Macron’s visit to Brazil highlights limits of dialogue between France and a Global South leader

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Emmanuel Macron and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after a meeting at the Palácio do Planalto presidential palace, Brasilia, March 28, 2024.

A handshake, champagne and pats on the back were in order at the end of Emmanuel Macron’s three-day state visit to Brazil, on Thursday, March 28. The French president had been taken on a whirlwind tour of the Amazon, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and finally Brasilia. From the capital, Macron expressed his desire to revive relations between the two countries, as well as his closeness to his counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. A gastronomic lunch in the style of Brazil’s Bahia region was organized at the Itamaraty foreign ministry, featuring guest appearances by ex-footballer Rai Souza Vieira de Oliveira and French attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet, currently playing for Rio’s CR Vasco da Gama football club.

A little earlier, Macron was hosted at the Palácio do Planalto presidential palace, a monumental work by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, located on the Three Powers Plaza – which was ravaged by rioters loyal to former president Jair Bolsonaro on January 8, 2023. With his honor guard and almost the entire Brazilian government in attendance, Lula made a point of formally welcoming his French guest, whom he hugged several times, before presenting him with the country’s highest distinction that is reserved for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Southern Cross. In return, Macron awarded the French Legion of Honor to Brazil’s first lady, Rosângela da Silva, known as “Janja.” Yet behind these light-hearted smiles and hugs, the meeting between the two leaders was dominated by serious issues, starting with the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

At the end of their meeting, the Brazilian president hammered home his commitment to “negotiate” toward “peace,” while his French counterpart had, a month ago, not ruled out sending troops to Ukraine to help it resist Russian assaults. “I am so many thousand kilometers away from Ukraine that I am not forced to have the same nervousness as the French people who are closer,” said Lula, adding that Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin “have to get along.”

“France is a power of peace, but it is not weak and defends democracy and international law,” retorted Macron, who expressed that the Russian president’s participation in a G20 summit in Brazil in November, at Lula’s invitation, must be the subject of a consensus of the group’s members before being confirmed. “If it’s not a useful meeting and if it creates division, we shouldn’t do it,” suggested the French leader to his counterpart.

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