© Reuters. Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives at Blair House across the street from the White House where he will be staying during his visit to Washington, U.S. February 9, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met on Friday with Brazilian leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a reboot of relations between the hemisphere’s two largest democracies after the end of Donald Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro’s stormy rule.
During the visit, Washington said it would work to provide support for a fund to protect the Amazon (NASDAQ:) rainforest and Biden agreed to travel to Brazil, according to a joint statement released by Brazil, while the two leaders spoke of shared values in fighting climate change and protecting democracy against a rise in authoritarianism.
“We have to continue to stand up for democracy and our democratic values that form the core of our strength,” Biden told Lula before a private Oval Office session between the leaders, adding that the two were on the “same page” about the “climate crisis.”
Bolsonaro had enjoyed vocal support from former U.S. President Trump, a Republican, but Brazil’s diplomatic relations cooled with other traditional allies during the far-right leader’s presidency.
Bolsonaro flew to Florida two days before his term ended on Jan. 1, having challenged the results of the Oct. 30 runoff election that he narrowly lost to Lula. Days later a violent movement of election-denying Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court.
Brazil “self-marginalized itself for four years” under the former president, Lula said at the White House, without mentioning Bolsonaro by name.
His world, Lula said, had “started and ended with fake news in the morning, afternoon, at night,” prompting Biden to laugh and interject, “sounds familiar.”
Lula said Brazil was trying to reposition itself in the world, and both countries should never again allow the kind of attacks like the one by Bolsonaro supporters last month or the one it echoed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that aimed to prevent the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.
Lula said the two leaders could also work together to combat inequality and climate change.
For all the bonhomie, the leaders were not expected to agree on the war in Ukraine, given Brazil’s neutrality. Biden has led an international coalition to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.
“They deplored the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by Russia and the annexation of parts of its territory as flagrant violations of international law and called for a just and durable peace,” according to the joint statement.
Lula wants to see a negotiated discussion of peace with the involvement of more neutral global players, a position he said he discussed with Biden, adding that he sensed from Biden the same interest in ending the war.
The Brazilian leader also defended his decision not to provide German-made artillery ammunition sought for the West’s support of Ukrainian defense. “If I sent the ammunition, I would be joining the war. I don’t want to join the war. I want peace,” he said earlier on CNN.
Biden and Lula did agree to work together on reforming the United Nations Security Council to include “permanent seats for countries in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean,” according to the joint statement.
Lula’s visit to the White House followed a meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders and other lawmakers from Biden’s Democratic Party.
Brazil’s foreign ministry had said support for democracy, human rights and the environment would be at the center of Lula’s agenda in Washington.
During the trip, Washington agreed to work with Congress to provide “initial support” for the Amazon Fund started by Germany and Norway to back protection of the rainforest and sustainable development projects, according to a joint statement that confirmed an earlier Reuters report.
The United States is planning an initial donation of $50 million, according to a Brazilian source, underlining the resetting of ties between the two countries after the recent period of frosty relations. Brazil has been eager for more countries to contribute.
The new Lula administration signaled its commitment to protecting the Amazon rainforest this week by launching an enforcement operation against illegal gold miners that have devastated the Yanomami indigenous reservation in northern Brazil.
Bolsonaro had relaxed environmental protections, encouraging mining and logging in the Amazon that he said would help economic development and allowing deforestation in the region to hit a 15-year high.
At the White House, Lula said the Amazon rainforest had been “invaded” under the previous administration, adding that he was committed to reaching zero deforestation by 2030.