Lula criticizes EU austerity policies and says that “they punish the crisis’ victims and reward those responsible for it”
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticized Thursday (May 3rd) the austerity policies that are being used to address the crisis in Europe and praised the African initiative to promote the growth of the continent. The statement was made in Rio de Janeiro, during the seminar “Investing in Africa: Opportunities, Challenges and Tools for Economic Cooperation” organized by BNDES. The former president spoke about the European crisis and the importance of initiatives such as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, Pida.
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Listen to the speech (original in portuguese):
My dear fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen, entrepreneurs, diplomats, guests, dear BNDES collaborators and friends, in the first place, a small comment: I haven’t spoken for seven months. I only hope that I haven’t forgotten how to speak. I will try to read here as slowly as possible to see if my throat will let me make it to the end. The speech is not at all long. It’s just that I am going to speak more slowly.
But I would like to tell you that I am happy to be here, Luciano [Coutinho, BNDES’ president], especially at this moment when I can congratulate you and all the directors and the whole team at BNDES on the 60th anniversary of one of the most important institutions in Brazil, and – why not say so? – the biggest development bank in the world.
To come back here to Rio de Janeiro to talk about the relations between Brazil and Africa fills me with pride and joy. And even more so when I look out at this auditorium and see how many leading companies represented here today know that they are all a bit responsible for the success of the policies that we have to promote in order to develop our relations with the African continent. And I am even more proud and happy when I see the eminent visitors who have come from so far away to present the plans drawn up by the Africans to build the new Africa of the 21st century.
So, my dear Luciano, congratulations on organizing this seminar. I would like to convey my best wishes to our dear governor, Sérgio Cabral, and I greet our mayor and tell them that everything that has been done in Rio de Janeiro was the obligation of the federal government, to recover a part of the history of Rio de Janeiro that others had destroyed. For what it represents to Brazil, Rio de Janeiro deserves this ever stronger partnership with the federal government.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about the relations between Brazil and Africa in these days of ours. It has become even more important to talk about this because the world is undergoing an economic crisis beyond measure. A crisis that bears an effect on all of us, in Brazil and in Africa, and that the rich countries always answer in the same way: with “austerity measures”. This means cutting down on public investments,
lowering salaries, layoffs, cutting workers’ benefits, and increasing the minimum age for retirement.
They ask the people, the workers and the governments of the economically weaker countries to practice austerity. But at the same time they approve packages and more packages of resources injected into the financial system, which is precisely the sector responsible for the speculative roundabout that caused the crisis that we are going through. In other words, they punish the victims of the crisis and distribute prizes to those responsible for it. There is something wrong here. It seems that the multilateral organizations do not have the authority and governance to impose their decisions. I remember that the G20 countries reached an agreement in 2009 about a set of measures to strengthen regulating the financial markets. Since then, nothing has been done about this. I look at how the crisis has evolved and come to the sad realization that many governors in the rich countries are still driven by the same logic that produced the crisis of 2008, which is still to be resolved. A logic that can be summed up as follows: all support to the financial system so that it remains unaffected by the crisis; to the workers, the retirees, the most fragile and the poorest countries, no help at all.
This explains the extraordinary importance of the development program approved recently by the 54 countries of Africa, placing their bets on growth, production, work and credit. The Africans drew up an unheard-of program with the motto “Interlinking, Integrating and Transforming the Continent”. A program that creates the necessary conditions to intensify trade among the African countries. The African Union displays the seriousness of those who do not despair in the face of the crisis. It has introduced measures to stimulate investments, increase internal consumption and create more jobs. The African Union is right: the moment calls for daring, not remaining passive. It is time for uniting, not for dividing. What we need now is solidarity among nations, not the strongest oppressing the weakest.
Peace, democracy, growth and distribution of income are the trademarks of Africa of the 21st century. Despite all the problems that it still faces here and there, Africa is moving ahead to overcome the devastating legacy of colonialism and the struggles between the big powers of the Cold War. It is making giant steps toward consolidating democracy. In 2011, northern Africa saw the people go to the streets to demand democracy, in the so-called “Arab Spring”. In 2012 there will be 25 elections for the Executive and the Legislative in countries in the African continent. A total of 25 elections, my friends. That is quite a lot! These are populations that treasure democracy and who, without receiving lessons from anyone, want to enjoy the right to choose their governors.
I find this extraordinary, because here in Brazil we receive little news from Africa, and when we do, the news is bad. And Africa is full of good news. It is rewarding to know that the GNP of the continent has been going up for 10 years at robust rates and should reach close to 6% in 2012. And that the so-called middle class in Africa has already passed the 300 million mark. And that the number of young people in schools and universities is on the rise. And that over 430 million Africans use mobile phones and about 100 million are connected to the Internet. My friends, the relations between Brazil and Africa are experiencing a very special moment. For the first time in history there is a combination of economic growth in both Africa and Brazil. Today Brazil ranks 6th in the world economy and has new responsibilities in this globalized planet. Instead of standing paralyzed by the international crisis that was not created by Brazilians or Africans, we need to strengthen even more our business connections and our economic relations. We are natural partners, friends from long ago, we are brothers forever. Today there is an ocean of possibilities for Brazilians, Africans and South Americans to take advantage of. Gone are the days when we were separated by the Atlantic. Now it brings us together within the same frontier. We are neighbors who bathe in the same waters.
