Who Should Lead the Global South?
At the United Nations, Lula makes the case for Brazil.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: Brazil’s Lula stakes his claim as a leader of the global south at the U.N. General Assembly, border tensions escalate between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Colombians remember an iconic painter and sculptor.
A Star of the South
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s speech at this week’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York was an early hit, interrupted by applause no fewer than seven times. His calls to expand the U.N. Security Council and increase climate finance for the developing world—long-standing demands from the global south—come as those countries are increasingly flexing their collective political muscle on the world stage.
This month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the G-20 summit in New Delhi and sought to portray himself as a leader of the global south—including by using India’s G-20 presidency to facilitate the African Union’s accession to the group. With his visit to New York, Lula aimed to do the same.
Though Brazil lags far behind India in both its economic growth trajectory and military might, Lula used his platform to make the case for Brazil as a representative of the world’s developing nations. He spoke in defense of political liberalism, including freedom from discrimination, freedom to organize, and freedom of the press. He denounced the “racism, intolerance, and xenophobia” that are being amplified by new technologies. And he highlighted the fact that in many countries, failed economic policies have fomented the rise of “primitive, conservative, and authoritarian nationalism.”
Although Lula did not mention the incident, the fact that his speech came the same week that Canada announced that it was probing potential Indian government involvement in the killing of a Sikh Canadian activist on Canadian soil struck a stark contrast between his government and Modi’s. Lula framed himself as a leader who defends politically liberal values and one with whom other countries hoping to do the same could work.
This positioning appeared to bear fruit in a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday. Outside of closed-door talks, the two leaders hailed what Lula called a “golden moment” in bilateral relations and launched a joint initiative to strengthen workers’ rights—an effort that is only possible in countries where political activism is protected.
The countries plan to roll out joint efforts to increase workers’ awareness of their rights, advance a labor-centered agenda in multilateral forums such as the G-20 and U.N. climate conferences, and elevate workers’ concerns in green jobs policymaking, the White House said. In July, Brazil joined a similar initiative launched by the Biden administration in 2021 that funds technical assistance for global labor organizing.
Stanley Gacek, a Washington-based global strategy advisor for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union who participated in talks about the partnership, called it “unprecedented” in an interview with Foreign Policy. For decades, he said, while governments hashed out international trade and investment deals, organized labor has mostly been kept out of the main decision-making rooms while businesses were invited in the front door. But Lula was a metalworkers’ union organizer for many years before he joined electoral politics, while Biden has often claimed to be the “most pro-union president” in U.S. history. According to Gacek, the fact that both presidents publicly hold pro-worker stances opens up new political possibilities.
Following the bilateral meeting with Biden, Lula had a highly anticipated sit-down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose attempts to court the global south to support his country’s war efforts have intensified in recent weeks. Early this year, Zelensky rejected Lula’s efforts to rally countries around peace in Ukraine after a rankling string of public comments from Lula—including the suggestion that Ukraine should agree to give up the Crimean Peninsula. But Zelensky described Wednesday’s talks as “honest and constructive” and said Brazil will now participate in Ukraine’s ongoing international dialogue about possible ways to end the war. “We had a good conversation about the importance of paths to building peace,” Lula posted on Twitter.
With his visit to New York, Lula showed that while he does not have the money or firepower of other global south heavyweights, his defense of liberal values and willingness to engage in dialogue have borne results.
Friday, Sept. 22: Foreign ministers of the G-77 countries meet in New York.
Wednesday, Sept. 27, to Friday, Sept. 29: The BRICS countries hold a parliamentary forum in South Africa.
Sunday, Oct. 1: Argentina holds a presidential debate.
What We’re Following
Lost in migration. At his UNGA speech, Colombian President Gustavo Petro characterized the global migration crisis as driven primarily by climate change and economic inequality—and said it should be addressed as such. His remarks, alongside new reporting from the New York Times, underscores outstanding differences between Washington’s and Colombia’s approaches to northward migration.
Despite agreeing to cooperate with the United States and Panama on migration issues, the Colombian government appears unwilling to engage in the same kind of physical blocking of northward migrants that Mexico has undertaken at U.S. pleading in recent years. The Times reported that in the Darién Gap—the jungle border region between Colombia and Panama—Colombian national officials have taken a laissez-faire approach to northward migration while some local officials have facilitated it, with a few even charging for services so migrants could travel more safely and comfortably.
