FOZ DO IGUACU, Brazil, (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said yesterday he will work on alleviating poverty in Africa when he steps down from office, but played down speculation that he might be interested in heading the United Nations.
The enormously popular Lula, attending his last international summit as president, heard appeals from other South American leaders that he continue to represent the region in international affairs. Bolivian President Evo Morales suggested that he head the United Nations.
“The United Nations needs to be run by a competent technocrat, you can’t have a strong politician in the UN,” Lula told reporters when asked about Morales’ proposal.
“Everybody knows I want to help organize political parties in Latin America, everybody knows I want to take Brazil’s success stories to help the poor in Africa,” Lula said.
During his eight years in office, Lula, 65, implemented innovative social welfare programs that helped pull millions out of poverty. He also traveled extensively to Africa to open trade and investment channels and provide farm assistance.
Buoyed by a roaring economy and his folksy charisma, Lula’s personal approval rating hit a new high of 87 percent, polls showed this week. Dilma Rousseff, the less charismatic successor he helped elect, was expected to do a good job by 62 percent of those polled.
At the summit of the South American trade bloc Mercosur, Lula was acclaimed by other leaders as a visionary who should continue representing the region.
“Lula is indispensable not only in Latin America but in the world,” said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
“Stay Lula,” said Pinera, imitating a similar appeal soccer legend Pele heard from fans when he retired at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium in the late 1970s.
But the former union leader who gained international fame for his outspoken defense of developing countries, was also not interested in taking an official job representing Mercosur or the South American Union of Nations, Unasur.
“I can contribute without having a post. I only need a motivation — the need to develop our beloved Latin America,” said Lula.
The former factory worker, who will return to his apartment in the working class outskirts of Sao Paulo on Jan.1, was misty-eyed amid the shower of praise.
“He’s our plenipotentiary ambassador in the concert of this world. Thanks for what you’ve done, thanks for what you’ll do,” said Uruguayan President Jose Mujica