By Gabriel Starcarder and Matt Spadelnick
RIO DE JANEIRO / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is leading the vote in the October presidential election, has quietly sent Senator Jax Wagner (PT-BA) to meet with US State Department officials in Washington. April, according to two people who knew the matter.
Wagner’s private meeting with U.S. officials, previously unannounced, was part of Lula’s and Washington’s efforts to end the pre-election distrust of each other. Polls suggest Lula is ahead of President Jair Bolsanaro.
Wagner, a former defense minister and former governor of Bahia, did not respond to requests for comment.
The US State Department declined to comment.
Wagner’s unannounced visit to Washington underscores the skepticism of Lula – and other Latin American left-wing politicians – of the US government. This contrasts with Lula’s high-end Europe tour, which was welcomed in November by French, German and Spanish leaders.
Lula suspects the United States of claiming that U.S. investigators collaborated with Brazilian lawyers who imprisoned him as part of the Lava Jado operation.
The United States does not accept, for its part, Lula’s public support for the left-wing governments of Cuba and Venezuela, which Washington considers “anti-democratic.”
Sources said US officials were also cautious in approaching Lula’s camp, fearing that one candidate would be favored over another during a tumultuous election.
The details of Wagner’s discussions with US officials are not clear. Sources said they spoke without further details about the possibilities of Lula’s future tenure and how she will approach relations with the United States.
One source says that when the US government previously spoke privately with Lula’s mediators, they focused on the environment, which identified PT as a key point of friction between Bolsanaro and US President Joe Biden.
Wagner’s trip is an annual event sponsored by Brazilian students at the Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston area, while he is in the United States for a conference in Brazil.
During his April 9 speech at the event, Wagner appeared on behalf of Lula and said that Brazil was in the midst of an “environmental crisis.” He said the situation in the potential new Lula government would not be “a small point” – “it will be central to his government”.
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