In an interview with the Times, Petro said the Colombian government has little control over the Darién Gap, but he emphasized that his administration’s approach to migration would not be one of “whips” and “concentration camps” and that its social causes need to be addressed foremost.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, in a move celebrated by migrant rights groups, the Biden administration announced that it would give temporary work authorization and protection from deportation to around half a million Venezuelans currently in the United States—many of whom reached the southern U.S. border after passing through the Darién.
Stepping up. In July, European Union officials announced their plan to invest more than $47 billion in infrastructure, climate, and health projects in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2027—a European version of China’s Belt and Road Initiative with a focus on transparency and technology transfers. Last week, finance officials from EU countries met with their Latin American counterparts in Spain to take next steps on identifying target projects. Those include a water conservation effort in Barbados and a renewable energy push for Ecuador’s shrimp sector. Spain, meanwhile, contributed more than $300 million to CAF, a development bank serving Latin America and the Caribbean that will oversee some of the investments.
Officials are due to meet in Brussels in the first quarter of next year for what will become regular meetings to track their progress toward the $47 billion goal. To set the tone for their collaboration, finance officials took a group hike along a stretch of a famous pilgrimage route in Galicia as a “metaphor for the challenges” facing the region.
Speaking in volumes. This week, Colombians and fans around the world remembered painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, who was one of the world’s most famous living artists before he died on Sept. 15. Colombia declared three days of national mourning to mark the occasion.
Botero’s signature style, “Boterismo,” depicts human and animal figures in large, exaggerated, voluptuous form—intended not to represent heaviness but rather to play with volume. He depicted daily life in Colombia—often with a tinge of satire—but also episodes of violence, particularly when Medellín became an epicenter of armed conflict in the 1980s and 1990s. When a sculpture of his in a Medellín plaza was damaged in a bomb attack in 1995, he successfully urged the government to keep the sculpture in place in memory of the violence.
For much of his life, Botero enjoyed commercial success and wide popularity but was often snubbed by art critics. Not known for overtly radical political statements, he surprised many in 2005 with paintings of Iraqi prisoners tortured by U.S. security personnel at the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq. The critic Erica Jong wrote that they argued for a “complete revision of whatever we previously thought of Botero’s work.”
Question of the Week
Which of the following cities does not have a Botero statue in a public plaza?
In the United States, multiple Botero statues can be found along New York City’s Park Avenue.
FP’s Most Read This Week:
- China Brings Out the Big Guns in the South China Sea by Jack Detsch
- America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want by Zuri Linetsky
- The End of America’s Middle East by Hisham Melhem
In Focus: Border Tensions
As world powers watch Haiti’s escalating security and humanitarian crisis in alarm, the Dominican Republic is taking matters into its own hands.
The two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, have a decades-long history of tense relations. Migrants from poorer Haiti have often faced discrimination in the Dominican Republic; in 2013, a Dominican court ruling stripped the citizenship of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
After gang violence and political deadlock increased in Haiti following the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the Dominican Republic began constructing a wall on the shared border and periodically closing the border to crossings. Last week, citing a dispute over the Haitian construction of a canal on the northern part of the border, Dominican President Luis Abinader stopped issuing visas to Haitians and ordered a full closure of the border to air, land, and water traffic.
Abinader, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign, said the canal project violates a treaty governing water use and threatens Dominican water resources. “There is no Dominican solution to Haiti’s problem,” he added Sunday in a televised speech. “We cannot be asked for more than what we already do.”
Haiti’s government defended the canal construction, while groups such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch spoke out against the border closure. It “would essentially lock Haitians within their country amid extreme levels of violence, including large-scale killings, kidnappings, and rapes,” Human Rights Watch’s Ida Sawyer said in a statement.
Abinader said last week that the border would remain closed so long as canal construction is ongoing. The closure is expected to cause significant economic disruption between the two countries, as Haiti is the Dominican Republic’s third-largest trading partner.
Martín Meléndez, a professor at the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology, told the New York Times that “the political is reigning more than the technical” in the dispute. Abinader vocally supports Kenya’s proposal to lead a multinational police force to intervene in Haiti’s crisis. As of Thursday afternoon, diplomats were working on drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize a Kenyan-led force.
Catherine Osborn is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief. She is a print and radio journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. Twitter: @cculbertosborn
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