I am convinced that the time has come for Brazil to begin to pay the enormous debt of solidarity that we have with Africa. Our country only has the force it has today because for over 300 years of slavery it relied on the sweat and the blood of millions of Africans spilled in its mines, plantations and cities, as well as in the resistance of the quilombo settlements of former slaves. And today its descendants play an important part in the struggle for civil rights and democracy. To a great extent, we are what we are today thanks to the African people. Brazil is the country outside of Africa with the largest
Afro-descendant population in the world. We share an enormous identity with Africa. This can also help Brazilian entrepreneurs to put to good use the endless business opportunities that are being created. But pay attention to this: Africa does not want or need to be directed by others. Africa wants to consolidate its democracy, manage its own destiny and promote its people without any political or military interference from foreign nations. Africa wants to gain self-sufficiency in food, to promote self-sufficiency in energy, to set up a logistics of integration, and to improve continental cooperation. Brazil can make important contributions in all these areas that are held to be crucial. Over the last 40 or 50 years we have made extraordinary progress in the technology of tropical agriculture. Today we are one of the leading producers of foodstuffs in the world. We have land, we have water, we have work, we have the technology and we have sun – an immense advantage compared with the agriculture of temperate climates.
Africa shares many of these characteristics. With the proper technology, and with the experience of Embrapa available to us, the following decades may witness a great leap forward. The 21st century is the century of tropical agriculture. Look at the map of the world, and notice how the African savanna is very similar to our cerrado region, which today is our largest grain-growing “barn” region. I am sure that Africa will soon be able to feed its own people without depending on anyone else, and it will also be able to export grains, meat and bio-fuels to other countries in the world. We want to work together with Africa in this leap into the future. Africa has everything it needs to conquer its self-sufficiency in energy. It possesses large deposits of oil and gas and it can become a great producer of bio-fuels, besides having a spectacular and practically untouched hydro potential.
Brazil has wide experience on all these fronts. It is used to taking advantage of natural resources located in the middle of enormous stretches of land. Brazil has learned to solve problems of cooperation and integration in continental areas. We are a tropical country with our own technology, and we want Africa to benefit from this technology and achieve self-sufficiency in energy. We are pleased that the concept of the Program for Infrastructure Development (PIDA) is to set up a logistics to integrate Africa. This represents a fantastic advance in strengthening the relations between the different countries of Africa.
There was a time when the countries of Latin America only had eyes for Europe and the United States. We lived with our backs turned on one another. Happily, those days are now gone and we learned that we could do nothing but gain from strengthening relations between our economies and integrating our logistics. The figures are impressive. Brazil’s exports to Africa soared from US$ 2.4 billion in 2002 to US$ 12.2 billion in 2011. The total of exports and imports rose from US$ 4.3 billion in 2000 to US$ 27.6 billion in 2011. Today we have partners in the construction and administration of plants, transmission lines, highways, railroads and programs to stimulate technology. Also in this area we can share our experiences and those of the other South America countries with our African brothers. We cannot look on Africa the way we did in the past, like a simple supplier of ores, gas and oil. We must seek out African partners, the labor force for our companies has to be African. We do not want hegemony, we want partnerships, like the one we made for education when together we created the Luso-Brasileira University (UNILAB) in the city of Redenção in Ceará. We want to help develop African companies and help to train technicians. We want to transfer technology, as we did by installing an anti-retroviral factory in Mozambique. Brazil can also contribute with its experience in public policies to combat hunger and poverty.
My dear friends,
We have found ways to insert over 40 million Brazilians in the middle class, create over 17 million formally registered jobs, raise the minimum wage of workers without raising inflation, and bring electricity for the first time to 15 million people through the Light For All Program. And here it must be mentioned that Minister Lobão was chosen by the Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to take the experience of the Light For All program developed by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, to the whole African continent. I hope you have the same success there, Lobão.
All over the world, governors have to take responsibility for speaking on behalf of the poor and find room in their budgets to finance the struggle against misery and poverty. The poor have to participate in development. The path is that of democracy, which offers the poor more health and education and distributes income, spurs consumption and undertakes large infrastructure projects. Electric energy plants, highways, railroads, ports, airports, better communications, more technology, water and food for everyone. This is the very spirit that moved us to set up the Accelerated Growth Program (PAC) here in Brazil. This great program that our dear companion President Dilma is developing with even more competence, integrated with the Brazil Without Poverty Plan. And this is also the spirit behind the African Union’s Program for Infrastructure Development (PIDA). I am certain that we can enhance our cooperation and our investments in Africa. We can do far more than we have been doing up till now. The time is ripe and everything has to be done to make sure that this opportunity is not missed.
My dear Luciano, my dear entrepreneurs, I would just like to say that I was very optimistic when I was President of the Republic, and I grew more optimistic when I passed on the mandate to President Dilma, and right now I am even more optimistic. I think, “I think” that the generation of businessmen represented here today has never lived a historic moment of opportunities such as the one that Brazil is experiencing at present. Never before. We have to envisage the Brazil of 2020, 2030, and then we realize that no Brazilian governor of any generation enjoyed the prestige that we have now, seeing this country prepared to become a great world nation. And all this comes with a change in quality: look at how the Brazilian people have improved. Enhancing the quality of the nation is not just a matter of looking at the figures for the growth of the GNP, like we used to do. Before, we calculated the GNP, and we talked about all the rest based on the GNP. Now we have to look at the income. For sure, the GNP is important, but it is even more important that we distribute the income among the people, that way it will be something they can rely on. And I think that this meeting here shows that Africa is more and more in the mind, soul and heart of the government, the people and the businessmen of Brazil.