Photo Jonathan Blair

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lula and Ahmadinejad

Moisés Naím has published in El País a marvelous little piece about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Brazil . It is called "Lula's secret documents," and is purely fictional.

For those not in the know, Moisés Naím is the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine. He was one of the technocrats that Venezuela's then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez (CAP) had brought to him to un-paralyze the country's economy and government in the 1990s. As you may remember, that attempt collapsed in death, fire, and humiliation in 1992 when CAP's economic shock therapy met with massive public protests in Caracas --the Caracazo-- whose repression led to the death of more than 100 people. Shortly thereafter, CAP, his ideas, and his policies were further discredited when he was demoted by the Country's Supreme Court and condemned for corruption. Naím could be described as a modern social-democrat, in the mold of Felipe Gonzalez and perhaps Tony Blair. Perhaps more relevant, he is also a standing member of that transnational elite -almost an aristocracy- of Latin-American technocrats, academics and intellectuals, highly-cultivated, usually well-off, superbly educated (generally in the United States, Paris, or both), and as much at ease in the salons, offices and universities of Washington, Paris, New York or Madrid, as they are in the region's capitals themselves (think of Mario Vargas Llosa, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jorge Castañeda, Ricardo Hausman, Andrés Rozental, and so on. But that's another story. The key thing is: able and well-connected, Naím was quickly back on his feet and he has led the transformation of Foreign Policy, a staid and somewhat boring quarterly, into the hypest, most lively and best-looking international affairs web-journal in existence today. For what I know, he is based in New York, but he also writes in El País.

His column tells of a briefing note written by Lula's advisers, selling him the idea of welcoming Ahmadinejad. At once, it argues, Lula could poke a finger in the eye of the US, thus affirming Brazil's independence, and remind the world that Brasilia, as the capital of a world power, must be involved in big multilateral endeavors like containing Iran's nuclear program, which is not the case at the moment. Naím has obviously never seen such a note, but given the track record of Lula advisers Marco Aurelio Garcia and Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, it is very easy to imagine just such things being wispered in the President's ear.

Naím follows with a ficticious letter from a friend of Lula, a companion in the fight against the military regime, in the 1970s and 1980s, who has qualms about his getting too too close to people like Ahmadinejad. The trick is old, and could easily be cheap, but it is not. In fact, it borders on the poignant. The friend is understanding: yes, politics, domestic or foreign, calls for compromise, but there is a limit and, he feels, Lula has crossed it. Here is an excerpt, which I have translated from the Spanish original:

"I felt a great sadness when I saw you embrace the president of Iran. Did it cross you mind, old friend, that if you and I had been doing in Iran today what we did in Brazil when we were young -protest against the dictatorship- this president would have condemned us both to death? Iran's official TV announced death sentence for eight people. Their crime? To have protested against the government and against what they felt was the fraudulent election of the president that you received with all the honors. In other words, Lula, they will die in the hands of your guest for being what you were when you had their age and, just like them, could not stand in silence in the face of dictatorship. Moreover, in Iran, hundreds of students and political leaders are in prison and for sure many were being tortured while you were offering a banquet to the man responsible for it. I don't object to your inviting this tyran: I understand that these are "State" calculations. I hope that, in private, you told him that Brazilians don't like governments that kill their opponents. But I am saddened to see you holding his hand. There is blood on them, not on yours."

Case closed, no?

One more thing: this translation just cannot convey the palpable sadness of the original, so if you read Spanish, get the article itself, it almost feels like Jorge Luis Borges, still alive, delving in foreign policy commentary...