Presidents Alberto Fernández and Lula da Silva met for nearly four hours in a private bilateral meeting in Brasilia yesterday. While their encounter didn’t bring about specific funding agreements, bold statements from Lula on Argentina’s IMF deal renegotiations, BRICS group support, and the comeback of UNASUR put key pieces in place for Argentina’s international agenda over the coming weeks.
“I truly value the support President Lula has given us as a country and as a government,” said Fernández, during a post-meeting press conference in which the pair sketched a route map for political and trade relations over the coming months.
By the time Fernández leaves office on December 10, his term in office will have overlapped with Lula’s by less than a year — but their constant contact and several points on their joint agenda show they intend to make the most of it.
In the conference, Da Silva said he had committed to continuing talks with members of the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to see how they can “help Argentina.” BRICS representatives meet in a yearly summit to coordinate multilateral policies, and in 2014 they joined forces to create the New Development Bank.
Da Silva is attempting to persuade other BRICS leaders to have their economy ministers change an article in the group’s rules that would allow it to financially support non-BRICS countries such as Argentina through the New Development Bank, which is currently headed by his political ally and former Brazil president Dilma Rousseff.
On May 29, Da Silva will take part in a BRICS meeting where he expects to discuss the change. He said during the conference that he has spoken to Rousseff and also China’s President Xi Jing Ping about it.
Da Silva also vowed to continue working with Brazil’s Congress and exporters to Argentina to promote bilateral trade. This is likely to come in the form of credit for these companies to keep selling to Argentina and the development of mechanisms to trade in pesos and reais, skirting the U.S. dollar. Economy Ministers Sergio Massa and Fernando Haddad are expected to follow up on the work next week.
Additionally, he said he’s willing to have his economy minister speak to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ask them “to remove their knife from Argentina’s throat”.
“The IMF knows how Argentina took its debt,” he said, referring to ex-President Mauricio Macri’s decision to take the biggest loan in the Fund’s history in 2018. “They can’t keep putting pressure on a country that wants to grow, create jobs and improve people’s lives,” he added.
South American integration
Da Silva and Fernández also discussed regional integration, another priority for the Brazilian leader. Since his first day in office, Da Silva has been working to relaunch the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) alliance.
“Brazil wants to help Argentina find sovereign and autonomous solutions to their situation,” said Matías Capeluto, director of the Patria Grande House, UNASUR’s former headquarters in Buenos Aires.
The UNASUR was created in 2008, during the apogee of the “pink tide” of Latin American leftist governments, by then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. At its height, it had twelve member countries – but many subsequently left after their populations elected right-wing governments hostile to the project. Argentina left the union during Macri’s presidency but announced in March that it would return.
Another step is the upcoming meeting —May 30— between South American presidents in Brasilia, a first in over six years. The gathering will include Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, who has been politically isolated from regional diplomatic relations for five years.
“Lula’s priority is a return of a South American workspace that gives results, just like UNASUR used to do,” Capeluto told the Herald. “And also to get everyone together around a table again, which hasn’t happened since 2017 when Venezuela left the Inter-American system, when the isolation started, when UNASUR broke.”
“Lula is becoming an international organizer of the Argentine situation,” said Capeluto. He believes the bilateral relationship between Argentina and Brazil is key for Da Silva today. “He needs to regain the bond with Argentina, to take it back to what it used to be before [Jair] Bolsonaro’s presidency,” he said. “And they [Fernández and Da Silva] get along very well, which makes things go faster.”
After announcing his strategies for bilateral, regional and global support for Argentina, the Brazilian president said last night that Fernández would “return to Argentina without money, but with a lot of political willingness” on his part.
As the Fernández administration is close to entering its last 200 days, the impact of Da Silva’s commitment and promises remains to be seen.