Among Latin leftists, Brazil's moderate Lula leads the way
While President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – a former union firebrand – effortlessly bands together with Latin America's left, he just as easily peels away.
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And many say that his method of addressing poverty – not just handing out money, but helping the poor through conditional responsibility – is the right equation. "Brazil stands alone in the region for its very aggressive social policies towards reducing inequality," says Eduardo Moron, an economist in Peru who recently joined Peru's Ministry of Economy and Finance. "I'm not sure anyone else has been so emphatic about it."Skip to next paragraph
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Chávez and Lula, while allies on a host of issues, have taken different paths. Since becoming Venezuela's president in 1999, Chávez has nationalized key industries. Lula, on the other hand, surprised everyone by maintaining a market-oriented model that was forged by his predecessor.
Chávez has lavished oil money on allies in an effort to build political support and undercut US influence. Lula's role on the international stage has been decidedly more diplomatic: He has become a leading voice in World Trade Organization talks fighting agricultural subsidies on behalf of developing nations, for example. And crucially, Lula maintains close ties with President Bush, and is seen by some as the interlocutor for the region and more specifically between the US and Chávez. He effortlessly remains friends with both.
Chávez and Lula cooperate and share jokes in public, but when it comes to real clout in Latin America, it's Lula who seems to hold the trump card these days. He has played important mediator roles in the region's most recent crises, including civil strife in Mr. Morales's Bolivia.
Still, his power is muted, in large part because he does not flaunt it.
The moderate left in Latin America, says Mr. Trebat, has allowed the "bully pulpit" to be dominated by Chávez. "The Brazilians are reluctant to toot their own horn, and show the world their way of doing things," he says.
It might be a Brazilian characteristic, says Trebat. It is also perhaps specific to Lula, a natural negotiator.
Or, as Melissa Andrade at the United Nations Development Program's International Poverty Center says, it might be that Brazil's role as a key leader in the developing world has even taken it's government by surprise. "Brazil has always been a recipient," she says. "Now it's realizing it can have a voice."