BRICS was Created as a Tool of Attack, Says an Imprisoned Lula

Former Brazilian leader wishes emerging economies were closer; recalls Obama ‘crashing’ Copenhagen climate meeting, writes Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
in Curitiba, Brazil
Asia Times

In a wide-ranging, two-hour-plus, exclusive interview from a prison room in Curitiba in southern Brazil last week, former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva re-emerged for the first time, after more than 500 days in jail, and sent a clear message to the world.

Amid the 24/7 media frenzy of scripted sound bites and “fake news”, it’s virtually impossible to find a present or former head of state anywhere, in a conversation with journalists, willing to speak deep from his soul, to comment on all current political developments and relish telling stories about the corridors of power. And all that while still in prison.

The first part of this mini-series focused on the Amazon. Here, we will focus on Brazil’s relationship with BRICS and Beijing. BRICS is the grouping of major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – that formed in 2006 and then included South Africa in their annual meetings from 2010.

My first question to Lula was about BRICS and the current geopolitical chessboard, with the US facing a Russia-China strategic partnership. As president, from 2003 to 2010, Lula was instrumental in formatting and expanding the influence of BRICS – in sharp contrast with Brazil’s current President, Jair Bolsonaro, who appears to be convinced that China is a threat.

Lula stressed that Brazil should have been getting closer to China in a mirror process of what occurred between Russia and China: “When there was a BRICS summit here in Ceará state in Brazil, I told comrade Dilma [Rousseff, the former president] that we should organize a pact like the Russia-China pact. A huge pact giving the Chinese part of what they wanted, which was Brazil’s capacity to produce food and energy and also the capacity to have access to technological knowledge. Brazil needed a lot of infrastructure. We needed high-speed rail, many things. But in the end that did not happen.”

Watch CN Live! interview with Pepe Escobar on his interview with Lula:

Lula defined his top priorities as he supported the creation of BRICS: economic autonomy, and uniting a group of nations capable of helping what the Washington consensus describes as LDCs – least developed countries.

He emphasized: “BRICS was not created to be an instrument of defense, but to be an instrument of attack. So we could create our own currency to become independent from the US dollar in our trade relations; to create a development bank, which we did – but it is still too timid – to create something strong capable of helping the development of the poorest parts of the world.”

Lula made an explicit reference to the United States’ fears about a new currency: “This was the logic behind BRICS, to do something different and not copy anybody. The US was very much afraid when I discussed a new currency and Obama called me, telling me, ‘Are you trying to create a new currency, a new euro?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just trying to get rid of the US dollar. I’m just trying not to be dependent.’”

One can imagine how this went down in Washington.

Obama may have been trying to warn Lula that the US ‘Deep State’ would never allow BRICS to invest in a currency or basket of currencies to bypass the US dollar. Later on, Vladimir Putin and Erdogan would warn President Dilma – before she was impeached – that Brazil would be mercilessly targeted. In the end, the leadership of the Workers’ Party was caught totally unprepared by a conjunction of sophisticated hybrid-war techniques.

One of the largest economies in the world was taken over by hardcore neoliberals, practically without any struggle. Lula confirmed it in the interview, saying: “We should look at where we got it wrong.”

Lula also hit a note of personal disappointment. He expected much more from BRICS. “I imagined a more aggressive BRICS, more proactive and more creative. ‘The Soviet empire has already fallen; let’s create a democratic empire.’ I think we made some advances, but we advanced slowly. BRICS should be much stronger by now.”

Lula, Obama and China

It’s easy to imagine how what has followed went down in Beijing. That explains to a great extent the immense respect Lula enjoys among the Chinese leadership. And it’s also relevant to the current global debate about what’s happening in the Amazon. Let just Lula tell the story in his own, inimitable, Garcia Marquez-tinged way.

“One thing that the Chinese must remember, a lot of people were angry in Brazil when I recognized China as a market economy. Many of my friends were against it. But I said, ‘No, I want the Chinese at the negotiating table, not outside. Is there any discord? Put them inside the WTO, let’s legalize everything.’ I know that [Chinese President] Hu Jintao was much pleased.

