The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, has been received this Monday in Brasilia with honors of head of state by his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who as soon as he assumed power reestablished relations with the Chavista government and reopened the embassy. Both leaders will have a meeting this morning alone, another with advisers and an official lunch on the eve of the summit of South American presidents convened by Lula for Tuesday in the capital of Brazil. The meeting, presented as an informal retreat for the leaders to exchange ideas on how to integrate the region beyond ideological divisions, will also mean the end of the diplomatic isolation of Maduro, mired in ostracism during the already closed stage in which Brazil and other neighbors recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.
Maduro is the first of the heads of state to arrive in Brasilia for the summit. He landed Sunday night with his wife, Cilia Flores, after eight years without setting foot in Brazil. But his bilateral meeting with Lula has only been confirmed just over three hours in advance. When the far-right Jair Bolsonaro came to power, one of the first measures was to break relations with Chavismo, prohibit the entry of Maduro and recognize Guaidó as an interlocutor – in the wake of the United States, the European Union and dozens of other governments; the leftist Lula premiered by inviting him to his inauguration, which he did not attend, and resuming the bilateral relationship with an exchange of ambassadors.
The expectation for the presence of Maduro in this meeting of leaders is enormous because he has not participated in such a conclave for years. Last January, the president of Venezuela canceled at the last minute his attendance at the summit of CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) for fear of protests on the grounds that there were "extravagant plans designed by right-wing extremists" to attack him and derail the event. The Chavista leader is once again recognized internationally as a legitimate president, including by the US, which led the campaign to isolate him but authorized the oil company Chevron to resume operations in Venezuela at a time of skyrocketing prices due to the war in Ukraine.
The Presidency of Brazil has reported in a note that the face-to-face between Lula and Maduro "will also be the occasion for the presidents to talk about the processes of internal dialogue in Venezuela, with a view to the holding of the 2024 elections."
Both countries have maintained diplomatic relations since 1842, although they only defined the border in 1905. Bilateral trade, now at $1.700 billion, peaked a decade ago at $6 billion when Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, was president.
Many years have passed since the last time the heads of state of the 12 countries of the Southern Cone met. There is no definite agenda for Tuesday's meeting. The only announced absence is that of President Dina Boluarte, who cannot leave Peru for constitutional reasons and will send the prime minister. Without it, it will be a multicolored retreat ideologically but distinctly masculine.
Alberto Fernández (Argentina), Luis Arce (Bolivia), Gabriel Boric (Chile), Gustavo Petro (Colombia), Guillermo Lasso (Ecuador), Irfaan Ali (Guyana), Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay), Cha Santokhi (Suriname), Luis Lacalle Pou (Uruguay) are expected to arrive in the Brazilian capital throughout the day.
After a few years in which political polarization and the Venezuelan crisis, with a migratory exodus and the recognition of an interim president, generated enormous misgivings and deep divisions in South America, Lula tries to put the counter to zero. His idea "is to resume the dialogue, which was very truncated in recent years. He wants to reactivate South American integration, but first the leaders must identify the lowest common denominators and from there resume cooperation" to face "global, regional and individual problems," as explained in an appearance by the secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazilian Ambassador Gisela Padovan. President Lula would like the leaders to exchange views frankly and think in terms of the State, not governments, so that relations between neighbors are not at the mercy of electoral results, an objective as ambitious as it is abstract.
Hand in hand with Lula, Brazil has returned to CELAC and Unasur (The Union of South American Nations), which once had 12 members but has become a leftist club that right now has only seven members, is paralyzed and without an agenda. When the right won in several countries of the region, their presidents united in Prosur (the Forum for the Progress of South America).
Lula returns to set his sights on South America after visiting the US, China, the European Union, among other allies, and investing a good dose of his international muscle in trying to mediate in the war in Ukraine. Brazil insists that the meeting of presidents is a starting point, a conclave for South American heads of state to reflect together in confidence on how to increase regional integration, through what mechanisms, at what pace and with what priorities.
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