tango South«Pichuco» with words by the great Homero Manzi and music by Aníbal Troilo is a sad song for lost loves, changed communities and lost dreams. In some of his verses, the lament is explicit:
«South, Paredón and then…
South, Warehouse Lights…
You’ll never see me the way you see me,
Leaning on the stained glass window
waiting for you
…the moon of streets and suburbs,
my love and your window
Everything is dead, I know…
…remembering what has happened,
sand taken away by life
sorry for the changed neighborhood
And the pain of shattered dreams.»
After the Argentine government leaked during Lula da Silva’s inauguration that Mercosur would give itself a single currency, the «South,» (later denied by the Brazilians), some references to tango brought to mind anything but January 8 The return of Planalto’s new tenants has sparked great anticipation in Latin America, beyond the grotesque scenes experienced at the Plaza de la Terre del Power in Brasília on Sunday. A statement reiterated in Buenos Aires ahead of the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) sounded more like a toast to the sun than Lula’s words to his friends Cristina Kirchner and Alberto Fernandez. Rhetorical, tentative and nostalgic concessions, rather than a rigorous and well-founded proposal.
Among the great expectations unleashed, there is a determination to strengthen Mercosur, as revealed by the Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero, who expresses his support for «deep integration» for which he will promote a common agenda with Brazil , including «joint strengthening of reserves and creation of a common currency». To its credit, one should not forget the renewed commitment to regional integration, the return to CELAC, and the goal of revitalizing the Union of Southern States (UNASUR).
As in many other quarters, Brazil’s internal and external (more external than internal) hopes for the new government. As always, reality often gets in the way of wish fulfillment. Lula and the new foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, and even the president’s foreign policy adviser, Celso Amorim, have stuck to the idea of Brazil’s return to the international arena, trying to correct the drift of the Bolsonaro era. In this return, Latin America or South America, if you prefer to follow the leading trend of Brazilian diplomacy, will play a leading role.
Memories of a glorious and successful past often overcome the limitations of the present. For this reason, yesterday is almost always the best place to return to the past, even if yesterday was fictional rather than real. It doesn’t matter. Mercosur’s hypothetical bling today, with some even insisting that Lula has the right to unlock the treaty of association with the EU, allowing negotiations to wrap up. Lula’s trip to Portugal (and Europe) in April may be the ideal time to make that happen. However, the difficulty in ratifying the treaty extends far beyond Lula’s wishes or improvements in Brazil’s environmental policy. Obstacles remain enormous on both sides of the Atlantic.
Back to Mercosur, at this moment, beyond Brazil’s wishes, its internal difficulties matter. The protectionism of Brazil and Argentina on the one hand, and the opening attempts of Uruguay on the other, the decision at this moment to sign a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China at any cost, among other member states, alludes to success on this issue The consensus necessary for progress. Of course, the question isn’t very exciting in Beijing, it’s more about waiting for a reaction from Brazil. In any case, it is worth remembering that, apart from some ongoing negotiations and agreements with other Latin American countries, Mercosur has only signed free trade agreements with Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
There are two other important issues that are in some ways a heavy legacy from the golden age of the Bolivar project. First, Venezuela has suspended its participation in Mercosur, an issue that will be easier to resolve when Bolsonaro leaves office. And, if rumors are true, Dilma Rousseff will be ambassador to Buenos Aires. Neither Uruguay nor Paraguay, though, are too keen on reopening their doors to the Maduro government. The fact that this year there will be presidential elections in Paraguay (April) and Argentina (October) is not conducive to a quick decision. Things will get more complicated if, as expected, Peronism/Kirchnerism goes down. Another issue is the full accession of Bolivia, whose accession process is still to be completed, a process fraught with frustration.
Despite the friendly rhetoric, Brazil’s foreign policy must clear some unknowns, such as its position on the U.S.-China struggle or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Faced with the first question, Lula’s intention is to maintain a delicate balance between the two great powers, which can be seen from his first two foreign visits to Washington and Beijing. These are no small issues, as Brazil is an important member of the BRICS and intends to continue to assert its leadership role in the bloc. Moreover, in addition to returning to CELAC, he had to specify the domain of his regional integration ideas: Latin America or South America?
As the first weeks of the new government’s management have shown, its implementation has been characterized by the strong influence of Bolsonaro’s coup, coupled with a lack of coordination among numerous ministries and contradictions between the core of the Workers’ Party (PT) and other parties Unite around Lula. The uphill struggle between intense internal noise, economic difficulties, fiscal adjustment, and social adjustment is so vast that the foreign policy space beyond Lula’s will is limited.back to South: «You’ll never see me the way you see me… leaning against the window… waiting for you.»
Image: Brazilian Federal Senate. Photo: Bundesrat (CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons).