President Obama has received due attention for pandering to dictators across the globe. He has not been reproached, however, for embracing one of the leaders most effective at spreading the leftist gospel across Latin America. Last year, Mr. Obama called Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva “my champion.” Mr. Lula has enjoyed an undeserved reputation as a moderate during his seven years in office and now is openly campaigning to be the next secretary-general of the United Nations. His accession to head the U.N. would be a dark day for freedom.
On Feb. 24, Mr. Lula arrived in Cuba and warmly embraced Fidel and Raul Castro, the dictators responsible for making that island nation into a prison. On the same day, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble plumber who was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, died in a Cuban jail. The political prisoner was serving a 10-year sentence for encouraging public assemblies in Havana to protest government oppression.
The timing was unfortunate for the myth of Lula the moderate. During a photo session with the Castros, the Brazilian president mocked Mr. Zapata’s resistance and compared him to common criminals in Brazilian jails, grinning all the while. Despite the human-rights scandal in his midst, Mr. Lula - who touts himself as the leader of Brazilian “hyperdemocracy” - went ahead with a nearly $1 billion investment in Cuba and conducted secret meetings about Brazilian military cooperation with the communist state.
As his second term in office draws to a close at the end of this year, Mr. Lula is taking increasingly radical political positions that are deflating his bubble of international prestige. This is most glaring in his foreign policy, which coddles Islamist states such as Iran and is helping build up neighboring communist thugs such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Under Mr. Lula’s direction, Brazil abstained from voting when the International Atomic Energy Agency censured Iran last year for prohibiting inspections of its nuclear facilities. His Foreign Ministry has signaled that it won’t follow international consensus on sanctions against a nuclear Tehran. Last week, he ripped Israel while placing a wreath on the tomb of terrorist Yasser Arafat.
Mr. Lula claims his outreach to radicals is done in the name of dialogue. “I am infected by the peace virus,” he likes to say. Talking leads to understanding, which leads to agreement and peace, the thinking goes. But talking also wastes time. The Obama administration has tried dialogue with the mullahs, but this has been to no avail while the day Iran becomes a nuclear-armed power ticks closer. If Mr. Lula is any kind of moderate at all, it is as a “useful moderate” to rogue regimes that undermine the cause of peace by trampling individual rights and expanding their power through illegal means. The prototype of the useful moderate was Alexander Kerensky, leader of pre-revolutionary Russia whose concessions to radicals paved the way for Vladimir Lenin’s communist takeover.
The Kerenskian mentality causes as much harm as Leninism itself because by seeking conciliation rather than confrontation with an enemy, the opposition to radicalism is emasculated. Without Kerenskys, Leninists wouldn’t have open roads for their advance. It is from that standpoint that one must contemplate who has benefited most from Mr. Lula da Silva’s global popularity. If communist Cuba survives, it will be due more to diplomatic and economic support from the Kerenskyist Mr. Lula than the in-your-face Mr. Chavez, whose own ability to cling to power is aided by credibility gained through the Venezuelan-Brazilian alliance. Mr. Lula’s high-profile backing for authoritarians in Bolivia and Ecuador helps demoralize the pro-democracy opposition there as it has in Venezuela.
On a popular Brazilian television program almost eight years ago, then-candidate Lula called me “the Miami shyster” because I wrote a series of articles denouncing his support of communist Cuba and his policies favoring the “axis of evil” in Latin America. His presidency has confirmed those early apprehensions.
While Americans are preoccupied by a crippling recession and trying to fight back growing government power, militant socialism is on the march in our own backyard in Latin America. No one has aided and abetted this leftist revolution more than the supposedly moderate Brazilian president.
Armando F. Valladares was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He spent 22 years in Cuba’s political prisons.