“Another thing we did with China was at the COP-15 [Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Copenhagen in 2009. Let me tell you something: I arrived at COP-15 and there was a list of people requesting audiences with me – Angela Markel, Sarkozy, Gordon Brown; Obama had already called twice – and I didn’t know why I was important. What did they all want? They all wanted us to agree, at COP-15, that China was the prime polluting evil on earth. Sarkozy came to talk to me with a cinematographic assembly line, there were 30 cameras, a real show: Lula accusing China. Then I had a series of meetings and I told them all, ‘Look, I know China is polluting. But who is going to pay for the historical pollution you perpetrated before China polluted? Where is the history commission to analyze English industrialization?’’

“Then something fantastic happened. An agreement was not in sight, I wanted Sarkozy to talk to Ahmadinejad – later I’ll tell you this thing about Iran [he did, later in the interview]. Ahmadinejad did not go to our dinner, so there was no meeting. But then, we were discussing, discussing, and I told Celso [Amorim, Brazil’s Foreign Minister], ‘Look,  Celso, there’s a problem, this meeting will end without an agreement, and they are going to blame Brazil, China, India, Russia. We need to find a solution.’ Then I proposed that Celso call the Chinese and set up a parallel meeting. That was between Brazil, China, India and perhaps South Africa. Russia, I think, was not there. And in this meeting, imagine our surprise when Hillary Clinton finds out about it and tries to get inside the meeting. The Chinese didn’t let her. All these Chinese, so nervous behind the door, and then comes Obama. Obama wanted to get in and the Chinese didn’t let him. China was being represented by Jiabao [Wen Jiabao, the prime minister].

“Then we let Obama in, Obama said, ‘I’m gonna sit down beside my friend Lula so I won’t be attacked here.’ So he sat by my side and started to talk about the agreement, and we said there is no agreement. And then there was this Chinese, a negotiator, he was so angry at Obama, he was standing up, speaking in Mandarin, nobody understood anything, we asked for a translation, Jiabao did not allow it, but the impression, by his gesticulation, was that the Chinese was hurling all sorts of names at Obama, he talked aggressively, pointing his finger, and Obama said, ‘He is angry.’ The Brazilian ambassador, who said she understood a little bit of Mandarin – she said he used some pretty heavy words.

“The concrete fact is that in this meeting we amassed a great deal of credibility, because we refused to blame the Chinese. I remember a plenary session where Sarkozy, Obama and myself were scheduled to speak. I was the last speaker. When I arrived at the plenary there was nothing, not a thing written on a piece of paper. I told one of my aides, please go out, prepare a few talking points for me, and when he left the room they called me to speak; they had inverted the schedule. I was very nervous. But that day I made a good speech. It got a standing ovation. I don’t know what kind of nonsense I said [laughs]. Then Obama started speaking. He didn’t have anything to say. So there was this mounting rumor in the plenary: He ended up making a speech that no one noticed. And then with Sarkozy, the same thing.

“What I had spoken about was the role of Brazil in the environmental question. I’ll get someone from the Workers’ Party to find this speech for you. The new trend in Brazil is to try to compare policies between myself and Bolsonaro. You cannot accept his line that NGOs are setting fire to the Amazon. Those burning the Amazon are his voters, businessmen, people with very bad blood, people who want to kill indigenous tribes, people who want to kill the poor.”

This article was originally published in Asia Times. 

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.


12 comments for “BRICS was Created as a Tool of Attack, Says an Imprisoned Lula

  1. September 11, 2019 at 13:44

    Pepe – Please read Land for the Many edited by George Monbiot. It clearly presents the problem of “internal colonialism” in UK where 1% of the population owns 50% of the land! The solidarity movement we can build worldwide is beyond ole right / left based on human right to the earth by birthright. I want to talk with you!

  2. LJ
    September 3, 2019 at 18:22

    Interesting, apparently Lula still doesn’t understand what happened to him. Maybe Wilma does . She was smart enough to stay out of jail like a good collaborator. This is good stuff Pepe. Unfortunately for Brazil, China was playing the long game in the meeting where some anonymous Mandarin speaker was allowed to vent because Obama had been allowed to come in and sit down next to Lula and poison the meeting thereby preventing anything from actually being accomplished. . That Obama , oh, he was smooth operator. He took the job to heart. Where do they find these people,? oh yeah, Harvard Law School.established 1638 wasn’t it? We see this same bullshit playing out today in earnest as the Trump Administration and China impose reciprocal sanctions., This step is overdue but the Chinese were then trying to get more and more and until now they got enough I guess . Lula was playing checkers. Doing basic math. No derivatives here. No algorithms. No thinking around corners. A socialist fantasy. I wish it was so simple and I’m certain Lula does as well.Who knows what Putin , Lavrov and Medvedev were thinking? No doubt they went long.

