Ex-President ‘Lula’ of Brazil Surrenders to Serve 12-Year Jail Term

Before surrendering to federal police authorities, Mr. da Silva, 72, accused prosecutors and judges of knowingly pursuing a baseless case against him.

“I do not forgive them for creating the impression that I am a thief,” an indignant Mr. da Silva, sounding hoarse, told a throng of supporters gathered outside a metalworkers union headquarters outside of São Paulo.

The prosecution, Mr. da Silva charged, was an effort to thwart his vision of a country in which ever more poor people could enroll in universities, go on vacation and buy cars and homes.

“If that was the crime I committed, I want to say that I will continue being a criminal because we’re going to accomplish much more,” Mr. da Silva shouted to a crowd that had spent much of the morning chanting that he should not surrender.

During his last hours of freedom, Mr. da Silva appeared to acknowledge that his political career is over — at least for now.

“You will have to transform yourselves,” he told supporters. “They must know that the death of a combatant doesn’t end a revolution.”

Months away from Election Day, Brazil’s political left now finds itself without an obvious standard-bearer.

Mr. da Silva did not anoint a successor to take his place on the ballot, suggesting that Workers’ Party leaders have yet to decide who stands the best chance of filling the void.

But, notably, he did single out for compliments two leftist presidential hopefuls from other parties who were with him on stage, Manuela d’Ávila and Guilherme Boulos.

Other candidates who remain in the race include Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker who has campaigned on a promise of resorting to harsh tactics to restore security in areas plagued by violence; and a former environmental minister, Marina Silva, who supports the judiciary’s crackdown on corruption and an overhaul of the political system.

Mr. da Silva is the first former Brazilian president to be remanded into custody since democracy was restored in the mid-1980s and the first former president to have been convicted of corruption.


Mr. da Silva before surrendering to the police to begin serving a 12-year prison term.

Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

His imprisonment represents perhaps the biggest triumph in the yearslong effort by a team of crusading judges and prosecutors to upend the endemic graft that has long been a staple of politics and deal making in Brazil.

But by ending the presidential candidacy of a leader who remains beloved across much of the country, the move by judicial authorities may have called into question the fairness of the October election.

Daniel Aarão Reis, a professor of contemporary history at Federal Fluminense University, said that while Mr. da Silva’s prosecution was procedurally sound, it is likely to further shake Brazilians’ faith in democracy, particularly if political rivals who also stand accused of wrongdoing, manage to escape accountability.

“It worries me because, whether or not the people who provoked this situation meant it, it’s a blow to democracy,” he said. “Democracy is living a moment of very little prestige.”

Mr. da Silva left power in 2011 with extraordinarily high approval ratings at home and a reputation as an effective diplomatic mediator abroad.

Washington initially viewed his rise with apprehension, but his rock star status appeared at its peak when President Obama, during a meeting of heads of state in London in 2009, called Mr. da Silva “the most popular politician on Earth.”

Brazil appeared to be on a breathtaking rise when Mr. Lula left office in 2011, poised to cash in on new, enormous oil reserves, and revel in the spotlight that the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro would cast on the country of almost 210 million people.

But his party’s legacy was marred in 2014, when prosecutors began unraveling a giant, convoluted kickback scheme as part of an investigation that became known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash, that has so far resulted in the conviction of 120 people and billions of dollars in restitution payments.

The investigation crippled the state-run oil company, Petrobras, and the giant construction firm, Odebrecht, and contributed to a devastating recession that paved the way for Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment, which deeply polarized Brazilians.

The charges Mr. da Silva were convicted of were a small chapter in the annals of Lava Jato. He was found guilty last July of accepting a seaside apartment in return for contracts awarded to the construction company O.A.S.

After a three-judge panel upheld the conviction in January, Mr. da Silva asked the country’s two top courts to allow him to remain free while other appeals were considered, but his petitions were rejected.

