Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met Monday with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, vowing a new era for a relationship that was severed under far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Considered a pariah in some quarters for his socialist government’s alleged human-rights violations, Maduro was welcomed by an honor guard at the presidential palace in Brasilia, where veteran leftist Lula greeted him with a hug and a back-slap.
“Venezuela has always been an exceptional partner for Brazil. But because of the political situation and the mistakes that were made, President Maduro spent eight years without coming to Brazil,” Lula told a news conference.
Brazil cut diplomatic ties with the Maduro government under president Bolsonaro (2019-2022), joining the United States and about 50 other countries in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president after 2018 elections condemned by critics as a sham.
Lula has restored relations with Maduro’s government since taking office in January — part of an overhaul of Brazil’s Bolsonaro-era foreign policy.
Lula, who invited Maduro to the Brazilian capital for a South American leaders’ summit Tuesday, called his visit a “new moment” in Brazil-Venezuela ties and “the start of Maduro’s return.”
“I always thought it was absurd for people who defend democracy to deny you were Venezuela’s president, having been elected by the people,” Lula said, condemning “prejudice” against the neighboring country’s government.
Maduro meanwhile hailed a “new era” in the countries’ relations.
“Brazil and Venezuela must be united, from now on and always,” he said.
The visit drew criticism from opponents.
“Brazil is back to welcoming South American dictators with state honors,” opposition Senator Sergio Moro wrote on Twitter.
Lula, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, cultivated close ties with Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez (1999-2013).
Since returning to office, he has vowed to seek friendly relations with all countries across the board, cultivating closer ties with partners as disparate as China and US President Joe Biden’s administration.
But he has drawn criticism at times in the West for appearing overly cozy with Russia and China and lashing out at the United States and Europe for backing Ukraine in its war with Russia.