Petro and Lula end Venezuela’s isolationism at Brasilia summit

President Gustavo Petro of Colombia meets with Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro during the Brasilia summit. Photo: Presidencia.
President Gustavo Petro of Colombia meets with Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro during the Brasilia summit. Photo: Presidencia.

Latin American leaders agree in principle that Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro should participate in multilateral forums. This is one of the takeaways from the recent gathering of South American Presidents in Brasília, Brazil, hosted by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But the inclusion of Maduro in forums and summits is conditioned to the Venezuelan autocrat fixing his disastrous human rights track record at home, and recognizing legitimate opponents, many currently in jail or exiled.

Introducing a “new era” in Brazil – Venezuela relations during Maduro’s first face-to-facing meeting with other South American leaders in nine years, Lula managed to raise the ire of many of his regional counterparts by stating that Maduro’s human rights violations is part of a political “narrative” to isolate the Chavista leader and justify crippling sanctions by the U.S against the Venezuelan people.

Lula’s “narrative” on Venezuela was met with a strong response from the youngest leftist President on the continent, Chile’s Gabriel Boric. “We are glad that Venezuela is returning to multilateral bodies. This, however, does not mean we can sweep under the rug what is important to us. The human rights situation (in Venezuela) is not a narrative construction, it’s a serious reality” said Boric.

Adding his voice to criticism of Lula’s benign stance with Maduro was Uruguay’s Luis Lacalle Pou, who in a video statement, warned his Latin American counterparts that they “cannot block out the sun with a finger” when it comes to recognizing human rights violations in Venezuela.

Having Maduro in the “family photo” alongside 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), and Peruvian Prime Minister Luis Alberto Otárola; sends a direct message to the U.S that despite discord on “narratives,” the region appears united.

This message, albeit very visual, was carefully orchestrated as both Colombia’s Gustavo Petro and Brazil’s Lula da Silva were recent guests of the Oval Office, and where they requested U.S President Joe Biden lift sanctions on Maduro. Taking the Venezuela agenda to Washington, Petro is convinced that Latin America’s pink tide will dilute the communist red of Venezuela’s Castro-Chavismo. And after a sixth meeting with Maduro in Brasília, Petro has positioned himself as the South American progressive leader who brokered Maduro’s return to the community of nations. Petro announced in Brazil that Colombia will also rejoin to UNASUR after his predecessor, Iván Duque, broke away from the organization over Venezuela’s participation in the hemispheric forum.

As the U.S faces a contentious 2024 presidential election between incumbent Biden and Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Brasília proves that Latin America needs to consolidate ahead of a potential Republican-led administration, and one, in which GOP lawmakers will to continue to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.

Colombia’s Gustavo Petro can be credited for reigning in Maduro to the Latin American “family” of nations, and while this can be interpreted as one of his foreign-policy accomplishments over nine months in office, the Venezuelan regime must respond swiftly. On Tuesday, Nicolás Maduro told reporters covering the summit, that Petro is the most likely candidate to become a “guarantor” in talks with the Venezuelan opposition after the Colombian President hosted an international conference on Venezuela in Bogotá.

This conference attended by representatives of Venezuela’s opposition groups, as well as international diplomats, did not include Guaidó. Guaidó was expelled from the country by the Foreign Ministry just hours before the start of the conference, on charges that he illegally entered Colombia after crossing the porous land border.

Colombia and Brazil are towing-the-line for the most presidents in the region to follow, and from the 12 out of 19 countries that have elected left-wing governments, the leadership includes centrist progressives, demagogues, and autocrats (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua). If Petro is to succeed in restoring democracy to Venezuela, he must lead by example. More state interventionism at home; a slate of restrictive reforms that include health, labor, and pensions; economic policies that scare off investors; attacks on the media and freedom of expression; are not good starting points.

As Lula urges his counterparts – Petro included – to boost oil and gas reserves, Colombia’s position is to halt all new exploration contracts. Across the energy divide that separates Brazil’s bullish position on natural resources from Colombia’s failing “transition” to renewables, both Lula and Petro are aligned that Venezuela holds to key to an energy rich future. “Either we get together to fight among ourselves and defend our interests together, or we are puppets in the hands of the big economies,” stated Lula at the start of the summit. So while “human rights” was the talking point of the Brasília summit, the end of Venezuelan isolationism has a common narrative – Maduro’s energy security and resource that could supply 90% of the continent with fuel.