In January, 2020, Brasil Wire editors Daniel Hunt and Brian Mier, in partnership with Michael Brooks, host of the Michael Brooks Show, interviewed former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the Workers Party (PT) headquarters in São Paulo. The interview was the culmination of a 6 month process which started with the filing of a request in the Curitiba Court system to interview him while he was still a political prisoner due to a kangaroo court procedure which leaked social media messages exposed by Glenn Greenwald now show was designed to catapult neofascist Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency. While preparing for the interview, we made the decision not to cross-examine him about his imprisonment, as most interviewers have done recently. Instead, we decided to focus on questions related to the legacy of a historically important union leader and President, US imperialism and how to defeat the resurgence of fascism on the World stage. The following edited transcript represents Part 1 of the 80 minute interview. Part 2 will be released in one week. The video was filmed by Edge of Democracy cinematographer Ricardo Stukert and TeleSur producer Nacho Lemus and can be viewed on the Michael Brooks Show Youtube channel, here.
Michael Brooks: Mr President it’s an honor to be here – it’s great to come from Brooklyn to visit you. I’m Michael Brooks, I host the very creatively named Michael Brooks Show and I am here along with Brian Mier and Daniel Hunt. They are co-editors of Brasil Wire and Daniel is the founding editor. We are also here in partnership with TeleSur and Brasil 247. It really is great to be here and it’s been very good to help get some of the people in North America to get to know about Brazil and your leadership. I want to start on that theme. Recent news out of Iran has been very disturbing and a lot of North Americans don’t know about your role in 2010, negotiating an agreement with Iran for peace and a political solution similar to what Obama would negotiate several years later. So, in two parts: why did President Obama walk away from the deal that you negotiated? And today we see that President Trump escalated. He rejected the deal, he assassinated Soleimani. What role do you see Brazil and other southern countries playing in creating peace in international relations and how could the US be a partner to that instead of an antagonist?
Lula: First of all it is important to look at that moment when Brazil, together with Turkey, made a deal with Iran on uranium enrichment. It was a different historic moment from that which Brazil is in today. Brazil was more respected in the World. Brazil was almost an international protagonist because we had removed the FTAA [Free Trade Agreement of the Americas] from the debate and had strengthened MercoSul. We had created UnaSul, which was the union of the countries of South America. We had created the BRICS, we had created IBAS, we had created a union between Africa and South America, we had created a union between countries in the Middle East and South America, we had created CELAC which was the only international encounter which included Cuba but did not include the United States and Canada. We had created the BRICS bank, and the Bank of the South here in South America. Brazil was transforming into a protagonist and it was a strong candidate to become part of the UN Security Council. We believed that Brazil should have joined it, along with India, Germany and Japan. What we did not factor in was Japan’s contentious relationship with China – it was very contentious and very strong. China, which was so favorable to the expansion of the UN Security Council, did not support our idea. But we had support from Russia, France and the UK. Bush seemed very favorable to the idea at first. Obama was less supportive. When we proposed to negotiate with Ahmadinejad, it was historically important because we were in the United States at the time. We were in a G20 meeting in Princeton. I had spoken with Ahmadinejad in the hotel but at this point I did not have a friendly relationship with him. So I arrived in the meeting and I asked Obama if he had spoken with Ahmadinejad and he said no. I asked Angela Merkel and she said no. I asked Gordon Brown and he said no. I spoke with Sarkozy and he said no. The fact was that nobody had spoken with Ahmadinejad. I thought, ‘how do these people want to make a deal without a conversation’? Because international politics is really outsourced, especially in Europe. There are employees who do the negotiations and this makes it hard. I remember that Hilary Clinton worked hard against my idea to go to Iran. She even called the Emir of Qatar and asked him to convince me not to go. When I arrived in Moscow and met with Medvedev, I found out Obama had called and asked him to help convince me not to go, because I would be tricked.
Michael: Why were they so concerned?
Lula: Obama didn’t want me to go to Iran, but he had written a letter saying that if Ahmadinejad agreed with such and such terms, he would be happy with it. So it was with this letter that I traveled to Iran. We got there and after two days of very tough talks I told Ahmadinejad that I would not return to Brazil without his signature. He said, “can’t it just be an oral agreement?”
I said, “It’s not enough, because nobody believes in you over there. They say that Iranians are liars and they don’t honor agreements. So I’ll only leave with something in writing.”
