Lula returns to Brazil after European tour

Lula returns to Brazil after European tour

Republican Guards at the Lys e Palace. A standing ovation at the European Parliament. A front-page interview in Spain's top newspaper, in which the visiting dignitary was hailed as a cyclone of energy.

C est un grand monsieur, gushed Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, as she treated her dear foreign friend to a brasserie lunch on the east side of France's capital.

The visitor was not a president, but at least since 2010, when Luiz In cio Lula da Silva stepped down as Brazil's leader with an approval rating of almost 90%.

Lula is now the leading candidate to remove Brazil's incumbent president, the rightwing populist Jair Bolsonaro, and was in Europe in an effort to restore his reputation and that of his country after a rough few years.

I have to come back to Brazil to help Brazil recover its international prestige, Lula, who is expected to challenge and beat Bolsonaro next year's election, told El Pa s at the end of his week-long tour through Belgium, France, Germany and Spain.

Lula's mission ended on Saturday, despite a controversial remark about Nicaragua's authoritarian leader Daniel Ortega, was widely seen as a triumph.

In Germany, the 76-year-old received a fist bump from Angela Merkel's successor, Olaf Scholz, whom Bolsonaro had shunned a few weeks earlier at the G 20.

Scholz said after meeting Lula, his political comeback was enabled by the quashing of corruption convictions that saw him jailed for 580 days.

In France, Lula's reception was even warmer, with Emmanuel Macron inviting the leftist to his palace in an unmistakable snub to Bolsonaro, with whom he has clashed over the dramatic acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon.

In almost six decades of diplomacy he could not recall such an honour being bestowed in similar circumstances, according to Lula's former foreign minister, Celso Amorim.

Amorim, who traveled with Lula and felt moved by the affection on his friend and former boss, said he never saw a former president and a potential candidate being received by the president of France the way he was.

Amorim claimed that European leaders including Macron, the Spanish prime minister Pedro Snchez and the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had treated Lula as if he were a leader in power. If they could vote, they would vote for Lula, said Amorim, adding that he believed that their hosts had yearned for stability after Bolsonaro's haywire tenure.

Lula's continued renown stands in stark contrast to Bolsonaro's international isolation, which deepened last week with claims that Brazil had withheld figures showing a surge in Amazon deforestation during the Cop climate summit.

During his three years in power, Bolsonaro has alienated a succession of foreign partners, including China's Communist Party leaders, US President Joe Biden and European leaders such as Macron and Merkel.

At October s G 20 Bolsonaro received a frosty reception and was filmed drifting aimlessly around the summit trying to engage waiters in conversation.

Celso Rocha de Barros, a pundit for the Folha de S o Paulo newspaper, said it was an unprecedented diplomatic disaster.

Barros said Lula's absurd Nicaragua comments had taken some of the shine off an otherwise successful tour and showed that the Partido dos Trabalhadores Workers party needed to reflect on its stance towards leftist authoritarianism in Latin America.

Speaking to El Pa s, Lula warned against leaders becoming little dictators but wondered why Angela Merkel could stay in power for 16 years but not Daniel Ortega, who oversaw a 2018 crackdown on protesters and jailed dozens of rivals before Nicaragua s recent presidential election.

Barros thought Europe was desperate for a return to rationality in Brazil under a normal politician like Lula. By embracing Lula, European leaders were sending a message to Bolsonaro: Look, we prefer this guy Lula represents a Brazil that had many problems and still does, but that was at least trying to fix them, Barros said.