Former and current Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s brief honeymoon with US corporate media hit its first roadblock this week as a minor story repeated in Reuters and AP generated headlines in Brazil’s newspapers, with its largest, O Globo, running an editorial with a thinly veiled coup threat.

After years of character assassination, US establishment outlets such as the New York Times eased up on Lula during the last two years, as a series of scandals, record Amazon deforestation, the assassination of Guardian/Washington Post journalist Dom Phillips, and a cozy relationship with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and their far-right cronies made it impossible to support the reelection of neofascist President Jair Bolsonaro.

Parallels between Brazil’s January 8, 2023, coup attempt and the January 6, 2021, US Capitol incursion placed US media outlets with close relations to the Democratic Party, such as the Times, in a difficult position. Criticizing the Lula administration could appear to offer tacit support to the Republican Party, in alliance with its preferred outlets like Fox News, which ran an election-season documentary (9/22/22) warning about the transformation of Brazil into a colony of its largest commercial trading partner, China, if Bolsonaro was not reelected.

Lula signed 15 bilateral agreements with Chinese President Xi Jinping, including a joint venture for satellite manufacturing and abandonment of the dollar in trade between the two nations.

This has resulted in an unusual situation, in which outlets such as the Times, after years of negative coverage (e.g., 4/12/14), have produced largely neutral stories on Lula’s Workers’ Party. Even as Lula’s diplomatic trip to China approached, this balanced coverage continued, as demonstrated in the Times‘ April 14 article, “Brazil’s Lula Meets Xi in China as They Seek Path to Peace in Ukraine.” The piece included this accurate explanation of Brazil’s position on the Russia/Ukraine conflict:

Brazil has criticized Russia’s invasion in carefully worded statements, but its position is complicated by its reliance on Russia for about a quarter of its fertilizer imports, which are crucial to Brazil’s enormous agriculture industry. Mr. Lula has also suggested that Ukraine’s president and NATO share some blame for the war, and he has resisted calls to send weapons to Ukraine.

Lula signed 15 bilateral agreements with Chinese President Xi Jinping, including a joint venture for satellite manufacturing and abandonment of the dollar in trade between the two nations, and gave an interview to Chinese TV news station CGTN (4/15/23) in which he commented on the conflict in the Ukraine:

How are we going to achieve peace in Russia and Ukraine if nobody is talking about peace? Everybody is talking about war. Everybody is talking about giving more weapons to Ukraine to attack Russia, or of NATO moving its border to the border of Russia. So what are we looking for? Countries that want peace. China wants peace. Brazil wants peace. Indonesia wants peace. India wants peace. So we have to bring these countries together and make a peace proposal for Russia and Ukraine.

Later, during a press conference in China (Kawsachun News, 4/15/23), he said, “It takes patience to talk with the president of Ukraine. But we have to, above all, convince the countries that are supplying weapons, encouraging war, to stop.”

In February, Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mauro Vieira invited his counterparts in Ukraine and Russia, Dmytro Kuleba and Sergey Lavrov, to visit Brazil. Lavrov took him up on his offer, announcing he would arrive in Brasilia shortly after Lula’s return from China. During the press conference after their meeting, Lavrov said:

As for the process in Ukraine, we are grateful to our Brazilian friends for their excellent understanding of this situation’s genesis. We are grateful [to them] for striving to contribute to finding ways to settle it.

The meeting with the Russian diplomat appeared to be the last straw, as foreign correspondents and Brazil analysts who had held back all year began to criticize the Lula administration on Twitter.

That evening, Reuters and AP ran similar articles quoting the same US government official, which were immediately disseminated in partner news organizations around the world.

AP‘s “Brazil’s Welcome of Russian Minister Prompts US Blowback” (4/17/23) related an “unusually sharp rebuke from the White House,” with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby “blasting” Brazil’s stance on the conflict. Without explaining where and with whom the conversation took place—there was no White House press briefing that day—the article includes the following quote from Kirby:

Brazil has substantively and rhetorically approached this issue by suggesting that the United States and Europe are somehow not interested in peace or that we share responsibility for the war. In this case, Brazil is parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda without at all looking at the facts.

Reuters‘ article, headlined “Brazil’s Lula Draws Russian Praise, US Scorn for Ukraine Views” (4/17/23), repeated Kirby’s statement that Brazil was “parroting” Russian propaganda. It added that Kirby called Brazil’s position “simply misguided.”

As US economic power continues to wane south of its border, as a result of what many refer to as a new cold war against China, the US government and its allies in the media continue to try to assert imperial influence over Latin America.

Within minutes of Reuters‘ release, Brazil’s largest media company, Globo, released an article paraphrasing it on its online news site G1 (4/17/23), and other big Brazilian media companies followed suit.

The conglomerate’s O Globo, the nation’s highest-circulation newspaper, ran an editorial (4/17/23) criticizing Lula’s calls for peace and calling for Brazil to more closely align with the US and NATO in the Ukraine conflict. The newspaper, which only apologized for its support for Brazil’s far-right military dictatorship of 1964–85 in 2013, and actively supported the 2016 legislative coup against President Dilma Rousseff, ended its editorial with a threat:

Instead, out of almost 130 “neutrals” in the Ukrainian conflict, Brazil is the only one that got involved in creating a “peace club” and openly flirts with Russia. The danger of provoking the Americans and Europeans is evident: Lula risks taking a fall.

Meanwhile, in the US, many of the largest media companies, including the New York Times, did not pick up Reuters‘ and AP‘s story. There is an old expression in Brazil, dating back to the period of British economic colonialism (roughly from the 1830s to the 1930s), which goes, “This is news for the English to see,” which is used to refer to stories generated specifically for a foreign audience.

The Reuters and AP articles, by contrast, look like news that was generated specifically for a Brazilian audience. By delivering a message from the White House to the Brazilian government, which made headlines in Brazil, while only appearing as a minor story, if reported at all, in US news outlets, AP 
and Reuters appeared to act as a tool for the US State Department to exercise soft power on Brazil.

As US economic power continues to wane south of its border, as a result of what many refer to as a new cold war against China, the US government and its allies in the media continue to try to assert imperial influence over Latin America. Add this to the cozy relationship between the Brazilian and US armed forces, which was strengthened after Bolsonaro’s 2020 visit to Southcom, and it shows the magnitude of the challenges facing the Lula administration as it attempts to regain the resource and foreign policy sovereignty lost after the US-supported 2016 coup.

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