The Miami Herald
Aug. 22, 2002

Brazilian candidate out of touch on Cuba

Andres Oppenheimer

  SAO PAULO - Luiz Inacio ''Lula'' da Silva, the leftist candidate leading in the polls for Brazil's Oct. 6 presidential election, has substantially moderated his rhetoric on domestic issues. But judging from some of his answers during a recent question-and-answer session, some of his foreign policy views remain tainted by 1960s

  I don't believe -- like former Reagan administration aide Constantine Menges -- that da Silva would impose a radical leftist regime in Brazil or that he would forge an ''axis of evil'' with Venezuela and Cuba if he were elected. That's highly unlikely to happen.

  Da Silva is smart enough to know that Brazil would have a lot to lose by poking its fingers in the eyes of the United States and the European Union, its biggest

  In addition, the Brazilian Congress, the business community and the strings attached to the $30 billion International Monetary Fund loan package will force da Silva -- or whoever becomes Brazil's next president -- to maintain fiscal discipline in order to get the bulk of the money disbursed over the next three years.

  I also agree with da Silva -- and the other three leading candidates, for that matter -- that the Bush administration's recent subsidies to the U.S. steel and farming
  industries will hurt Brazil's exports and make a mockery of the U.S. government's free-trade rhetoric.

  But when it comes to Cuba, da Silva is stuck in the past. Unlike most democratic leftist leaders in the world, who criticize both the U.S. economic sanctions against the island and Fidel Castro's failure to allow political freedoms, da Silva is still reluctant to speak out for democracy in that country.

  Asked about Cuba, da Silva said: ``I have been in Cuba many times over the past 20 years and I don't hide the fact that I consider myself a friend of Cuba, and an
  admirer of the Cuban people -- a people with an enormous self-esteem [who have] not given up in the face of problems and adversities, and [who pay] a big price for it.''


  Really? How does da Silva know what the Cuban people want? How can anyone know, given the fact that for the past 43 years, opposition parties have been banned on the island, and not one Cuban critic of the Maximum Leader has been allowed on radio or television or in the state-controlled press?

  How can da Silva, a former labor union leader, be friends with a regime that doesn't allow independent labor unions? Asked specifically whether, in addition to his
  condemnation of the U.S. embargo, he would criticize the absence of democracy in Cuba, da Silva said, ``Naturally, the fact of having a friendship with Cuba doesn't mean that I or the Workers Party agree with everything they do. In one of my last trips, I had the opportunity to publicly tell Fidel Castro that, for us, Cuba is not a model, just as the United States or France are not models.''

  In other words, he skipped the question. Top aides to da Silva say this is because the Workers Party has a policy of nonintervention in other countries' internal affairs.

  Baloney. If that's true, why did he lash out against the United States and ''North American protectionism'' throughout his responses? How can one be a true democrat criticizing Washington and Latin American rightist dictators of the past but not the region's leftist dictator of the present?

  In his responses, da Silva also played loose with the facts.

  Explaining his reasons to oppose the U.S.-supported plan to create a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas, which he said would bring about an
  ''annexation'' of the region to the U.S. economy, da Silva said, ``a study done by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington found that Brazilian exports to the United States pay an average tariff of 45 percent, while U.S. exports to Brazil pay an average of 15 percent.''


  In fact, the Brazilian Embassy report said that Brazil's and the United States' top 20 exports to the world -- not to each other -- pay an average of 45 percent and 15 percent, respectively. ''The study refers to worldwide exports,'' said Brazil's ambassador to Washington, Rubens Barbosa.

  Da Silva deserves credit for his long-time activism for Brazil's millions of poor people, his reputation for honesty and his recent shift toward the center. I just wish he
  would join other modern socialist parties in the world and criticize undemocratic practices, whatever their ideological sign.