Mr. da Silva is slated to start serving the sentence in a specially configured cell at the federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba, a building he was on hand to inaugurate as president in 2007.

Mr. da Silva will be detained in a small bedroom with a simple, wooden bed, a small table and two windows on the fourth floor of the building.

He will not be held with ordinary prisoners, but will be down the hall from two other high-profile Car Wash defendants, former allies of Mr. da Silva who cut deals with prosecutors and implicated Mr. da Silva in corrupt dealings.

Supporters saw his imprisonment as a tragic end of an era that had brought enormous hope and pride to Brazil.

“Brazil went from having the pop star of international politics to having a supporting actor for a vampire film,” the former foreign minister Celso Amorim said, referring to a parody of Mr. Temer by a samba school during the recent Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro. “We get really sad.”

Mr. Amorim added that Brazil has become “totally forgotten” on the international stage. “No one is interested in knowing Brazil’s opinion anymore,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

Brazil’s Ex-President, ‘Lula,’ Can Be Jailed, Court Rules

Her ouster put an end to 13 years of governments led by the leftist Workers’ Party, a period when Brazil’s economy soared, millions of people entered the middle class and the country’s profile rose on the global stage.

But enormous corruption scandals and the worst economic crisis in decades left Ms. Rousseff and her party battered, with little support to fend off a power grab by their political rivals.

Mr. da Silva, who is known commonly as Lula, has been trying to reclaim the presidency. But last July, he was convicted of corruption and money laundering, and sentenced to almost 10 years in prison. In January, an appeals court unanimously upheld the conviction and increased the sentence to 12 years.

Mr. da Silva, who served as president from 2003 to 2011, appealed the sentence to the country’s top court, the Supreme Federal Court, asking to be allowed to remain free while additional appeals are pending — a process that could drag on for years.

That forced the justices to wrestle with a question with far-reaching implications for scores of other powerful figures ensnared in the large-scale corruption investigation known as Car Wash, including the current president, Michel Temer: At what point in the appeals process may a defendant be imprisoned?

On Wednesday, the court gave its answer: It decided to maintain the status quo, which holds that defendants can be imprisoned after an appeals court upholds a verdict against them. With the ruling in hand, Sérgio Moro, the federal judge who presided over Mr. da Silva’s trial, is expected to issue an arrest warrant for the former president in a matter of days.

“Don’t think the fight will be easy,” Mr. da Silva told supporters at a rally in Rio de Janeiro on Monday. “It’s O.K. if we lose one round, but we cannot lose our willingness to fight.”


Brazil’s army chief, Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas, made a rare incursion into politics Tuesday night, saying that the armed forces “repudiated impunity.”

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Prosecutors regard Mr. da Silva’s case as the highest-stakes prosecution in their long crackdown on corruption, an effort that enjoys widespread support among Brazilians.

If the court had allowed Mr. da Silva to remain free, it would have enraged the crusading prosecutors and judges who have tried since 2014 to stamp out Brazil’s entrenched culture of graft.

Thousands of the former president’s critics demonstrated Tuesday night, demanding that the justices uphold their 2016 ruling that allows trial judges to jail defendants after a first appeal has been rejected. More than 5,000 prosecutors and judges have signed a petition supporting that position.

But Mr. da Silva still commands the loyalty of millions of Brazilians. His supporters contend that removing the country’s most popular presidential candidate from the ballot would be an affront to democracy. They say the case against him is nothing more than political persecution, and they vowed to take to the streets if the court ruled he can be imprisoned.

Before the ruling, the chief justice of the top court, Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha, called for calm in a rare televised speech.

“We are living in times of intolerance and intransigence,” she said. “The strengthening of Brazilian democracy depends on civic unity for the peaceful coexistence of everyone. Different opinions must be respected.”

Justice Roberto Barroso, who voted against Mr. da Silva in the ruling on Wednesday, noted that the president left office with high approval ratings and an impressive set of accomplishments.

“We are not debating about a political legacy,” he said. “It is whether jurisprudence that the court settled must be applied to all people. It is a test of our democracy.”

The ruling does not technically disqualify Mr. da Silva’s candidacy. Instead, it preserved the legal status quo, which allows trial judges to seek arrests warrants for defendants convicted of white-collar crime once an appeals court has upheld the verdict.

A different body — the Supreme Electoral Tribunal — will review each candidate’s eligibility forms starting in mid-August. It is widely expected to reject Mr. da Silva’s bid for office under the “clean slate” law, which disqualifies anyone who has a criminal conviction that has been upheld by an appeals court.

Legal experts say that Mr. da Silva could try to fight the electoral court’s ruling if he remained free, but that his imprisonment makes that quest all but impossible.

Thousands of people on both sides of the issue gathered in Brasília, the capital, for the court’s decision on Wednesday.

Passions have been running high as Mr. da Silva’s candidacy has become increasingly embattled. Last week, the former president’s campaign buses were hit by gunshots as he campaigned in southern Brazil. No one was hurt.


A protest against Mr. da Silva in Sao Paulo, ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether he should start a 12-year prison sentence for corruption, potentially upending this year’s presidential election.

Miguel Schincariol/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas, the chief of the army, raised tensions higher still with his posts on Twitter on Tuesday, declaring that the military “repudiates impunity.”

It was a rare venture into politics that was widely interpreted as saying that the Supreme Federal Court should rule against Mr. da Silva.

In a country that was ruled by the military from 1964 to 1985, critics reacted with alarm, calling the comment inappropriate pressure at best, and at worst a veiled threat of military intervention if the former president prevailed in court.

Rodrigo Janot, a former attorney general, responded on Twitter: “This definitely isn’t good. If it is what it seems, another 1964 would be unacceptable,” he said, referring to the coup that ushered in Brazil’s military dictatorship.

But many others backed the army chief. His posts were shared more than 10,000 times and liked by more than 20,000 people in just three hours.

Many people, including other military leaders, posted messages with their support. “We’re in the trenches together!!! We think alike!!! Brazil above all!!!” wrote Gen. Antonio Miotto.

In Mr. da Silva’s trial, Judge Moro found that the former president had accepted bribes — in the form of an oceanfront apartment — in return for steering contracts to a construction company.

The corruption allegations against Mr. da Silva are only a small part of the wide-ranging Car Wash corruption investigation.

The investigation, which began in 2014 with a seemingly routine inquiry into money-laundering accusations, has ensnared scores of powerful business executives and politicians across the political spectrum.

But Mr. da Silva’s case carries tremendous legal and political implications for the country.

In an editorial published in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper on Wednesday, Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge said that allowing defendants to remain free after repeated appeals had been rejected was an “exaggeration that annihilates the justice system because then justice is delayed, and for this, it fails.”

Jorge Oliveira, 50, a former army paratrooper, said he hoped that Mr. da Silva would be jailed soon and that his downfall would be the first step toward a drastic political transformation.

“The guy needs to be jailed,” Mr. Oliveira. “Then a general needs to take power, oust Temer, hold things together for three years and call for new elections.”

Jéssica da Silva Facundo, by contrast, said she had been rooting for Mr. da Silva, largely out of nostalgia for the prosperity Brazil experienced during his time in power.

“Despite the fact that he stole, during his government I was doing better,” said Ms. da Silva, who is not related to the former president.

Continue reading the main story

Latest Uproar in Brazil’s Raw Political Debate: A Netflix Series

Mr. da Silva, known universally as Lula, has not directly commented on the series, but his ally and successor as president, Dilma Rousseff, wrote a post on Facebook listing inaccuracies. “Netflix’s board doesn’t know what they got into,” she said last Monday, a comment that some commentators interpreted as an implicit threat. “I think this is very serious for them.”

The show’s creator, José Padilha, a Brazilian based in Los Angeles, said the furor had only benefited the series. “I think Lula and Dilma are helping us a lot with the marketing of the series,” he said with a laugh.


José Padilha, the creator of the mini-series about Brazilian politics, at the Netflix offices in New York.

Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Mr. Padilha, who also created the Netflix series “Narcos,” about a Colombia drug kingpin, noted the disclaimer before each episode, which says that the series is “loosely based on actual events.”

“The Mechanism” dramatizes a corruption investigation — known by its police code name, Operation Car Wash — that has now roiled Brazilian politics for more than four years. Three successive presidents have been implicated: Mr. da Silva, who was convicted of corruption and money laundering; Ms. Rousseff, who was impeached and removed from office over unrelated charges of violating budgetary rules but also faced criminal investigations; and the incumbent, Michel Temer, who has faced charges and remains under investigation.

A main source of the controversy is a scene in the fifth episode of the series, in which a character based on Mr. da Silva talks about efforts to block the investigation and speaks of a need to “stop this bleeding.”

In reality, the quotation was uttered in a notorious 2016 secret recording of Senator Romero Jucá, a onetime ally of Mr. da Silva’s who by then had become a political opponent and later backed the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff.

Ms. Rousseff pointed to other liberties the series took with the facts.

One money-laundering scandal referred to in the series occurred when an opposition party — not Mr. da Silva’s Workers’ Party — was in charge.

Ms. Rousseff also complained that the main money launderer, Alberto Youssef, is depicted in a scene inside her campaign committee during the 2014 elections, when in reality he was already in jail by then.

The series takes a largely dim view of Mr. da Silva. Prosecutors have portrayed him as an embodiment of corruption, while Mr. da Silva says that the investigations were driven by rivals who resented his redistributive economic policies.


A passenger stopped to look at the “Corruption Shop,” a kiosk at the airport in Brasília set up to promote the Netflix series “The Mechanism,” based on Brazil’s “Car Wash” graft scandal.

Evaristo Sa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. da Silva wants to stand as a candidate in the October election, although he was convicted last year of corruption and still faces charges in six other corruption cases. He has appealed. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether he should be jailed imminently.

The title of the Netflix series comes from Mr. Padilha’s theory, expounded in columns, that only the corrupt can get ahead in Brazilian politics.

Some critics have called him a reactionary, a charge he denies; he has made donations to a smaller left-wing party that has not been embroiled in the corruption investigation.

On the left, the response to Mr. Padilha’s show has been outrage. Pablo Villaça, a left-leaning film critic, called the release of the series “extremely irresponsible.” After watching two episodes, he announced on his Twitter account that he was canceling his subscription to Netflix.

More conservative voters saw it differently. “I think Padilha wanted to give a general overview of corruption in Brazil,” said Adelaide Oliveira, a spokeswoman for Vem Pra Rua, or Take to the Streets, an activist movement that opposes corruption and big government. “I think he did it well, though reality is richer.”

In a speech during a rally last Wednesday, Mr. da Silva said he might sue Netflix. “If we need to, we will sue him in Brazil, in the United States, in Europe, anywhere,” he said. His lawyers told Netflix last year about his concerns with distortions in the series; the company did not respond to requests for comment about this article. Nearly half of Brazilians lack home internet access, limiting the reach of the series here.

In an interview, Mr. Padilha played down the significance of the misquote attributed to Mr. da Silva, saying the phrase “doesn’t belong to anybody.”


Riot police officers last month stood between opponents and supporters of Mr. da Silva in Bagé, Brazil, last month.

Itamar Aguiar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He added, “We have a show where we show that those politicians stole billions of dollars, and the problem they have is with a line?”

Fábio Vasconcellos, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said he did not think “The Mechanism” would have much electoral impact. “The series fuels already existent points of view,” he said. “A lot of what is in there is very well known to Brazilians.”

But the series has found some fans among Brazilians. “People are criticizing it, but those people were the leaders of the government, of course they were involved,” said Gabriel Coelho, a 29-year-old cook in Rio de Janeiro. “We only need to find out to what extent.”