So he accepted our agreement. I was surprised because I imagined that Obama would be happy with the deal but he increased the sanctions against Iran. Then we discovered that Hilary Clinton didn’t know about the letter that Obama had sent me. She got angry when Celso Amorim and I told her about the letter. So I had no option but to publish Obama’s letter so people could see that we hadn’t done anything crazy. The deal that we brokered was more precise than that which was later signed by Europe and the United States. So it was a very disagreeable situation and my impression was that the rich countries – influenced by the thinking of the US State Department – did not accept a new protagonist in the area. In their minds Brazil was not big enough to get involved in an issue of that scale. It was easy for me to speak with Ahmadinejad because I told him that the only thing I wanted from them is what we have in Brazil. I wanted him to have the same rights as Brazil. Brazil’s constitution supports the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons but allows the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes – for the production of medicine and things like that. So, he and the President of Iran’s Congress agreed. I flew from Iran to Madrid for an EU meeting thinking that everyone would be happy because I had managed to broker a deal which they were unable to pull off and when I got there everyone was against it. Everyone was acting like Brazil had gotten into something that nobody had invited it to do – that Brazil was a personna non grata on the international political stage. It was unpleasant. I think as long as there are only conversations between the Israeli government and the US government we will not have peace in the Middle East, because they are responsible for the conflicts. If you don’t put all the people who are involved at the table and listen to everyone, you will not make a deal. Every once in a while they give a Noble Prize to some American or Israeli authority and peace, which is what the people really want, never arrives.
Brian Mier: President Lula, there has been a lot of effort to damage the legacy of the Workers Party (PT) internationally. One thing I see is criticism coming from middle class, self-proclaimed leftists about the PT’s economic record. Brazil has had a 500 year history of economic boom and bust cycles but there is a line of thinking circulating, in part influenced by ideas of [Center-right PSDB Party founder and economist] Bresser-Perreira, that says that the PT was unable to prepare for bust cycles and its economic model only worked during boom periods. So I would like to ask what you did to successfully protect Brazil from the 2008 World financial crisis and what measures the government took to protect against future recession cycles when you were President?
Lula: It’s really funny, Brian – this intellectual theory here in Brazil that my government was successful because of the boom in agribusiness and that this is why things worked out. Think about the following: from 1950 to 1980, Brazil was one of the fastest growing economies in the World. On average, Brazil grew 7% per year from 1950-1980 – that’s 30 years of economic growth. Why weren’t any policies for income redistribution implemented? Why weren’t there any social inclusion policies? Why didn’t the growth of the Brazilian economy cause the people to grow together with it? Do you know why, Brian? Because the miracle of our government was not the commodities boom – it was the boom of social inclusion.
I was absolutely certain that the poor would not be a problem. The poor would be the solution in the sense that we could include them in the federal budget and guarantee that, if they had access to jobs and salaries, their income and credit would cause them to become consumers. There has never been, on the face of the earth – even to those people who think it’s flat – and in the history of humanity, a moment in which any economy grew without a strong internal demand or a strong external demand. We managed to increase the external demand and the internal demand. Brazil’s international trade increased from $117 Billion to $465 billion. Brazil’s internal credit, available from public and private banks, rose from R$360 billion to R$2.7 Trillion by 2010. We also generated 22 million formal sector jobs, with labor cards signed, with the right to vacation and retirement pensions, and we raised the minimum salary by 74%. So, the poorest 20% of the population’s income grew faster than that of the wealthiest 20%. It was the first time in our history that this happened, and Brazil was the only country in the World where the poor had proportionately higher income gains than the rich during the entire Lehman Brothers crisis. So the commodities boom was not the miracle. It was the miracle of the inclusion of the poor. It was the miracle of the social policies. Because it wasn’t just Bolsa Familia and the higher minimum salaries that we created – it was a whole set of public policies. I’ll cite a statistic here which you might not know about. Our government allocated 49 million hectares of land for agrarian reform. This represents 50% of the total amount of land that was redistributed for agrarian reform during the entire previous 500 year history of Brazil. In just 8 years we did half of everything that was done in 500 years in Brazil. When we decided to start a program called Luz para Todos (Light for All) – because there were people living next door to electrical power plants who didn’t have electricity in their homes even though the power cables were passing over their houses – we brought electricity for the first time to 15 million people, for free. The State paid for it because if the State doesn’t bring electricity to the poor, the rich won’t do it. The rich only bring electricity to people who can pay for it. The PT has an obligation to guarantee that the poor can switch on a light and own a refrigerator because this is why we were created in the first place. Our miracle was to see the 54 million people who didn’t have anything to eat. It was to see the millions of people who were unemployed. It was to see that the minimum salary did not enable people to eat the amount of