The President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva answered your questions in a special edition of Talking Point.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is Brazil's first left-wing president for four decades, but has he kept his election promises?
A former shoeshine boy and metal worker, the man popularly known as Lula was elected president on his fourth attempt in October 2002.
Lula pledged to tackle corruption and Brazil's economic woes, improve education and create jobs. But he warned that it might not be possible to fulfil his campaign promises in his initial four-year term.
Under his presidency, Brazil's economy has stabilised, and the country has recently submitted a bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Has the President kept his election promises? What is the Brazil's role in Latin America? Is Rio de Janeiro safe enough to host the 2012 Olympics?
The first question is from Robert from Georgia Atlanta, in the USA: What message do you have for those Americans who fear a left-wing government in Brazil?
Well to start with, the Americans do not have to fear a left-wing, a right-wing or a central government in Brazil. The Americans have to fear their own government, the government that they have elected, be it a democrat or a republican government. The government in Brazil is a matter for the Brazilian people, so its duties and responsibilities lie with Brazil. I believe that for many years we have seen the creation of ghost and sophisms in relation to left-wing governments in other countries and especially in Brazil.
Any government elected in Brazil must be responsible for carrying out the will of the Brazilian people which surely is the priority for any government. And in order to do that you must maintain diplomatic ties with everyone, with every country. Any Brazilian government is aware of the importance of political and economic relations with the US. The US is our biggest single partner so we want to maintain an excellent policy of diplomatic and commercial relations with the US, but evidently we want to keep our sovereignty which allows us to make our own decisions and maintain ties with whosoever we with to maintain relations with.
Aristides Garcia from Amsterdam: Are you not concerned by the big brother in the North (the US) sabotaging your policies that aim for more social justice in Brazil?
No I do not believe that. I believe that my role is to convince the US and also the UK, Germany, France and Italy that they must in fact take on the responsibility of helping the poorer countries develop their social policies. If it is true that the 20th century was the century in which Europe and the US lived through economic recovery and sustainable growth, the 21st century could be century in which some of the wealth, accumulated over the years, could be distributed. For example, if you help Africa to develop or if you help South America to develop, you will actually be enabling an external trade policy in those developing countries where you can sell your own products.
So I believe that from now on this is the role the rich countries must take on. During all of my trips I will be trying to convince them that for example the integration of South America with its 220 million inhabitants, a GDP of nearly one trillion dollars is an important market for the UK, as well as the US, and for the entire EU. Now, for South America to develop there must be investment in the infrastructure. So that is the challenge set for the rich countries, and if they want to combat drugs trafficking, organised crime and terrorism, the best way to do that is by carrying out social policies in the poorer parts of the globe.
Ignacio Adriassola from Chiba in Japan: Do you believe that a united Latin America can impose a different political agenda on the US?
We are not obliged to follow an identical political agenda to the US. We want a united South America because we have common interest, because we share borders with every country except Ecuador and Chile and because we have political, economical and social interests in South America. We believe that the more united we stand the more strength we will have to negotiate with the US or the EU. And we must also look for other partners that are not directly linked with the first world, like South Africa, China, India, Russia - countries that all have similarities with Brazil, similarities in technology, agricultural production, with our GDP and with our population.
So we need to find partners so that when we have to battle out the reduction of agricultural subsidies with the EU at the WTO, we can have more partners and more "companions" as I called them in the trade union movement. I was born into political life knocking at factory doors proclaiming that union brought strength and that goes for politics too. If each South American country, or each African country look for solution to their problems on their own they will not succeed. You must unite, have a common policy so that we may face our richer partners like the US and the EU.
Your government have given a lot of importance on uniting Latin America before dealing with the Free Trade Area of the Americas and on insisting that any free trade area involves the north Americans opening up their markets as well, yet when you were in Washington recently you seemed to draw back from that and adopt the American position of a FTAA by 2005.
To start with the US does not own FTAA. Brazil is co-president of FTAA and so there is a protocol which says that we must take a decision by 2005, and that decision could be to send all the main issues to the WTO. The US wants all the sensitive issues to be debated outside FTAA, and at the same time they want to preserve their agriculture, but for example, they want the poor countries to negotiate their governmental imports. So in all negotiations, be they external or commercial, each country must negotiate in accordance with their own economical interests, in accordance with the interests of their people and their own sovereignty, and in those matters we can not cede.
The US is a very strong country. They have a GDP of 10 trillion, and GDP that represents 80% of the continent's GDP, they have technological hegemony. On the negotiating table with a weaker country, if there are no criteria to protect the weaker the hegemony of the stronger country will prevail and we do not want that, we want negotiations which effectively take place on a level playing field. If it is true that the rich countries talk so much about free trade, then they must drop all the tariffs that they impose on commerce, on the agricultural products coming from third world countries and especially from South America and Africa.
So we want negotiations on a level playing field. We believe that no country in the world will respect another country that does not respect itself. That is to say, a negotiator that cannot hold his head up high will not be respected. It is important for the US to know that Brazil has economic interests, political interests, social interests, military interests and technological interests and we want to bring on these issue into the FTAA discussion on equal grounds, and if it does not work out we will go to the WTO and there we will resolve this, we will have to fight more involve more people in the battle. That is way we defend South American unity in Mercosul, so we can have more strength negotiating FTAA.
