Lula ignores Maduro abuses and tries to expand relations with Venezuela
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (PT) advanced with strategies for resuming relations with Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro. One of the objectives of Brazilian diplomacy, under the new government, is to place Brazil as an observer of the next presidential elections in Venezuela, to make the PT a “protagonist” in the negotiation process between the Chavista regime and the opposition. The negotiation of Venezuela’s overdue debt with Brazil, of more than US$ 1 billion, and environmental policies for the Amazon are also important points in this new phase of the relationship between the two countries.
Two important movements for advancing these agendas took place last week: the visit of Lula’s special advisor for International Affairs, Celso Amorim, to Caracas; and the coming of members of the Maduro regime to Brazil for a meeting with the Brazilian government. The resumption of relations also foresees the reopening of the Brazilian embassy in Caracas in the first half.
Made at Lula’s request, Amorim’s visit to Maduro last week was kept confidential by the Planalto Palace – which has been criticized by the opposition. The agenda only became public after the Venezuelan dictator published a photo on social networks.
“I had a pleasant meeting with the Delegation of the Federative Republic of Brazil, headed by Celso Amorim. We are committed to renewing our mechanisms of union and solidarity that guarantee the growth and well-being of Venezuela and Brazil,” wrote Maduro. Venezuelan state broadcaster VTV broadcast footage of Maduro’s meeting with Lula’s special advisor, noting that the visit sought to “enhance diplomatic relations” between the countries. For Maduro, this type of exposure is important as it serves to give the regime a veneer of legitimacy before the Venezuelan audience.
According to Planalto advisors, the trip, which lasted about 24 hours, was aimed at expanding bilateral relations and discussing the political and humanitarian crisis facing Venezuelans. Lula’s allies are trying to put together an agreement for Brazil to act as an international observer of the electoral process in Venezuela.
In addition to the meeting with Maduro, Planalto members indicated that Amorim also met with leaders of the opposition to the dictatorial regime. Among them, the advisor met with lawyer Gerardo Blyde, one of the leaders of the United Platform, the opposition coalition, which has been responsible for the reopened negotiations between the government and the opposition since the end of last year.
The elections, scheduled to take place in May 2024, have been followed by several countries, such as the United States, Mexico and Norway. According to members of the Lula government, the opposition to the Maduro regime has already signaled that they do not intend to adopt a movement to interrupt the dictator’s current mandate. However, they are working to facilitate an election that provides legitimate conditions for different parties to compete – which did not happen in the last elections held in the neighboring country.
Recently, the head of the Venezuelan government delegation, Jorge Rodríguez, made any agreement regarding the elections conditional on the suspension of all international sanctions against his country. The United States government has imposed sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government since 2015, intensified in 2019 with direct actions against sectors of the economy, such as oil. The actions were expanded after Maduro’s re-election in 2018, in elections considered fraudulent by the international community and the opposition.
“Venezuela will not sign any agreement with this sector of the opposition until it is 100% free of sanctions, until the 765 unilateral coercive measures signed by Donald Trump and Barack Hussein Obama are lifted,” he said.
The assessment of members of the Lula government is that the PT can assume a leading role in this process of trying to resume democracy in Venezuela. Even during the transition, allies of the president already argued that he could play a decisive role in building the new relationship between the US government and the dictator Nicolás Maduro.
However, in the opinion of Marcio Coimbra, postgraduate professor in Institutional and Governmental Relations at Faculdade Presbiteriana Mackenzie Brasília (FPMB), the Lula government does not have international legitimacy to be one of the articulators of the electoral process in Venezuela.
“Brazil does not have the capacity to do this, and it also does not have the legitimacy to do this. This must be done by international organizations, never by another country”, he argues.
Maduro’s delegation visited Brazil and met with the Lula government
After Amorim’s visit to Caracas, Maduro sent a delegation to Brasília last Friday (10) for a series of meetings with members of the Lula government. One of the agendas involved the Ministry of Health and focused on the health of the Yanomami people who live on the border between Brazil and Venezuela.
According to the folder, initiatives were discussed in the areas of combating malaria, tuberculosis and HIV; strengthening of vaccination coverage actions; malnutrition and food insecurity; sanitation; and maternal and child health. The Venezuelan delegation was led by the Chancellery’s Deputy Minister for Latin America, Rander Peña, who was received by the Secretary General of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Maria Laura da Rocha.
“The meeting on border health, jointly organized by Itamaraty and the Ministries of Health and Indigenous Peoples, constituted the first bilateral meeting focused on cooperation in a specific sector, within the framework of the ongoing process of normalization of relations between the two countries” , informed the Itamaraty.
