Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is in Buenos Aires. His presence in a large demonstration in the Plaza de Mayo, called to commemorate the return to democracy in Argentina and the second anniversary of the Alberto Fernández government, has strained relations with Brazil. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry suspended the presence of the Mercosur presidents summit, scheduled for November 16 and 17 in Brasilia. Itamaraty, in the presidency for the time being of the bloc that also make up Uruguay and Paraguay, informed its Argentine partners that all meetings will be by videoconference. Two versions circulated through the corridors of the Planalto Palace, seat of the Brazilian presidency. The first, official, refers to health issues. The second, unofficial, is political, and has to do with an alleged unrest with Buenos Aires over the invitation to Lula, who at the start of 2022 must decide whether to compete against Bolsonaro for the presidency.
“On Tuesday night, Itamaraty made official to the Argentine Foreign Ministry the decision to hold the virtual summit for the new strain of omicron” of coronavirus, which has already been detected in at least six Brazilian patients, said a source from the Government of Alberto Fernández . The same source denied that the suspension had to do with Lula’s visit. “As for the versions, the invitation to Lula is restricted to the celebration of International Human Rights Day and democratic recovery in our country, two central pillars of modern Argentine history,” he said.
December 10 is a date full of symbolism in Argentina. 38 years ago, President Raúl Alfonsín was sworn in as elected president at the polls after a bloody dictatorship. Since then, that date coincides with the return to democracy and with the day the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When the situation warrants it, Argentine governments also celebrate their own management anniversaries. This Friday night, Alberto Fernández displayed all the pomp, in key relaunch.
Therefore, not only the president, but also his vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Lula da Silva and the former president of Uruguay, José Pepe Mujica, will be in the Plaza de Mayo. The parties and social movements that support the Casa Rosada promised to “bust the plaza”, in a display of strength and unity of the ruling Peronism. After the defeat in the parliamentary elections of November 14, when the ruling party lost control of the Senate and justly kept the first minority in Deputies, the Government has redoubled efforts to recover the Peronist mystique. The Plaza de Mayo is the right place for it.
But the arrival of Lula has not gone down well in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. The Brazilian president is uncomfortable with the repercussions of the latest international trips made by who will surely be his main stumbling block towards re-election. While Bolsonaro was ignored by European leaders at the G20 meeting in Rome in November, Lula was greeted days later with the pomp of a head of state by French President Emmanuel Macron. He also met during his European tour with the President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and with the then future Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz. Lula da Silva even made a speech and received a standing ovation at a meeting of progressive parties held in the European Parliament. While the former president reaped the fruits of his meetings with these European leaders, Bolsonaro was meeting with heads of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
Is it possible, however, that the reason for the suspension of attendance at the Mercosur summit is health? According to the official version, Bolsonaro is concerned about the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, and therefore decided to avoid the circulation of foreign delegations in Brasilia. The doubt arises because the Brazilian is a declared denier of the pandemic. Bolsonaro has opposed any measure that restricts the entry of passengers on international flights to the country and boasts of not being vaccinated against covid-19. It has even rejected days ago the recommendations of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) to close the airspace or to use a vaccination card to cross migrations.
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The tension finds Mercosur at a time when Brazil and Argentina were trying to bring positions closer together. Last October, both countries agreed to a 10% reduction in the Common External Tariff (AEC) applied by the bloc to extra-zone imports, which today pay an average penalty of 13%. It was the first sign of détente after a year marked by demands for greater trade openness and threats of rupture launched especially by Uruguay and Paraguay, the two minor partners of the bloc. It was the first that tightened the rope the most with its decision to advance in bilateral trade agreements without the consensus of the rest, something that Mercosur prohibits by statute. In September, the government of Luis Lacalle Pou went even further and announced the start of negotiations to close a Free Trade Agreement with China.
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