consumer and the European consumer? Now we have to prove we are worthy.
I was even getting a little bit disappointed in political life. I’ve already had my sixth year of my term, and you start getting tired. But this crisis is almost like something—a provocative thing for us, to wake us up. It’s giving me enthusiasm. I want to fight. The more crises, the more investment you have to make. So we’re investing today in what we never invested in for the last 30 years, in railroads, highways, waterways, dams, bridges, airports, ports, housing projects, basic sanitation. We have to be bold, because in Brazil we have many things to do that in other countries were already done many years ago.

Last December you had a meeting of the 33 countries of the Americas except the United States. Why? It seemed that the United States was pointedly excluded.
We have never had such a meeting among only the Latin American and Caribbean countries. So it was necessary to have this meeting without super economic powers, a meeting of countries that face the same problems.

You’ve said you hope this crisis will change the politics of the world, to give countries like Brazil and India and China a greater say. What specifically—what power do you want that you don’t have now for Brazil?
We want to have much more influence in world politics. For example, we want that the multilateral financial institutions not be open only to the Americans and Europeans—institutions like the IMF and World Bank. We want more continents to participate in the Security Council. Brazil should have a seat, and the African continent should have one or two.

You are regarded as a great symbol of democracy in the Americas. And yet some people say you have been quiet as Hugo Chávez has destroyed democracy in Venezuela. Why not speak out? If Brazil wants a greater role in the world, wouldn’t that be one part, to stand for certain values?
Well, maybe we cannot agree with Venezuelan democracy, but no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.

He has gangs out on the street. This is not real democracy.
Look, we have to respect the local cultures, the political traditions of each country. Given that I have 84 percent support in the public-opinion polls, I could propose an amendment to the Constitution for a third term. I don’t believe in that. But Chávez wanted to stay … I believe that changing the president is important for the strengthening of democracy itself.

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16 Comments

  • the interview makes for good reading…comes across as intelligent man which is so rare for politicians in our part of the world.

  • Thanks Tazeen for sharing this gem of an interview.

    i never knew much about this guy….but now i will study about him further.

  • I agree that Pakistan needs a Lula and not a Chavez. Socialism is not the way to go, but free market liberalism might be.

  • Very inspiring interview. I did not know much about this guy as well.

  • Thanks for sharing this! I am embarrassed to admit that i was unaware of Lula.

  • assalam… nice your blog…

  • Hi , You took on tariq ali. Great.I am suprised at so many Pakistanies not knowing about Lula

  • Yet another reformist on the block — yet another favourite of FZ (and by extension all ‘liberals’).

  • Tazeen,
    Lula is one of the most corrupt politicians in Brazil’s history. His crimes include systemic bribery of local politicians for votes to land grabbing and illegal gambling dens. Just because he gave up, at 84 no less, on the presidency doesnt mean he is a good politician. He has even hand picked a successor whom he parades in all his speeches and public project inaugurations. All that means is , he is an astute politician. The Brazilian congress almost impeached him in 2006 and since when did getting reelected in a democratic fashion indicate a person’s capability? All that means is that he got the popular vote-heck, even Bush got reelected. You for one might agree that Bush wasn’t the ablest of presidents. Why not look towards of neighbour instead – India which has a wonderful (so far) prime minister leading them, untainted and unquestionably a genius. He is byfar the most learned and most qualified prime minister in the entire history of democracy.

  • I agree about MM Singh, the Indian PM.

  • Well,, I stumbled upon your blog totally throught various chains of links and found it quite amusing, the fact that you have mastered the art of rolling your eyes is fascinating.
    I did not know much about Brazil’s economy, except that I had a brazilian banker friend some years ago, who gave me an impression of their national pride and yet some economic crisis. That was back in 2000. Shumaila’s comments may very well be right. Brazil’s economy is booming and people are always friendly too.

    Your post did however reminded me of Tariq Ali, and I ordered his 2008 book, The duel.. ..Should make an interesting read as I have listened to him here and there but never really read him..
    Good work tanzeen.. you seem to have the good handle on writing, i enjoyed the WTF post too.
    Atif

  • Shumaila, With all due respect, few things I would take issue with,

    >>Lula is one of the most corrupt >>politicians in Brazil’s history. >>His crimes include systemic >>bribery of local politicians for >>votes to land grabbing and >>illegal gambling dens.

    I have followed his rise to power and have only heard of allegations without much in evidence or proof. Can you provide your source? Most if not all publications agree that he may not have been directly involved. Probably says a little about his overall capability as a manager but does not prove that he is the most corrupt leader Brazil has ever had.

    >>Just because he gave up, at 84

    Lula is not 84, he is 64 right now and when he steps down in 2011 he will be 66.

    >>on the presidency doesnt mean he >>is a good politician.

    I agree. From what I know about him, he does not fit the classic politician mold. He is more of a reformer who is leaving behind a good example of Not clinging to power when he potentially can due to his popularity.

    >>He has even hand picked a >>successor whom he parades in all >>his speeches and public project >>inaugurations. All that means >>is , he is an astute politician.

    You seem to be contradicting yourself. Either he is a good politician or he is not.
    The successor might want to pin himself close to Lula anyway because the man is popular in the country.

    >>The Brazilian congress almost >>impeached him in 2006 and

    There were investigations and cabinet member resignations but there was no move for impeachment although there were speculations. So the almost impeach part is wrong.

    >>since when did getting reelected >>in a
    >>democratic fashion indicate a >>person’s capability?

    Right you are! No disagreements there. I think it shows that he is able to get his message across to people so he is a good mass communicator, not unlike Bush or Obama.

    >>Why not look towards of >>neighbour instead – India which >>has a wonderful (so far) prime >>minister leading them, untainted >>and unquestionably a genius. He >>is byfar the most learned and >>most qualified prime minister in >>the entire history of democracy.

    That is playing him up a bit much. I am not sure if he is the most learned or the most qualified, that too in the long history of democracy, since the job that he is doing is hard to explain through qualifications required for it except the fact that you have to be most popular, if not with the masses then with the clique that matter.

    I find it interesting that you have such strong opinions on Lula. Have you followed his career, lived in Brazil or are you a student of international politics?

  • Shumaila, I agree with Shahab. Actually, Manmohan Singh is in charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests that has basically introduced policies that will give industrialists a free for all in India. Though in the short term this has produced economic gains, the long term consequences will be terrible, if not modified soon.

    I dont think he is personally corrupt, but he displays very neo-liberal tendencies.

  • I was just in Brazil for my friend’s wedding and asked my cab driver (who spoke a little English) what he thought of the president and he definitely was part of the 84% who found him favorable. Although I was only in Sao Paulo for a week (the business hub of brazil), it’s not hard to see why they feel that way – that country is booming (relatively)!

  • Shahab Riazi,
    “Zardari is corrupt”, can you provide proof? “The MQM was involved in the May 12 killings”, do you have evidence? “Dawood Ibrahim is a don”, any proof?

  • Politicians are not our saviors. They are supposed to be just facilitators in us having a dialogue. Instead they become agents of complex economic and political systems whose only motivation is self-preservation and self-replication (and enslavement of the human race).

    I ask everyone to just bypass the politicians. They are jokers, and usually have no clue of what they are talking about.

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