Lula also hopes to bring Maduro into the debate over deforestation in the Amazon. At an event in Roraima this Monday (13th), he said that he wants to meet, later this year, with the dictator and presidents of other countries in the region to discuss “how are we going to take care of the forests and why do we can transform the richness of the biodiversity of the entire Amazon region to the benefit of millions of people who live in the Amazon”.
The environmental issue and that of indigenous peoples is a sore point for the Maduro dictatorship. There, illegal mining is also a serious problem. According to a 2022 report by the Venezuelan NGO SOS Orinoco, illegal mining on indigenous lands in the neighboring country is increasing at an “alarming pace”, and the majority of miners come from Brazil.
In the same report, the organization criticized the “complicity” of the Venezuelan armed forces in relation to illegal mining in the Alto Orinoco region, in the state of Amazonas (VE). “The action of the miners is possible thanks to the absence of surveillance and control by the Venezuelan State, but above all, due to the complicity of the members of the FANB [Força Armada Nacional Bolivariana]”.
Venezuela’s debt with Brazil was discussed by Maduro and Amorim
Venezuela’s debt with Brazil reached, in December last year, the mark of just over US$ 1.2 billion, equivalent to just over 6.3 billion reais. The amount refers to agreements closed between the Venezuelan dictatorship and Brazilian companies, during the PT governments, for contracting engineering services from Brazil, in addition to loans for the purchase of aircraft, meat and dairy products.
The installments, however, stopped being paid in 2017 and, since then, there has never been a sign of the resumption of payments. In an interview with the newspaper The globeAmorim stated that the debt was on the agenda of the meeting with Maduro, and that the Venezuelan dictator indicated his intention to “equate” the problem.
“Maduro is committed to equating the debt issue. Of course, they are not going to pay everything at once. It was a little more than ‘I owe, I don’t deny it, I’ll pay when I can’. It was a debt and I want to pay. There was no conversation about that.” with the Bolsonaro government, which, incidentally, wanted them not to pay to use this. I think it will be paid normally “, said the special advisor.
The government of former president Jair Bolsonaro collected Venezuela’s debt, but the letters were sent to former ambassador Maria Teresa Belandria, representative of the government of Juan Guaidó, legitimately recognized by Brazil between 2019 and 2022.
For Senator Izalci Lucas (PSDB-DF), Congress needs to adopt strict supervision so that the return of diplomatic relations with Maduro does not result in new loans to finance works in Venezuela.
“If this understanding [com a Venezuela] is in the sense of seeking an agreement to receive the debt or some form of compensation, fine. Now, if we are going to finance more things abroad, we will need to expand inspection. What we need is more transparency in these agendas”, defended the PSDB senator.
The opposition to Lula has already filed several projects with the aim of restricting financing from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) to foreign countries, especially Venezuela and Cuba.
Lack of transparency about Amorim’s trip is “worrying”
Since he was elected, Lula has defended the resumption of Brazil’s relations with leftist dictatorships such as Venezuela and Cuba, for example. In addition, the PT’s diplomacy recently minimized human rights violations by the Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua.
These movements have already generated criticism from members of the opposition to the government in Congress. Senator Izalci Lucas (DF) questioned the Lula government’s lack of transparency in publicizing the institutional trip of adviser Celso Amorim to Caracas.
“What worries you is when you don’t have transparency. Celso Amorim went to Venezuela and nobody knew about it. We only found out when Maduro published it on his Twitter. billion dollars for Brazil”, questioned the toucan.
For Professor Marcio Coimbra, Lula was elected in Brazil with a speech in defense of democracy, but the government’s positions, so far, have been to minimize leftist dictatorships in other countries. In addition to the rapprochement with Maduro, Coimbra mentions Brazil’s position in relation to the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.
“President Lula needs, first of all, to understand how he is seen by the international community. He arrived at the presidency of Brazil seen internationally as a guarantor of democracy. But his diplomacy, until now, has stopped condemning leftist dictatorships like in Venezuela and in Nicaragua,” he argues.
Still according to the Institutional Relations professor, Lula’s diplomacy has lagged behind other countries governed by the left in South America. Among them is Chile, governed by left-wing President Gabriel Boric.
“[Essa diplomacia] it places the Brazilian left far from, for example, a modern and avant-garde left. Gabriel Boric in Chile condemned the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan regimes. With that, he shows himself to be a left-wing politician, but who will not hesitate to condemn actions by these countries that violate human rights and democracy”, explained Coimbra.