calories and protein that they needed. This is why the PT was born – to solve society’s problems. This was the miracle. It is important to remember that the economy grew 3.9% during Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office and that it grew over 2% in 2012. It is important to remember that the recession only began to deepen after the 2014 elections when Eduardo Cunha, Michel Temer and Congress made a pact against Dilma that prevented her from making any of the needed changes, like her attempt to pass a law that would have ended tax evasion. The fact is that it is not enough to have money. Economic growth is not enough. You need to decide who will benefit from this money and this growth. If you take $1 billion and give it to a rich man, he’ll deposit it in a bank account and use it for speculation. But if you take this $1 billion and divide it among 1 million people, giving each one $100, you will see that this dollar will start to work. It will circulate and make the markets work. People will buy food, they’ll buy shoes and socks and the economy will work. This was the PT’s miracle. This is why there is so much hatred of the PT. The hatred against the PT is because for the first time in the 500-year history of this country the poor could travel by plane. During my government the number of people who traveled by air rose from 43 million to 113 million – that’s 70 million more. We put 60 million more people into the financial system. We installed 1.4 million transformers and nearly 8 million light poles with the Luz para Todos program. And the quantity of electrical wiring we used was long enough to circle the Earth 35 times. When people got electricity through Luz para Todos, the middle class thought I was favoring the poor. But 89% of the people who received electricity bought TVs, refrigerators, blenders and fans, so the fact is that the multinational companies that manufacture these products in Brazil and people who work in stores all benefited from Luz para Todos. They didn’t understand the revolution that happens in this country when the poor start having access to food and jobs and income. What the Brazilian intellectuals criticize sometimes and don’t understand is that they are the ones who governed in Brazil since Cabral arrived here in 1500. They are the ones who have been governing Brazil since the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889. A worker never governed this country. And it was during the government of a worker that we were able to make this miracle of putting the poor into the budget. And this, Brian, is is why there is so much hate. Because I am the first Brazilian president who never got a university degree and I am the President who built the largest number of new universities in the history of the country. I am the President who built the most vocational schools in the history of the country. And I am the President who put the most students into university. This is unforgivable to them. It is unforgivable that poor people could start eating meat, could start going to the movies and the theater, that the poor could start occupying the airports. The elites started saying, “my God, the airport is beginning to look like a bus station – there are a lot of people here.” Because they were empty before that. So the elites should try to find another moment when poor people lived better than they did in our government and the PT governments. Make a historical analysis of Brazil and see if there was one moment in which the poor lived as well as they did in our governments. To give you an idea, for the first time in the history of the country 94% of the union deals were made above the level of inflation. 94%! So this explains the success. It was the growth of national income with money in the pockets of the poor.
Daniel Hunt: Mr. President, both the Lula and the Dilma governments were the target of US espionage, including infiltration of law enforcement and intelligence. These stories often look more significant now than they were thought of at the time. There was a major spying scandal in your first mandate which forced US Ambassador Donna Hrinak to apologize to you. Now she is head of Boeing Latin America which has just bought Embraer, and thus major projects such as Brazil’s production and export of modern jet fighters are in doubt. What are your thoughts on the relationship between US espionage and Brazilian technological sovereignty? Do you think Brazil was properly defended by its own intelligence apparatus?
Lula: Brazil has always had a cordial relationship with the United States. I think the United States relationship with Brazil is very important. But it took us 54 years to learn that there was a US aircraft carrier in Brazilian waters in 1964 ready to give backup to the military officers who conducted the Coup. After 54 years, we were even able to even see photos and hear audio tapes of President Kennedy giving orders to the US ambassador here in Brazil. But this took 54 years. The US espionage against Brazil and other countries around the world was very serious. The worst thing is that the US apologized to Germany but did not apologize to Brazil. I think that Brazil should have gone further to demand an apology. Brazil should have looked for other forms of communications to guarantee autonomy and independence. Nobody in the UN has ever authorized the US to be the World’s auditor or sheriff. When we discovered the pre-salt offshore petroleum reserves here in Brazil, a shipping container was stolen from Petrobras full of confidential information. The multinational Petroleum corporations never accepted the idea of Brazil owning its own petroleum. They never accepted our law declaring that the Brazilian people were the owners of its petroleum, that it was not the corporations who owned the petroleum. From that moment forwards, movement began to destabilize our country. I am convinced that the Americans never accepted the fact that we made a deal with France to build nuclear powered ships. Comrade Obama was not happy when we decided to make a deal to buy Rafale jets, and that Dilma decided to buy Swedish fighter jets. He wasn’t happy with that. He also wasn’t happy with a certain level of independence that Brazil had.