  3. Sam F
    September 3, 2019 at 15:58

    Thank you to Pepe Escobar and CN for these insights, much appreciated.

  4. Lily
    September 3, 2019 at 07:30

    That’s what i think. The US politics over the last decades have been desastrous and too costly for everybody involved. Most statesmen have realized that we can only survive on this planet in peace. Not the dum ones in the US though. They never learn from their mistakes.
    There are lots of other problems to solve – the sooner the better.

    Good to hear the news on Lula. Thanks to Pepe Escobar and CN.

  5. David H
    September 2, 2019 at 21:48

    Like Jeff said, “instructive.” The real deal really does resonate. Guess it was there waiting to be picked up…qwacks just like morphic resonance maybe?

    Despite the title (and despite some of my fears) I think the former BRICS was less dangerous than Bolton, Bibi, MbS, Pompeo and Trump-in-the-present-moment. Lula may be the only link left that could get China to look kindly on South & North Americans WHO DID NOT WANT THESE SHOCK DOCTRINE NINCOMPOOPS TAKING CHARGE.

    If Trump has any kind of a brain left, he’ll get the dude out of jail.

    I don’t like what’s going on in Xinjiang, but AFAICS it’s the cat’s-whisker-closer-to-lesser-evil thing. Something tells me if the West would work a little more with RICS that somehow this plan to frack the whole United States, cool the stuff to -260 degrees F, and ship it 4,800 miles…would not be so much the big item in the grand scheme of things.

  6. John Wright
    September 2, 2019 at 16:28

    Lula should’ve spent more time talking to the Chinese about their approach to getting around the hegemony of the US dollar. If he had not been so naive about this, he might be in office now and not in prison on contrived charges.

    Hopefully, Lula will be out of prison soon and able to better influence international relations at this critical time in human history.

    Rapacious financial capitalism is not going down without a very destructive fight.

    [But will the Chinese, Russians, Indians or Brazilians reign in their billionaires?]

  7. Jeff Harrison
    September 2, 2019 at 12:30

    Very instructive. Over the course of the last decade or so I have come to the conclusion that the US is the single most powerful source of evil in the world.

    • Raymond Comeau
      September 2, 2019 at 13:38

      You, sir, are 100% correct.

    • Lily
      September 3, 2019 at 07:08

      That’s what i think. The US politics over the last decades have been desastrous and too costly for everybody involved. Most statesmen have realized that we can only survive on this planet in peace. Not the dum ones in the US though. They never learn from their mistakes.
      There are lots of other problems to solve – the sooner the better.

      Good to hear the news on Lula. Thanks to Pepe Escobar and CN.

  8. Bob Van Noy
    September 2, 2019 at 09:04

    Consortiumnews has become, with its new Live feature, the most impressive news site now available. We can see by watching the combination of CN Live, and now the article by Pepe Escobar how real news is assembled by great writers Going to important places, getting timely interviews, and interacting with the newsmakers, how Real news is assembled. If you pay close attention, you can see the Real Lula da Silva, President Obama, and a few simple but vastly important decisions by a world leader, change everything. Robert Parry must be very satisfied, somewhere. Thank you CN, and Pepe Escobar…

    • Skip Scott
      September 3, 2019 at 09:54

      Hear, Hear!

  9. September 2, 2019 at 04:52

    Interesting, the anecdotes about Obama especially.

    Of course, Brazil, in the rise of Bolsonaro and various questionable legal activities around the former presidents, has effectively had a soft coup by the same folks who are bringing you the ugly show in Venezuela.

    Just a word about the use of a word.

    “One of the largest economies in the world was taken over by hardcore neoliberals, practically without any struggle”

    I think that use of “neoliberal” is best avoided.

    First, I think it makes little sense, but even more important, that word is used over and over by the Alt-right as a term of contempt.

    “Liberal” is one of our languages finest political words. It has an immensely rich history and tradition.

    But ultra-conservatives everywhere – and especially in the United States and Israel – have always hated the term and hated the people it represented.

    Long efforts have been spent in the United States to turn “liberal” into a pejorative term.

    And I think this use of “neoliberal” very much plays into that.

    Small point, perhaps, but I think worth making.

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