Lula opened the 78th UN General Assembly with a speech about fight against inequality. – Ricardo Stuckert/PR
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s speech and that of US President Joe Biden at the opening ceremony of the 78th United Nations General Assembly shared many similarities: they talked about hunger in the world, social inequality, extreme environmental events such as climate change and the need to democratize the UN and global governance as a whole. But one topic was approached in quite different terms by the two presidents: the Caribbean countries, particularly the embargo on Cuba.
“Brazil will continue to reject measures taken without support from the UN Charter, such as the economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba and the attempt to classify this country as a state sponsor of terrorism,” said the Brazilian president this Tuesday, September 19, at the UN headquarters in New York City.
The mention of the embargo was made at the end of his speech, shortly before the American president took to the pulpit. The United States has kept Cuba under a commercial and economic embargo for six decades and lists the island as a sponsor of terrorism, which also affects Havana commercially.
“It was a slap in the face of the United States, the only topic that surprised me in Lula’s speech,” Paulo Velasco, a professor of International Politics at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), told Brasil de Fato. According to Velasco, the condemnation of the embargo by the UN Assembly is trivial. “But it’s different from the Brazilian president saying it to Biden’s face. I’m sure more judicious diplomats probably asked him to drop this issue.”
It is worth noting that, before arriving in New York, Lula visited Havana to attend the G77+ China Summit, a multilateral meeting that gathers countries from the Global South and the biggest Asian economy. On this occasion, the embargo was a recurring topic.
To Tatiana Berringer, a professor of International Relations at UFABC, the fact that Lula mentioned the embargo shows “Brazil’s relative autonomy regarding the US,” a kind of “room for maneuver.” In other words, despite the good relationship between the two governments, Lula makes a point of affirming his condemnation of the embargoes, which generally affect populations more than states. By doing so, Brazil positions itself as a representative of the Global South. “It was a demonstration that Brazil is returning to the international stage, defending its historical agenda.”
Joe Biden did not say anything about Cuba. However, he expressed concern about another Caribbean country, Haiti, which is facing a serious crisis that is causing much of its population to try to flee to avoid rampant violence. The American president, highlighting this issue with particular emphasis, advocated for sending a peace mission to the country and demanded a resolution from the UN Security Council.
“Haiti is of special concern for the US. Any problem there, people take boats to migrate,” says Velasco, recalling MINUSTAH, the peace mission headed by Brazil in 2004, which did not solve Haiti’s structural problems. Perhaps for this reason, Lula spoke about the topic very quickly, and within the context of other humanitarian issues.
“It is disturbing to see that old unresolved disputes remain and new threats emerge or become stronger. The difficulty of guaranteeing the creation of a state for the Palestinian people clearly demonstrates this. We can also mention the persistence of the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the conflict in Yemen, the threats to the national unity of Libya and the institutional ruptures in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Niger and Sudan,” said the professor.
The main focus of Lula’s speech, according to Tatiana Berringer, was inequality. After saying that the 17 sustainable development goals of the millennium, the so-called 2030 Agenda, must be addressed in an integrated and global approach, the Brazilian president stated that Brazil will work on an 18th agenda, focused on the racial issue. “This is important for Brazil’s international identity, to highlight its historical heritage, the presence of Black people in the formation of the country, and for relations with African countries,” she analyzes.
According to Berringer, Lula’s speech summarizes Brazil’s search for justice, equality, sovereignty and multilateralism, which are “historical and urgent agendas aligned to a progressive government, agendas we need in the current moment.”
UN Security Council reform
Joe Biden showed a determined stance in defending Brazil’s old demand, which is the expansion of the UN Security Council. He promised to do his part to make this happen and declared “We need more voices, more perspectives at the table.”
However, Velasco says this stance “won’t be fully complied, because when discussions advance, he doesn’t approve it.” He thinks Brazil has difficulties in making things happen regarding this issue, because “our projection of power is very limited.” Therefore, the speech ends up falling flat. “Multilateralism is not a whim, it is a necessity for Brazil because then the country’s impact has much greater repercussions,” he says. Hence the importance of BRICS for Brazil.
This article was adapted from an article originally published in Brasil de Fato.