China was beginning to occupy economic and political space in Africa and South America with investments and purchases of public companies, building roads and bridges in Africa and I think the Americans woke up one morning and said, “hold on a second, Latin America is ours and we will not allow the Chinese to continue acquiring Latin America.” Then there was this rude, foolishness against Venezuela. The idea that you would officially recognize a con-artist, a congressman who declared himself President of the Republic – imagine if this fad catches on around the World. What I think is mediocre is that countries around the World approved of it and that this guy could try to commit a coup by declaring himself president. If you want to be president run in the elections, win them and take over the job. If Maduro has problems he is a problem for the Venezuelan people, for Venezuela. It’s not a problem for the American people, for the Brazilians or for the Chinese. It is the people of Venezuela who have to worry about Maduro. I defend this principle for Venezuela, I defend it for the United States and I defend it for Brazil. So these days I have a lot more understanding, Daniel…
Brian, I am going to give you a letter written by a group of American congressmembers to the Attorney General, which hasn’t been answered yet. If you could follow up on it. [Lula hands Brian a copy of the letter written by Congressman Hank Johnson and signed by 12 members of US Congress to Attorney General William Barr demanding answers on the US Department of Justice’s role in the Lava Jato investigation and Lula’s political imprisonment] Because the congressmembers sent a letter giving the Attorney General 30 days to respond and he hasn’t responded yet. So I would like it if you could try to talk to someone or if Michael or Daniel could help to learn why he hasn’t given an answer yet.
Today we know there were clear US Department of Justice interests in Petrobras, in my imprisonment and in the closing of Brazilian companies, especially in the construction industry. Today this is all clear. It’s very clear that there were American prosecutors interested in my imprisonment. There is video on the internet of a public prosecutor laughing about my imprisonment [ed: US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco]. I think that the goal was to change the logic of Petrobras so that it would no longer be a Brazilian company, so that it could no longer belong to the Brazilian people. Who do they think this oil should belong to? The multinationals, and within these multinationals the United States. I read a book called Petroleum. It tells the story of Petroleum from 1859 forwards. Most of the big wars we’ve had on the face of the earth since then have been over petroleum. The Iraqi invasion was because of petroleum, the Libya invasion was because of petroleum. The attempt to invade Venezuela was because of petroleum. Most of the conflicts in the Middle East are because of petroleum. Because the rich countries don’t have petroleum – except for the Americans, who have a lot of it. They need to have a strategic reserve which was set up after World War II, when Germany lost because it ran out of fuel – Germany ran out of gas and lost the war. So all the rich countries are obliged to have huge gasoline and petroleum reserves and they are dismantling Petrobras. Brazil, which planned on being an exporter of petroleum derivatives, has stared importing diesel and gasoline from the United States even though we are self sufficient in petroleum. So there are things that make no sense and then there is the sale of Embraer, which is really bad. A country will never be sovereign if it doesn’t generate its own technological and scientific knowledge. Embraer was a key company for this. Embraer was a company that did not have to depend on Boeing or anyone else to produce airplanes. So now they sold Embraer to Boeing. Embraer was the third largest aviation company in the World. It exported more than Bombardier. It was a company that was widely respected. Now they are trying to sell off Petrobras, the Banco do Brasil, the Caixa Economica [national mortgage bank] and Eletrobras. In other words Brazil is selling off our public companies to public companies from other countries. So I think that Brazil needs to build a new independence. Brazil has to have a good scientific-technological, political and economic relationship with the United States but it has to be independent. We are a country with 210 million inhabitants, 8.5 million square kilometers and 360 million hectares of totally preserved tropical forests. Brazil can’t be dependent, whether its on the United States, China, India or Russia. Brazil has to depend on the freedom of it’s people, on the education of its people and on the jobs and salaries of its people. So I think that Brazil is living its worst moment in history. We have a subservient government – subservient. For a long time I refused to participate in international forums to keep Brazil from getting tied up. But now Brazil has given away its freedom and its independence and it salutes an American president. Frankly speaking, I don’t think anyone respects people who don’t respect themselves. Nobody does. Brazil has to return to greatness. For this to happen it needs political leaders who respect themselves, who like Democracy and who know that a nation that borders on 10 countries, which has the entire West African coast across a river called the Atlantic from it, could be showing a lot more solidarity to poorer nations than it is now by transferring some of its technology. We brought Embrapa to Africa because I believed that the African Savannah has the same productive capacity as the Brazilian semi-arid Cerrado. That program doesn’t exist anymore. We brought a factory to Mozambique to produce generic anti-retroviral medication to fight AIDS. We brought the Open University to Mozambique. We extended the Mais Alimentos program, which we developed in Brazil to support small farmers, to Africa and Latin America. It’s over. So now Brazil is an island, subordinated in an embarrassing manner to the interests of Trump and asking Trump for favors. The fact is that no government does favors for another government. We have State policies for relations with other States, that have to be respected. So that’s it, my dear. Brazil is not respecting itself. Brazil has regressed to the status of a colony.