Lula’s South America Summit Facelifts Dictator Maduro

Brazilian President Promotes Autocrat at the Expense of Integration

Lula’s South America Summit facelifts dictator Maduro. Brazilian President Lula invited Venezuelan tyrant Nicolás Maduro.

Lula, taking advantage of his role as the summit’s host, invited Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. (Sebastián Díaz)

Lee en español.

On May 30, 2023, Brazil hosted the South America Summit—organized by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The summit’s objective, according to Lula, was to promote regional integration and establish common economic, commercial, and environmental goals for South American nations. Lula, taking advantage of his role as the summit’s host, invited Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. By welcoming Maduro to a purportedly democratic event, Lula ignored the Venezuelan regime’s flagrantly antidemocratic record of authoritarianism.

In 2019, then-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—through an executive decree—banned Maduro and Venezuelan officials from entering Brazil. Two days before Lula took office in January, Bolsonaro unexpectedly and without explanation lifted Maduro’s ban. Due to a US Treasury Department $15 million reward for Maduro’s capture, he hardly ever leaves Venezuela. Embraced by prominent leftist leaders in the region such as Lula, Maduro now moves around Brazil without fearing his capture.

Bolsonaro, it appears, set a trap for Lula. He has stepped into it and, by inviting Maduro to the summit, shown the world his affection for authoritarianism. Just as Lula defended Cuban dictator Fidel Castro—whom he founded the Sao Paulo Forum with—now he defends Maduro. The Chavista regime has caused one of the largest emigration flows in world modern history: more than 7 million exiles. Further, in 2020 the Organization of American States accused the Maduro regime of 18,000 extrajudicial killings.

Stardom at the Summit

After almost 10 years without meeting each other at a summit, every single South American president—except for Peruvian Dina Boluarte, who sent a representative—went to Lula’s summit in Brasilia, the country’s capital city.

During the summit, Lula flattered Maduro as if he were an exceptional president and even questioned the existence of a dictatorship in Venezuela: “There is a constructed narrative about authoritarianism in Venezuela.” Argentine and Colombian Presidents Alberto Fernández and Gustavo Petro each met individually with Maduro, enjoying his presence at the summit. While Fernández asked Maduro to return to more international summits, Petro announced Colombia’s return to Unasur—an organization of South American countries formerly led by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez.

Although some South American presidents cowardly remained silent about the Venezuelan dictatorship, Maduro’s presence at the summit was rejected by others. Lula’s intention, however, was for all presidents to remain silent—as a sign of approval. Right-wing Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou, for example, repudiated Maduro’s presence. Lacalle Pou defied Lula’s speech about authoritarianism in Venezuela by saying he wanted to “cover the sun with a finger.”

In a surprising turn, leftist Chilean President Gabriel Boric also showed his discontent with Lula’s speech about Venezuela. He accused Lula of turning a blind eye to Venezuela’s critical situation. Boric, however, contradicted himself by asking the European Union and the United States to lift their sanctions against Venezuela. According to Boric, these sanctions are not harming the regime but Venezuelans. Apparently, Boric knows nothing about how the sanctions on Venezuela have led to regime officials accepting the existence of multiple corruption scandals in Venezuela’s oil sector. Sanctions have clearly targeted the Maduro regime and not regular citizens.

In addition to giving Maduro a facelift, the invitations to future democratic summits from Fernández, Lula, and Petro are reviving Maduro in the diplomatic scenario. Despite the three presidents’ complicity, plain-as-day facts—not “constructed narratives”—have demonstrated that the Chavista regime is systematically violating rights and has taken over every democratic institution in the country. Reality rebuts Lula’s statement.

Why Lula Erred

Lula, who is obsessed with leaving a legacy, wants to make Brazil a diplomatic powerhouse, even if this means favoring tyrants. In April, he welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Serguéi Lavrov and pitched himself as a mediator in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, he is biased towards the Vladimir Putin regime. After failing in his attempt to mediate the conflict, he is now trying to recycle Unasur—which was a political instrument of 21st-century socialism.

At the end of Lula’s summit, all the South American leaders signed the Brasilia Consensus: a roadmap for regional integration. Integration has been hampered in the 21st century due to ideological feuds. One of the main articles of the Brasilia Consensus states that South American countries are “committed to democracy and human rights.” However, this is 100 percent antithetical to the Chavista regime’s presence at the summit, which makes a mockery of the Brasilia Consensus. Why have it at all if signatories are turning a blind eye right at the signing?

Despite recent electoral victories by leftist leaders in the region, socialists are not vastly more popular among citizens. Lula is making a profound mistake by pivoting foreign policy and is forgetting he is not as popular as he was in previous terms (2003–2011).

Due to Maduro’s presence, the summit’s prominent discussions were about the dictator instead of regional integration, undermining the summit’s objectives. Aside from distracting from the task at hand, Lula’s failure to acknowledge the Chavista regime’s crimes is his way of supporting the perpetrator and stepping on Venezuelans—who flee their country searching for new opportunities.

Andrés Sebastián Díaz Ponce

Andrés Sebastián holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from the University of the Americas, Ecuador. He founded Libertario, a Spanish-speaking community that promotes the ideas of liberty in Latin America, and he collaborates with the Ecuadorian liberal think tank Libre Razón. Follow @asdp250.

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