Others refused to give it an audience. “It’s bad for Brazil, because it’s a series that arrives in people’s homes with just with one side of the story,” said Paula Abreu, a 31-year-old teacher, also from Rio de Janeiro. “It’s concerning because it intensifies hate.”

It is likely that this will not be the last time Netflix wades into politically treacherous waters in Latin America.

In neighboring Argentina, expectations are high for a mini-series that Netflix has reportedly begun producing about the mysterious death of a prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Mr. Nisman was found dead in his bathroom with a gunshot wound to the head in 2015, hours before he was scheduled to testify in Congress about an explosive accusation that the president at the time, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and several members of her administration conspired to cover up what the accusers claim said was Iran’s role in the attack.

The death, which a recent forensic report concluded was a murder, has divided Argentina and continues to be enveloped in mystery.

Continue reading the main story

Brazilian Auction Draws Oil Companies Back to Offshore Drilling

On Wednesday, two choice offshore blocks were withdrawn from the auction by a Brazilian court, which argued that they should be granted only under a production sharing model that would benefit the government. But Brazilian officials and energy analysts argued that the auction was a success anyway.

“The diversity of operators and geography was one of the great successes of the auction,” said Décio Oddone, head of the National Petroleum Agency, or ANP. He noted that “not just American companies but practically all of the major countries in Europe were represented.”

Deepwater exploration has fallen out of favor in much of the world over the last four years as oil prices collapsed from levels over $100 a barrel. Offshore projects require billions of dollars for drilling and constructing huge production platforms, and five to 10 years can pass before oil is produced.

With oil prices now around $60 a barrel, potential offshore investment dollars have had to compete with the frenzy of drilling in West Texas and a few other American shale fields, where new technologies have made returns speedy and relatively inexpensive.

The industry’s interest in offshore drilling has been heightened by the 33 percent recovery in oil prices over the last year, but also by a series of Brazilian regulatory changes. They include dropping the requirement that the state company Petrobras be designated the managing company, and lowering the amount of Brazilian machinery and construction material that must be used for exploration and production.


A Royal Dutch Shell representative placing a bid. Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP and Wintershall were among the big winners on Thursday.

Pilar Olivares/Reuters

“Brazil is one of the few international deepwater bright spots,” said Jorge R. Piñon, former president of Amoco Oil Latin America. “Its geology and politics are known to the industry. They know what they are dealing with.”

The International Energy Agency projects that Brazil will make the second-biggest contribution, after the United States, to the growing oil supplies outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries over the next few years, and that it will come from offshore drilling. The agency said in a recent report that Petrobras and international oil companies would lift global supplies by more than a million barrels a day by 2023, more than 1 percent of the global market.

There are other signs of recovery for deepwater exploration. Project expansions are underway in the Gulf of Mexico. Exxon Mobil has made a series of large offshore discoveries in Guyana and plans to start production there in the next few years. Royal Dutch Shell is planning to drill 10 wells in the Mediterranean off Egypt.

Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, said in a recent interview that low oil prices had forced the industry to find ways to cut costs, enabling more offshore projects to go forward.

“In deepwater offshore, I have no projects in our funnel going forward with a break-even price of over $40 a barrel,” he said, referring to the Brent global benchmark. “These are projects I am very comfortable sanctioning.”

In Brazil, the auction results could give at least a modest boost to President Michel Temer, who is facing corruption charges and is widely unpopular. The government has sought to increase privatization of much of its infrastructure, including roads and airports, but has struggled to lure investors. Oil and gas are one exception.

David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasília, said the auction was a “sign to investors that the Temer government is functioning normally in spite of the investigations against the president.” He added, “Also, this means a new injection of badly needed funds for the national treasury.”

