Back Home From Pittsburgh (and the G-20)

BY busadmin  September 28, 2009 at 10:11 AM EDT

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Paul Solman: Meetings like the G-20 can be astonishingly ungratifying to cover. Top officials are, for the most part, intent on talking to one another and impossible to buttonhole. Legions of subalterns try to protect their bosses (and bosses’ bosses, and bosses’ bosses’ bosses) from the rest of us, except in managed settings. We, the media hordes, thus have little to do but hang about, like literate paparazzi, waiting for a crumb, a word, a sighting. The most useful information actually comes from talking to each other. Two Swedish journalists were as instructive about what’s going on in Scandinavia as any top-level officials.

The armed forces of Pittsburgh, meanwhile, were grappling with rag-tag, sometimes earnest protesters, some of whom you can hear immediately after our interview with that firecracker of a world leader, Brazilian President Lula. (Talk about earnest!)

For us, Lula was the high point, and emblematic of what was probably most significant about the event: the broadening of the key global financial forum to include the likes of Brazil, India, China, (the B, I, and C of the emerging so-called BRIC economies). The full text of our Lula interview is here and includes this remarkable passage:

PAUL SOLMAN: When you were elected, the world was afraid you were a left-wing demagogue. What happened?

PRES. LULA DA SILVA: Well, I believe that there was a lot of bad faith and a lot of prejudice against my figure. There was a cast of Brazilian politicians that imagined that a lathe operator coming out from a plant would not have the competency to govern, rule Brazil.

And I had to prove – and I have to prove every day at every minute that I have more competency than them to rule Brazil because I have much more commitment with the country, because I know better my country, because I know more of the people. And for another reason: because any other president of the republic in Brazil, when he leaves the presidency, he’ll come to New York City; he’ll go to Paris, to London and stay 2 or 3 years studying and then, after 4 years, he goes back again to Brazil. If it goes wrong, he’ll do the same thing.

In my case, when my presidency ends, I will go back to my hometown, 800 meters from my local trade union that projected me my political life. And if I fail, when I go back to my hometown, it’s going to take another century for another worker, another member of the working class to reach the presidency because they’re going to say that the workers do not have the competency to run a country. So I have the obligation to work every day hard to do the best that is possible. And now the people are getting to know me better and now people know that I have only one defect – and that I love my country, I love my people, and I want things to happen in the best way possible for Brazil.

PAUL SOLMAN: And therefore you’ve had to make political compromises to affect things and make them happen?

PRES. LULA DA SILVA: Not only political compromises. In politics, when you are in the opposition, you say I believe in this, I think, I believe this and that. Now when you reach the presidency, you have all the raw material in your hands. You do something or you don’t do anything and I decided to do things.

PAUL SOLMAN: And that meant compromise some of the time?

PRES. LULA DA SILVA: It means that I have a commitment with the Brazilian society and I have to make agreements with the business class, with the working class, I have to make a deal with the national congress because i represent the Brazilian people as a whole. And I was a labor leader in the past and I know important it is in a negotiating table, in a bargaining table for you to solve the conflicts instead of fighting in the streets or going to the courts.

By the way, the simultaneous interpreter (I only remember his first name: Sergio) was startlingly competent. He seemed to be finishing my questions before I did.