- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Jan. 27 (UPI) — While U.S. leaders used this week's economic forum to rally international support for its hard-line stance on Iraq, Brazil's president took a decidedly different agenda to Davos, Switzerland, calling on industrialized nations to make the battle against hunger the world's top priority.

In talks dominated by the imminent threat of a U.S. attack on Iraq and the results of the latest U.N. weapons inspections, Brazil's new, leftist leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, asked leaders to take a step back from the precipice of war and consider focusing on the creation of a worldwide fund to end hunger and poverty.

Lula, as the president is known, gave nearly the same address to participants of the anti-globalization meeting on Friday in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, where he received raucous applause for his declaration that "the world needs peace and comprehension, not war."

The only world leader to attend both the World Social Forum and economic forum in Davos, Lula stressed at both meetings that industrialized nations "need to start seeing the world in a new way."

"We all need to make an option for development and growth as part of a new world order," said Lula. "Hunger cannot wait."

A former union leader and metal worker who quit school as a young boy so he could help support his family, Lula used both international forums to bolster a hunger eradication agenda that has become his top priority at home.

Even in the months leading up to his Jan. 1 inauguration, Lula had been designing his much touted "Zero Hunger" plan. The initial goal is to assist 10 million people via an aggressive food allotment program over the next five years.

Government statistics show that some 44 million out of an estimated 175 million Brazilians are eligible for Zero Hunger benefits, earning less than a dollar a day.

Lula drew a grave picture of starvation in South America and especially Africa, asking G-7 industrialized nations and international investors to help get the initiative off the ground.

"We urgently need to join forces to ensure the victory of hope over fear, as we have in Brazil," Lula said. "We urgently need an understanding in favor of peace, against hunger. Brazil can be counted on to participate in this effort."

The Brazilian leader's presence at both meetings put Lula in the international spotlight on two continents, a move that puts him into the upper echelon of prominent developing nations' leaders after less than a month in office.

Popularity and name recognition come at a price, however.

Some leftists, both in Brazil and the world over, criticized Lula for attending the World Economic Forum.

Analysts note that Lula has called for social reform at home while maintaining the free-market reforms enacted over the past eight years by his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. But that might have to change.

Party politics aside, Lula's presence in Davos appears to signal his willingness to work with both the left and right in order to promote Brazil abroad.

During his address Sunday, he pledged to continue reform efforts in the Brazilian government, most notably in the areas of taxes and pensions.

"I've told (Finance Minister Antonio) Palocci: You don't need to be a progressive or a leftist. You can even be a little conservative. In Brazil, we are only going to be radical when it comes to ending hunger," said Lula.

That said, the Brazilian president took the opportunity to condemn what he called the "uninformed youths" that issue negative credit ratings for South American countries. Jitters on Wall Street regarding a possible Lula's presidency were in part to blame for Brazil's sagging economy in the months leading up to the new president's administration.

"Here are people who can't even name the capital of Colombia and they're telling the world whether certain countries are credit-worthy or not," said Lula. "We cannot allow ourselves to be the victim of speculators."

The Brazilian president curbed his comments by stressing that "We (the developing world) cannot blame the first world (developed world) for our problems."

"We have to look inward," he said.

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