Brazil: President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva Builds Relations with African Countries

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On his recent trip to five African nations, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva promised help in getting low-cost generic AIDS drugs where they are needed. He also urged the African nations to work together with other poor and developing countries on trade issues.

Brazil's trade with Africa totals US$5 billion a year-- just 5% of its imports and exports. Lula made promoting Western financial help for Africa's infrastructure and general social and economic development a theme of his tour. He was accompanied by several ministers and over 100 businesspeople.

The Brazilian president began his African trip in Sao Tome and Principe, then went to Angola and Mozambique. Lula also visited Namibia and South Africa. He signed cooperation agreements in every country he visited and agreed to help build pharmaceutical plants in Mozambique and Namibia to produce generic drugs to alleviate AIDS.

Brazil, like Angola, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe, is a former Portuguese colony where Portuguese is the official language. From the 16th to the 19th century, one in three slaves shipped to the new world ended up in Brazil, and today only Nigeria has a larger black population. Brazil imported African slaves as late as 1850 and did not abolish slavery until 1888. Today, more than 76 million of Brazil's population of 180 million are of African descent.

Brazilian society was built through the work, sweat, and blood of Africans, said Lula during his trip. He said Brazil wanted to repay the "debt to Africa" by establishing a new policy of cooperation with the continent and contributing to its development.

Lula talks trade in Angola

In Angola, Lula urged the government to fight against protectionism, which, he said, causes "great damage" to developing nations. "Developing nations must take a new role, be more demanding," he told the Angolan parliament. "The sectors in which developing nations are most competitive are up against protectionism by industrialized countries."

Brazil, along with South Africa and India, led the developing-world push for fairer trade rules during the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in September in Cancun, Mexico (see NotiSur, 2003-10-10).

Brazil is already Angola's fourth-largest trading partner. It has announced plans to invest some US$100 million in Angola's sugar cane industry, and a Brazilian firm runs the bus and taxi companies in the capital Luanda.

Lula promises plant to produce AIDS drugs

In Maputo, Mozambique, Lula said Brazil would build a pharmaceutical plant to manufacture AIDS drugs "in the near future." Meanwhile, Brazil would continue to provide Mozambique with discounted medicines to treat the disease.

"We intend to produce anti-retroviral drugs here in Mozambique in the shortest possible time," Lula said at a joint news conference with host President Joaquim Chissano.

Brazil has defied the international pharmaceutical companies by producing generic versions of the anti-retroviral AIDS drugs despite patent issues (see NotiSur, 2001-05-25, 2003-09-05). Brazil has also cooperated with Mozambique during the last three years in a program to train medical personnel.

Besides its program to provide AIDS drugs to those who need them, Brazil's aggressive and highly effective media campaign to promote safe sex has helped Brazil keep the infection rate to less than 1% of its population.

This contrasts sharply with infection rates in southern Africa where they reach 30% in some countries and about 16% in Mozambique. Almost 1.7 million of Mozambique's 17 million inhabitants are infected with HIV, which is expected to reduce the nation's life expectancy to below 40 years by 2010. Africa is home to more than 70% of the estimated 42 million people worldwide infected with HIV.

"The fight against HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest challenges for us, and we are confident that Brazil's. …