Brazilian president's support of Venezuela's leader mars unity at South America summit

BRASILIA | May 30, 2023

The Brazilian president’s strong support of Venezuela’s authoritarian leader marred the unity Tuesday at a South American summit that Brazil convened in hopes of reviving a bloc of the region’s 12 politically polarized countries.

In an effort to convince the dozen nations to cooperate more closely, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva suggested in his opening speech the formation of a regional currency to compete with the U.S. dollar.

But immediately before the meeting, Lula gave Venezuela’s authoritarian leftist President Nicolás Maduro a hearty embrace, drawing criticism from some of his neighbors and jeopardizing the sense of cohesion the Brazilian leader was seeking.

The “worst thing we can do,” according to President of Uruguay Luis Lacalle Pou, is pretend there are no serious issues with human rights in Venezuela.

No one is compelled to agree with anyone, Lula responded.

The Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, was established in 2008 to foster collaboration but was mostly disbanded a decade later due to conflicts over leadership. Lula wants to bring Unasur back to life. Right-leaning nations at the time, like as Brazil, objected to the bloc’s inclusion of Maduro in particular because they perceived it to have a Marxist tilt.

Lula, a former unionist who assumed office in January, has made efforts to resurrect the bloc now that the area is home to more leftist and centrist figures. All but one of the leaders from the area attended the South America Summit that he organized for Tuesday in Brasilia.

He hosted Maduro in their first bilateral meeting the day before the gathering and publicly backed the Venezuelan president, calling it “absurd” for some states to refuse to recognize him as the legitimately elected leader. Additionally, he condemned the economic sanctions that nations like the United States have put in place to pressure Venezuela to liberalize its political system and dubbed them “completely exaggerated.”

Assembling his nation’s “narrative” and “making Venezuela a sovereign country once more,” according to Lula, is Maduro’s responsibility. And our adversaries will have to accept responsibility for the harm they’ve caused.

Both the right-leaning Uruguayan president Lacalle and the left-leaning president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, criticized the Brazilian president for his actions.

Boric asserted that Lula was trivializing human rights abuses in Venezuela by saying they were only a “narrative” that the country’s leadership could alter whenever it pleased.

“I politely expressed my disagreement with President Lula’s remark from yesterday that the human rights situation in Venezuela was a ‘story.’ It’s not a story. It’s a fact, and it’s a terrible situation,” Boric told reporters outside the session.

After the discussion, Lula claimed that Maduro’s reputation was based on a story that Lula himself had experienced when running for office. When asked about the differences between the presidents of South America, the president of Brazil responded, “There was a lot of respect about Maduro’s participation.”

After the summit, Maduro declined to take questions and instead told reporters that it had been “a respectful dialogue, tolerance, with union among diversity.”

Lula had emphasized the need for cooperation and agreement throughout the region in his opening speech. He said that the group should talk about developing a currency to compete with the U.S. dollar’s hegemony, developing a global energy market, combating climate change, and integrating the military and security of the region.

As long as we’re divided, Lula asserted, “South America won’t become a developed continent in all of its potential.”

Right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, Lula’s predecessor, had led other right-leaning governments by withdrawing Brazil from Unasur in 2019. A key priority of Lula is to re-establish ties with regional neighbors severed under Bolsonaro.

According to Vanessa Matijascic, a professor of international relations at the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation in Sao Paulo, Lula is also attempting to regain Brazil’s position as a regional leader.

Every nation understands that when Brazil is not there at this 12-nation summit, they all go on to other agendas, according to Matijascic.

In part because of their shared border and the necessity to handle Venezuelan migrants and refugees, according to Pablo Ibaez, a geopolitics professor at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Lula needed to heal relations with Venezuela immediately.

Ibaez argued that he might have overstepped the mark in his acceptance of Maduro’s regime. Ibaez said that the Brazilian government had provided opposition groups with substantial arms.

Eleven South American presidents, including Lula and Maduro, are present at the summit, along with the head of Peru’s Council of Ministers, whose president, Dina Boluarte, is indicted and unable to leave the nation.

Because of the political similarities between the present administrations in the region, political analysts claim Lula saw a chance for integration. However, they warn that it will be difficult for the bloc to withstand the region’s political upheaval and volatility.

In order to create some unity and make sure it lasts, Brazil will aim to “imprint a less ideological stamp” on the present integration initiative, according to Jorge Arias, the Argentine director of the consultancy Polilat.

The Brasilia Consensus, which the 12 heads of state who attended the summit on Tuesday signed, stresses the necessity of regional integration in several sectors and creates a contact group with the foreign affairs ministers of each nation to continue communication.

Although the majority of South America’s presidents are currently leftist or centrist, there is no assurance that this will continue. The victory of right-wingers in Chile in a referendum to choose commission members to draft a new constitution in May served as further evidence of this. Argentina may experience a similar rightward shift given that current President Alberto Fernández will not run for reelection this year due to the country’s high inflation rate.

The leftist president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, told reporters that the meeting on Tuesday could advance efforts to combat climate change by creating systems in which debtor nations receive debt relief in exchange for their commitments to reduce carbon emissions from their own economies. This was a sign of the variety of initiatives on the minds of South American leaders.

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