Early yesterday, Otto Reich was an angry man.
While serving as undersecretary of state for the Western Hemisphere — an area stretching from Canada to Argentina — Reich had been a principal go-between between the U.S. government and the Brazilian presidential candidate Lula da Silva, even before the Brazilian elections.
Reich’s surprise was a response to critical reviews of the book Eighteen Days by Matias Spektor, which recounts efforts of then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso to convince Bush Jr. and Wall Street financiers that Lula was not an incendiary figure.
Reich and other Brazilian sources were interviewed by Spektor.
It is even possible that the president of the Central Bank during this period had worked with the FMI and Wall Street. But FHC –President Fernando Henrique Cardoso — had practically zero influence on relations between Lula and the Bush government.
Spektor is a professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. Easily googleable.
This was surprising because of the unusual circumstances: one president negotiating support for a political or ideological opponent. Surprising, too, that Brazil had little influence over palace politics under Bush. As Reich told his confidant, “FHC had too little political capital with the Bush administration to waste on spend on targeting Lula.”
Cardoso had always been on the side of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party. Likewise, the major concerns of the Bush regime were Clinton and intellectuals viewed as left-wing.
The first contact with the Lula presidential campaign in June 2002 — months before the results of the election — took place at the home of a businessman friend of Reich’s. This turned out to be the same day as the formal meeting, which ran from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
On hand for the U.S. side was ambassador Dona Hrinak and São Paulo Consul Patrick Duddy. The meeting, it is worth noting, helped the career of Duddy, who was later named Sub-Secretary for the Southern Cone and then Ambassador to Venezuela — where she was the latest in a series of incidents leading to the expulsion of diplomats by Chávez.
On the Brazilian side was the once and future Minister of the Casa Civil — roughly, chief of staff — José Dirceu. Dirceu promised that Lula would fully respect all international and financial obligations of the Brazilian government, demonstrating that there no leftward turn was possible. This made Lula an important interlocutor with the U.S.
Reich returned to the U.S. with a different perception of Lula. He told Bush that Lula was neither a populist or communist. He had none of the intellectual background but represented the typical “self-made man” — the cornerstone of the American dream. Bush was soon persuaded by this reputation and not long after invited Lula to spend several days in the U.S., where Lula received the kind of friendly familiarity that not even Cardoso had received from Clinton during his state visit.
A second meeting took place in November 2002, attended by Otto, Bill, Lula, Aluizio Mercadante and Antonio Palocci. On December 10 Lula visited Washington before he was even sworn in — a highly unusual gestures.
As meetings were held between Workers Party — PT — leaders and Otto Reich began, the Brazilian ambassador in Washington, Rubens Barbosa, was trying to sell the U.S. government that Lula had no chance of victory and that the U.S. should go all in for José Serra, in whose government he, Rubens Barbosa, would be the chancellor.
Serra, Barbosa and even FHC were clearly unaware of Reich’s secret talks with the PT leadership. This belies the version of the story of Cardoso’s role in these diplomatic gambits.
Reich met again with Lula and Dirceu at the presidential residence in March 2003. At this meeting, a trip to Washington was planned for Zé Dirceu, who met with the U.S. Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice. A state dinner for 24 was held, including influential bank presidents. The dinner was offered by Washington Post heiress Donna Graham. Foi o melhor período nas relações entre Estados Unidos e o Brasil.
After leaving the government, Otto Reich would return to Brazil to represent the Bush family, which has an interest in sugarcane ethanol.
Dirceu, meanwhile, would remain the preferred go-between between Foggy Bottom and Itamaraty.
In her visit to Brazil, Condoleeza made a point of scheduling a luncheon with Dirceu. Dirceu was in Venezuela and received the invitation at 7:00 a.m. He arrived on time thanks to Chavéz’s jet. Donna Graham became a frequent visitor to the office set up by Dilma to coordinate her transmission. She later left the government.
When Dirceu left the stage, the most reliable channel between the t wo governments was lost, an episode which State “lamented.”
Critical reviews of the book may tend to exaggerate the role of Cardoso, or it may be that it was Cardoso who exaggerated when he spoke of his supposed influence with the Bush regime.
In any event, Reich and his colleagues are waiting to read the book in its final version — it has not yet dropped — before commenting.
I am always impressed by efforts to shoehorn the political landscape into a Red State | Blue State divide and conquer scenario, shaped by advice by consultants like — for instance — Movements.Org.
Filed under: Brazil