On January 18, Members of Congress wrote to the Ambassador of Brazil, expressing deep concern about the current state of democracy and human rights in Brazil.
The letter is here.
Reps. Conyers and others put out the following press release on the letter. A PDF of the letter is here.
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Karen Bass (CA-37), and Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7).
An updated PDF of the letter is here.
For Immediate Release:
Next week the Western Hemisphere will see a tale of two elections: two elections that have a number of key features in common, and some key points of divergence. In common: the incumbent center-left faces a challenge from the Right. The head of state, the incumbent leader of the center-left, will not be on the ballot, but the election is widely viewed as a referendum on his policies.
Election Day is "the poll that matters," but the key divergence is that on Sunday in Brazil, the center-left is forecast to coast to victory, while on Tuesday in the U.S., the Right is widely forecast to make big gains, with better than even odds of taking the House.
What explains this divergence?
There are many factors, of course, but there is one key cause: in Brazil, Lula brought home the bacon, in economic indicators of the quality of life, for the Workers Party's electoral base: working people. Measured unemployment in Brazil is now at a record low of 6.2 percent.
When the majority of voters in Brazil ask themselves, "are we better off now than we were before the Workers Party came to power," this is the reality that they reflect on: the Brazilian economy has performed much better for working people during the Lula years than during the eight years of opposition candidate Jose Serra's party. Per capita income grew by 23 percent from 2002-2010, as opposed to just 3.5 percent for 1994-2002. The minimum wage, in real terms, grew by 65 percent during Lula's presidency. This is more than three time the increase during the prior eight years.
In Brazil, as in the U.S., a significant rise in the real value of the minimum wage lifts not just the workers who are at the very bottom of the wage distribution, but the much larger group of workers whose wages are near the bottom.
By the greater use of compulsory licenses, Brazil could lower drug costs not only in Brazil, but in developing countries overall. At a time when the New York Times is reporting that "the global battle against AIDS is falling apart for lack of money," it is absolutely essential that the price of lifesaving medicines in developing countries be driven down to the absolute minimum possible.
With this in mind, I gave the following presentation on October 11 at a conference of doctors and health care workers in Sao Paulo.
I want to begin by establishing some context that I think is important for understanding what it is that I am trying to communicate today and what it is that I am urging you to do.
If you ask yourself, how did it come to pass that important social reforms were won, an important part of the story is that groups of people banded together to pursue what they perceived to be a collective self-interest. You can't explain social change if the only possible actor in your head is an individual who is either individually self-interested or individually altruistic. Around the world, human slavery used to be commonplace, now it is not, how did that come to pass? You can't tell a story that makes sense without collective action based on perceived collective self-interest.
If you look at the anti-slavery movement in the United States, important leaders were themselves former slaves. You might say: that's no surprise, they knew what they were talking about. But if they were only acting on the basis of their individual self-interest, why bother? They were already free. Why not simply enrich themselves and tend their gardens?
The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for new sanctions against Iran today. Wait, did you just yawn? Pay attention, there's real news here. The man-bites-dog story is that two countries - Brazil and Turkey - voted no, while Lebanon abstained.
That's a record. There's never been more than one no vote before; there's never been less than 14 yes votes before; it's only the second time that there were any no votes at all. And it's the first time any non-Muslim country voted no (Brazil.)
This is the sixth Security Council resolution attacking Iran's nuclear program since July 2006. Here's the scorecard:
Resolution 1696, July 31, 2006: Fourteen votes in favor to one against (Qatar.)
Resolution 1737, December 23, 2006: passed unanimously
Resolution 1747, March 24, 2007: passed unanimously
Resolution 1803, March 3, 2008: passed by a vote of 14-0-1, with one abstention (Indonesia.)
Resolution 1835, September 27, 2008: passed unanimously
Resolution 1929, June 9, 2010: passed by 12 votes to two against (Brazil and Turkey) and one abstention from Lebanon
Why did Brazil and Turkey vote no?
Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.
In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.
In the past few weeks, Turkey and Brazil have elbowed their way to the Big Table of international diplomacy: first by negotiating a nuclear fuel swap agreement to try to push the US back towards diplomatic efforts to resolve its conflict with Iran, and then - in the case of Turkey - by its support of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla's efforts to break the Israeli-Egyptian-US siege of Gaza's civilian population - efforts that continue today as the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie proceeds towards Gaza, amid silence - not enough protest, apparently - from the Obama Administration.
But it appears that if Turkey and Brazil want to have effective input at the Big Table, they are going to have to play hardball effectively with the United States: they have to continue to show the U.S. that they have the power to obstruct the U.S. from getting what it wants if the US continues to ignore their concerns.
Sao Paulo - New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is on the warpath. Not only against his "Great Satan" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also against Brazil's President Lula and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, because they had the temerity to succeed in negotiating an agreement with Iran to try to de-escalate the confrontation between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program without the subsequent approval of Washington. [Apparently Brazil and Turkey had White House approval to try - a week before the effort, but it seems that they did not have White House approval to succeed.]
Friedman claims that a May 17 picture of Iran's president joining Lula and Erdogan "with raised arms" after their signing of a "putative deal" to defuse the crisis over Iran's "nuclear weapons program" [does the New York Times do fact-checking on Friedman?] was "about as ugly as it gets."
If it's literally true that that picture was "as ugly as it gets," then presumably that would imply that it was at least as ugly - if not more ugly - than, for example, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion which was clearly illegal under the U.N. Charter, as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan affirmed in 2004, an invasion which likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Iraqis - and an invasion which Tom Friedman supported, as he explained to Charlie Rose in May 2003:
If I were in Washington this morning, I would run down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Congress with a big Brazilian flag, as the young Brazilians run down the Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo during the the "football" match, shouting "Gollllllll!"
Because with the news this morning that Iran has agreed to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey, in a nuclear fuel swap deal reached in talks with Brazil and Turkey that could "deflate a U.S.-led push" for new sanctions against Iran, the President of Brazil has scored a goal against the neocons in the West who want to gin up confrontation with Iran towards a future military conflict.
Sao Paulo - For the last several decades, fundamental international issues of war and peace have been largely determined by a small group of countries, especially the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, with some input from the other so-called G7 industrial democracies: Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council each have a veto over UN Security Council resolutions; they are also the only countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We are now at a new moment in international relations, in which countries outside of the permanent members of the Security Council and their handpicked allies are insisting on having some meaningful input into these issues, and are starting to have some success in pressing their case for inclusion. Brazil has been a leader in these efforts.
The most striking example of this shift is the recent willingness of Brazil and Turkey to challenge the leadership of the United States on the question of responding to Iran's nuclear program.