Alfonso J. from New York in the US: Why do you support Venezuelan's president, Hugo Chavez violent and sectarian Bolivarina revolution?
I have every interest in the development of Venezuela. Brazil has been working with Venezuela for some time now, Brazil has investments in Venezuela and Brazil and economic interests, political and strategic interests in Venezuela. When there was a coup against the president Hugo Chávez we proposed the creation of a group of friends of Venezuela and we offered Brazil's participation, and proposed the participation of Chile, the US, Spain, because we didn't want to create a group of friends of Chávez, we want a Group of Friends of Venezuela. And thanks to that initiative we were able to draw up an agreement with Venezuela, coordinated by Gavíria, the Seretary-General of the OAS.
What we want is for Venezuela to be successful. But we must respect the decision of the Venezuelan people. Chávez was voted in twice. He won 60% of the votes. He is the President of the Republic. Those who want to overturn him must do so in the elections. You cannot just have people saying 'I don't like him and so therefore he cannot be president'. So don't vote then. What we want is for democracy to be respected in Latin America and in Venezuela. Chávez was elected twice so he must finish his mandate. Whoever wants to overturn him must not do so with a coup, he must defeat him in an electoral process. That is what he is proposing and that is what we want in Venezuela, in Brazil and in any other country around the world.
Rivestre Cahachedri from Indonesia: What do you plan to do about public security in Rio if the city wins the bid for Olympic Games in 2012?
First of all I am going to pray that Rio becomes the Olympic City in 2012. I think the people of Rio are an extraordinarily marvellous people. I effectively think that Rio has all the conditions to host the Olympics. I think the city with all the natural beauty given to it by God deserves to host the Olympics and obviously will we do everything to ensure the Games are carried out in total security. That is the commitment of the Brazilian government, that there should be no incident occurring during the event, except for the natural incidents involved in the competition. From the point of view of public security, if Rio is the winner, the Brazilian government will ensure that all participants will have all the tranquillity and will be treated as if they were at home, with much love and care.
Gary Dreamer, University City in the US:
Will Brazil legalise the seeding of GM soya beans in an effort to keep its farmers competitive against Argentina and the US, and as well as to provide cheaper and more abundant food to its population?
I think there is a great deal of knowledge lacking in the question. This year Brazil has overtaken the US in the quantities of soya produced. And next year we intend to overtake them further as we intend to reach a production of 120 million tons of grain in 2004. That is not our main concern. We don't want to enter into an ideological debate about GMs. We want to have a scientific debate. The government in promoting a great scientific debate coordinated by the Institute of Strategic Planning, and when we reach a conclusion we will take a political decision. It is not a question of ideology for or against, merely I accept or I don't accept, thinking only from an economical point of view or from an ideological point of view. No, we simply want to know what the effects genetically modified soya would have on Brazil. We want to know the value of the consumer market for GM soya and organic soya. So we will hold the debate and then take a decision.
If the US and Argentina think that GM soya is good for their production that is their right. In our case, we want to hold a balanced debate, involving all the scientific community, the workers, the business men, the government, the Congress, and when we have a scientific result we will take a political decision. We are in no hurry; this is a problem that we have the competence to resolve.
A question from Geneva in Switzerland: What would your like businesses to do to help fight hunger and how will you help to make businesses succeed in that?
Terry Barry from Wales: Can you assure Brazilians who voted for you in the hope of a more just and egalitarian country, that you are not going to sell them short for global economic interests?
Firstly I was not an invented candidate, I was not a candidate that someone pulled out of a hat showed to the people and said here is your new candidate. I am the result of a political evolution of a sector of the Brazilian society. So my commitment to these people is not programmed, it is in the blood. And when I leave the presidency I am not going of to France or the UK. I am staying in Brazil, in São Bernardo do Campo (state of São Paulo), where I built my political life, and I shall carry on seeing my political companions and I want to be able to hold my head up high, for this is my conquest and I never intend to abandon it, I want to look my political companions in the eye with the comfort of knowing I have done my duty. I am going to do what Brazil sees fit. We are clear about what needs to be done. We are sure about how to do things and how to do them. You can rest assured that we will do them.
As for the question from our friend in Switzerland, I would like to remind you that a Swiss company, Nestlé has been actively participating in our programme to eradicate hunger, Fome Zero. It has participated in our first job programme, and took on the commitment to create 600 jobs for the young as a way to help our first job programme which should be inaugurated in 30 or 40 days. Companies can help by participating in Fome Zero. We have thousands of companies that are giving food, money and they do not have to give through the government, they can just choose a community and deliver the food there. There are many companies doing this. This past 5th of July I participated in a meeting organised by an NGO that was created to help the Fome Zero programme. They had managed to gather under on roof, representatives of 80% of the Brazilian GDP; bankers, big medium business men etc. Combating hunger is not only the problem of the Brazilian government. It is a moral and ethical problem for everyone on the planet.