Biden and Brazilian President Lula are meeting in New York to discuss labor and environmental issues.

Biden and Brazilian President Lula are meeting in New York to discuss labor and environmental issues.

US officials who spoke to media attempted to downplay Lula’s recent criticism of the US embargo and sanctions on Cuba.

President Joe Biden will visit Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in New York on Wednesday, as the leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s greatest democracies seek areas of common ground despite recent disagreements over Russia’s war in Ukraine and other issues.

The two are likely to discuss labor and environmental issues. In addition, senior US government officials who previewed the meeting stated that the two countries are developing a relationship on workers’ rights. Initial expectations that Lula would be a steadfast friend for Biden have been dashed in recent months, with the Brazilian leader expressing dissent on some subjects and sometimes appearing to thumb his nose at Washington.

This has included denying claims of authoritarianism in Venezuela, advocating for less reliance on the dollar in global trade, and accusing the US of fueling bloodshed in Ukraine through military aid. Lula attacked the US blockade and sanctions against Cuba in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. “What Lula expects is not to be lectured by the US and the White House, but to be treated as a partner with whom they will sometimes disagree, but who they will respect,” said Brazilian political expert Thomas Traumann. “Not an opponent, not an enemy, but someone who is on your side, but not always on your side.”

Biden had a strained relationship with Lula’s predecessor. Former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, hesitated weeks before acknowledging Biden’s 2020 election victory. A bilateral meeting was scheduled over a year ago in response to US concerns that Bolsonaro, who has questioned Brazil’s election system, may reject its results. Following Bolsonaro’s defeat, his followers stormed the capital in an attempt to depose Lula. The conditions were strikingly similar to Trump and the January 6 Capitol riot.

Lula rushed to Washington, where he and Biden connected over the democratic hurdles they had both faced. Despite the shared experience and seeming camaraderie, the trip disgruntled Brazilian officials, who saw the White House’s reception of the freshly sworn-in president as historically inadequate, according to Traumann, who worked in Dilma Rousseff’s administration, Lula’s apprentice. It will be their second meeting on Wednesday. According to US officials, their planned labor collaboration will be a tool for combating worker exploitation, forced labor, and child labor, as well as workplace discrimination.

They talked on the condition of anonymity in order to provide a sneak peek at the announcement. Lula is passionate about labor because he began his political career as the leader of a major metalworkers’ union. According to Paulo Peres, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, the two are also expected to discuss environmental preservation, with Lula hoping to entice financial contributions for the Amazon jungle. Lula has positioned himself as an environmental champion, and his administration has made major strides in the Amazon.

Deforestation in the Amazon had reached a 15-year high under Bolsonaro, who advocated for rainforest development, emboldening loggers and miners to breach protected regions and undermining environmental agencies. Lula began reconstructing those institutions, established eight Indigenous protected zones, and removed thousands of miners from the vast Yanomami Indigenous homeland. In his first eight months, deforestation was cut in half. He has solicited overseas donations for Brazil’s Amazon Fund, but the amounts have been minimal and symbolic. The United States pledged a USD 50 million donation to the program in February, but it has yet to be delivered.

Biden later indicated that he would request an additional USD 500 million from Congress, which has yet to be committed. US officials who spoke to media attempted to downplay Lula’s recent criticism of the US embargo and sanctions on Cuba. They emphasized that the Biden administration has eliminated previous administration’s travel restrictions to Cuba and is in the process of resuming remittances to that country. Lula also paid a visit to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in May, during which he stated that claims of dictatorship in the country are based on a false narrative, despite widespread political arrests, electoral involvement, and threats to journalists. The US is prepared to lift sanctions if Venezuela reaches key benchmarks toward genuine elections, according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who spoke to reporters on Friday. He declined to say whether Biden would bring up Venezuela during their bilateral discussion.

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