Brazil’s President Lula meets Biden in Washington

Brazil is still recovering after Jair Bolsonaro's supporters stormed its capital

US President Joe Biden and Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the White House. EPA
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President Joe Biden welcomed Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Washington on Friday for wide-ranging talks on climate and strengthening democracies, an issue of shared importance after both leaders faced far-right mobs storming their governments' halls of power to try to overturn their election victories.

The trip comes a month after thousands of protesters stormed the Brazilian capital, ransacking its Supreme Court, Congress and Presidential Palace.

“Both our nations’ strong democracies have been tested of late … very much tested,” Mr Biden said at the start of their Oval Office meeting. “But both in the United States and Brazil, democracy prevailed.”

Known simply as Lula, Mr da Silva is a progressive who served more than a year and a half in jail for money laundering. He defeated the far-right, populist leader Jair Bolsonaro in October’s elections.

Mr da Silva said that he was moving to restore Brazil on the world stage after Mr Bolsonaro’s term.

“Brazil marginalised itself for four years,” he said. “His world started and ended with fake news.”

Mr Biden joked that the complaint “sounds familiar,” an apparent knock on former US president Donald Trump.

Mr da Silva, 77, who led Brazil for seven years in the early 2000s, faces similar challenges at home to Mr Biden's.

The leaders discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, insecurity in Haiti, migration and climate change, including efforts to stem deforestation of the Amazon, the White House said.

“Lula and Biden are both dealing with strong anti-democratic sentiment, stoked by the leaders that they defeated in their respective elections,” said Andre Pagliarini, an associate professor at Hampton Sydney College in Virginia.

Mr Bolsonaro, who denounced last month’s riots, has been living in Florida since his defeat, but his supporters remain a strong presence in Brazil.

Brazilian authorities have arrested almost 1,500 protesters since January 8, an event that in many ways mirrored the January 6 insurrection when supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol Building.

“These are large, multiracial democracies with a tremendous amount of economic inequality,” Mr Pagliarini told The National.

“Both are former slave societies and both countries face the challenge of resolving these long-standing tensions.”

Economically the two countries are inextricably linked as well.

China recently replaced the US as Brazil’s biggest trading partner but the US is still a crucial economic and political ally.

Mr Pagliarini believes trade, democracy and military support for Ukraine will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet.

He expects the US leader to press Mr da Silva on his lack of support for Ukraine and China’s expanding presence in Latin America.

This will be Mr da Silva's first trip outside South America since he took office in January and is widely expected to be seen as an effort to “restore” the close US-Brazil relations, which grew strained under Mr Bolsonaro.

“I think it's going to lay a foundation for a longer conversation between the two leaders and greater co-operation between the governments,” said Tom Shannon, who was US ambassador to Brazil under president Barack Obama.

Mr Biden made similar efforts to restore US relations with a wide array of countries when he took over from Mr Trump in January 2021.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 11:16 PM