Continue reading the main story

U.S. in Talks on Tariff Exemptions, Trade Official Says

Mr. Lighthizer’s testimony came a day after the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was warned by global economic leaders at a meeting in Buenos Aires that the United States was risking a trade war by initiating the tariffs. President Trump declared earlier in the month that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

But Mr. Lighthizer struck a different note on Wednesday. “Nobody wins from a trade war,” he said. “We certainly don’t want a trade war. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself, can we go on with an $800 (and growing) billion trade deficit?”


How Trump’s Protectionism Backfires

President Trump’s tariffs against steel and aluminum imports, designed to protect blue-collar workers, could instead undermine their livelihood.

OPEN Graphic

If Mr. Trump decides to exclude Brazil and South Korea from the tariffs, and allows Canada and Mexico to remain exempt, he will have given a reprieve to the four largest foreign suppliers of steel to the United States, together accounting for half of all steel imports. That could make the tariffs less helpful to domestic steel mills.

“It raises the question of, if you exempt all of them, who’s left?” said William Reinsch, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will reduce the value of the relief to the domestic industry.”

Foreign governments have continued to engage in high-level talks with the administration to make the case for exclusion from the tariffs. Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union’s commissioner for trade, said in a statement that she had met with the United States commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, this week to talk about steel and aluminum trade “with a view to identifying mutually acceptable outcomes as rapidly as possible.”

Mr. Trump spoke this week with President Emmanuel Macron of France about how Europe and the United States “might come together over tariffs,” a White House official said in a statement.

Administration officials have said that the tariffs are intended to counter an influx of cheap metals from China that are entering the United States through other countries. The Commerce Department has cited national security as the premise for the tariffs, saying that the imports are crippling domestic producers and, by extension, the nation’s industrial base.

Asked about reports that the administration was preparing a new set of tariffs aimed at China, Mr. Lighthizer said Mr. Trump would make a decision “in the very near future.” Mr. Lighthizer has been investigating China’s trade practices since August, including allegations of theft of intellectual property.

Mr. Lighthizer indicated that the administration was specifically concerned about Chinese policies that compel American companies to share technology when they make investments in China.

“There are certain technology products that are under assault,” he said. “You have to give consideration to whether or not you would put tariffs on those products.”

But he noted that any tariffs would take into account the economic impact of raising the cost of consumer goods. “You would create an algorithm that would maximize the pressure on China and minimize the pressure on U.S. consumers,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up

Members of Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union, which officials say are closer than ever to a breakthrough after languishing for years.

Canada, which is worried about the potential unraveling of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has begun negotiating a free trade deal with Mercosur.

“There’s never been a better time to diversify,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of international trade. “It would mean opening a market of some 300 million people, a rising middle class, an economic powerhouse in this part of the world.”

Chile hosted the signing of a trade agreement this month that 11 Pacific nations, including Mexico, Peru and Canada, salvaged after the Trump administration walked away from the agreement, originally known the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Pacific Alliance, another free trade bloc that Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico formed in 2011, is aiming to expand. Its members are negotiating a partnership with Mercosur and are considering admitting Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore as associate members.

For all of the recent advancements, economists and government officials say that significant obstacles stand in the way of substantive commercial integration in the Americas. These include competition among exporters of the same commodities and poor infrastructure that makes cross-border value chains impractical. Despite recent moves to lower trade barriers, protectionist policies remain entrenched in some of the largest countries, including Brazil and Argentina.

And voters in several of the region’s largest economies, including Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, will elect new leaders this year, which could diminish the appetite for free trade and integration in some corners.

But Mr. Trump’s imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum this month, and his appearing to relish the prospect of initiating a trade war, makes him an outlier in the region.

“I think the region as a whole — but especially Brazil and Argentina — has learned to recognize that protectionism is a lose-lose strategy,” said Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Countries saw perverse effects of trade barriers play out in their own economies, and will now get a chance to observe what they are likely to do to the most important economy on the planet.”

