SIDE BY SIDE United States President Joe Biden (right) and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walk to the Oval Office for a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023 (February 11 in Manila). AFP PHOTO

Biden, Lula vow to defend democracy in Americas

WASHINGTON, D.C.: United States President Joe Biden and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said at the White House on Friday that the two biggest countries in the Americas had successfully seen off attacks on their democracies and would now work together on fighting the climate crisis.

“Both our nations’ strong democracies have been tested,” Biden told Lula, and “both in the United States and Brazil, democracy prevailed.”

Meeting in the Oval Office, Biden and Lula expressed solidarity over their similar paths.

Biden defeated Donald Trump in November 2020, but two months later, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Congress, believing his conspiracy theory that he had been the real election winner.

In Brazil, Lula defeated right-winger Jair Bolsonaro and took office in January, but a mob of Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia shortly after.

“We have some issues on which we can work together,” Lula told Biden. “First is to never again allow” the anti-democratic mob attacks.

Touting Brazil’s return to the international arena, Lula said his predecessor’s “world started and ended with fake news — in the morning, afternoon and at night. It seemed that he despised international relations.”

Biden, referring to Trump, quickly answered: “Sounds familiar.”

Amazon financing

Biden and Lula stressed their mutual commitment to saving the Amazon rainforest and fighting global warming — efforts that Bolsonaro and Trump both sidelined.

Biden said their “shared values … put us on the same page, particularly, especially, when it comes to the climate crisis.”

Brazil is seeking US participation in the Amazon Fund, an international scheme to finance antideforestation efforts in Brazil, and Lula walked away from the Oval Office voicing moderate confidence that would happen.

“I think they will,” Lula told reporters. “I not only think they will, but I think that it’s necessary they participate.”

He added that while the meeting had not specifically addressed the Amazon Fund, he had brought up “the responsibility of rich countries to assume responsibility to fund countries with rainforests and not only in Brazil.”

In a joint US-Brazil statement that followed the meeting, the White House said it hoped to “work with Congress to provide funds for programs to protect and conserve the Brazilian Amazon, including initial support for the Amazon Fund.”

Lula told Biden in the Oval Office that during his 2003–2010 term as president, he had committed Brazil to drastic reductions in the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest, which is often described as the “lungs of the world” for its massive greenhouse gas absorption.

However, “in the last few years, the rainforest in the Amazon was invaded by political irrationality, human irrationality, because we had a president who sent people to deforest, sent gold diggers into the Indigenous areas,” he said, referring to Bolsonaro.

Biden has made US leadership on fighting climate change one of his main priorities. He started by putting the US back into the Paris climate agreement after Trump exited the historic deal, which aims to slow global warming.

Ukraine divide

One area where Biden and Lula sharply disagree is over Ukraine, and the subject of Russia’s invasion did not come up during their introductory remarks, before reporters were ushered from the Oval Office.

Biden has spearheaded an unprecedented Western effort to rally behind Ukraine, providing aid, weaponry, military training and diplomatic support as the country struggles to repel the Russian war machine.

But several major democratic countries — notably India, South Africa and Brazil — have largely remained on the sidelines, refusing to help Ukraine militarily and sending mixed messages politically.

After the meeting was over, Lula told reporters that he wanted to assemble an international “group of countries that aren’t directly or indirectly involved in the war of Russia against Ukraine so that we can have a possibility to build peace.”

“That is, I’m convinced that we need to find a way out to end this war. I found Biden shared the same concern,” he said. “The first thing is to stop the war.”

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