In 2002, Brazil was among the key naysayers to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the deal intended to span two continents, which was championed by the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The Brazilian president at the time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist former union leader, argued that the initiative would amount to “annexation” by the United States. But since Mr. da Silva’s successor and ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016, the country has embarked on a radically different course.


Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh of Vietnam, left, shook hands with Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy minister, at the trade pact signing ceremony as Peru’s minister of foreign commerce, Eduardo Ferreyros, looked on.

Esteban Felix/Associated Press

This month, President Michel Temer’s government issued a blueprint for economic growth that made the case that sustained growth would require lowering tariffs and retraining workers to steer them away from occupations that have become obsolete or less competitive.

The shift comes as Brazil emerges from a crippling, yearslong recession.

In recent months the government has sought to build good will with the Trump administration, including by opening its oil industry to foreign investment.

As Brazilian officials have scrambled to seek exemptions from the steel tariffs, they find themselves, uncharacteristically, preaching the gospel of free trade.

“Our vision is the opposite of what is happening in the United States,” said Marcos Jorge de Lima, Brazil’s minister of industry and foreign trade. “We want more and more trade openings.”

Jorge Arbache, the secretary for international affairs at Brazil’s Planning Ministry, said Mr. Trump’s threat of a trade war could deal a blow to Brazil and Argentina in the short term. But he added that it has the potential to accelerate the region’s economic integration with Asia.

“This recent wave of protectionism has several adverse impacts but it may have a positive impact, not only for Latin America, but on Asia and other regions,” he said.

While Brazil’s economy remains among the world’s most tightly controlled, Mr. Arbache said the government had taken significant steps away from protectionism. For instance, it recently began allowing companies from Mercosur countries and Peru to bid for government procurement contracts, a step that he said “would have been considered unthinkable until recently.”

While government officials across Latin America are largely rueful and contemptuous of the American administration in private, Washington’s traditional allies have sought to make the best of the Trump era, recognizing that foreign investment from, and trade with, the United States remains paramount for economic growth.

Perhaps none has worked harder to charm and cajole the White House than President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, who was among the first Latin American leaders to get an Oval Office meeting. Mr. Trump said during that encounter with Mr. Macri, whom he knew from real estate dealings between the two families, that the two nations would be “great friends, better than ever before.”

Yet nearly a year later, the United States has imposed prohibitive tariffs on biodiesel, which was once Argentina’s chief export to the United States, and a vow by Washington to open its market for Argentine lemons has not been fulfilled.

“The United States has bludgeoned Argentina in trade matters in a way that is utterly inconsistent with the diplomatic approach to the government,” said Benjamin Gedan, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center who worked on policy toward South America in the Obama administration.

Mr. Macri was elected in 2015 after promising to open up Argentina to the world following more than a decade of center-left governments. Now, the viability of his reform agenda, which includes unpopular pension, labor and tax overhauls, hangs on the government’s ability to get the economy on a solid footing and raise wages. The prospect of aluminum and steel tariffs could deal a significant setback to Mr. Macri, who called Mr. Trump this month to plead for an exemption.

“These blows to the Argentine economy are coming at a moment of great fragility, both politically for Mr. Macri and economically for the region as a whole,” Mr. Gedan said.

As they have sought to fend off American tariffs, officials from several South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have impressed upon their counterparts in Washington that the United States has a trade surplus with the region.

But that argument has so far carried little weight in Washington, where, according to analysts and government officials, the Commerce Department is forcefully defending the interests of local industries without the traditional pushback about strategic interests that the State Department has exerted in the past. This stands to benefit China, Latin American leaders say, which in recent years displaced the United States as the top trading partner in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

“I think that with this attitude the United States is leaving a void, and that void may be filled by China,” President Sebastián Piñera of Chile said in a recent interview, adding that he was startled by the messages that the Chinese and American leaders presented at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The president of the United States was defending protectionism, and the president of China was defending free trade,” Mr. Piñera said. “It felt a little like the world upside down.”

Continue reading the main story