Venezuela’s Maduro Visits Brazil in a Blow to US Strategy of Isolation

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(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for a “multi-polar” world rather than one dominated by the US, as he arrived in Brazil seeking to rebuild his nation’s alliances after years of isolation.

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In his first international trip in seven months, Maduro met with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia on Monday ahead of a regional summit.

His visit is the latest evidence of an ongoing thaw toward the Venezuelan government after leftists won elections in Brazil and Colombia last year. Maduro’s international travel has been curtailed in recent years by sanctions by the US, which has openly backed attempts to overthrow him.

Lula, as the 77-year-old Brazilian leader is known, has repeatedly criticized US policy on everything from Venezuelan sanctions to its arming of Ukraine to its efforts to get WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange extradited.

“It is inexplicable for a country to have 900 sanctions placed on it, because another country doesn’t like it,” Lula said, speaking to reporters alongside Maduro.

The US government of President Donald Trump rallied its allies to isolate Venezuela following Maduro’s re-election in 2018 in a vote that was widely regarded as a sham. US sanctions deepened its economic crash that led millions to flee the country.

While the US eased its pressure slightly on the oil-rich nation over fears of an energy shortage after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, many of its most biting penalties remain: The government is currently offering a $15 million reward for Maduro’s arrest after it charged him and other high-ranking officials with participating in a drug-trafficking conspiracy in 2020. Maduro denies the accusations.

Clinging to Power

Maduro, 60, the hand-picked successor to the late Hugo Chavez, has clung to power amid mass protests and coup attempts. Now, with leftist leaders in office in most of Latin America’s biggest nations, his government is being rehabilitated by its neighbors.

On Monday, Lula said he backed Venezuela joining a block of emerging-market nations known as BRICs, and pledged to boost business in the country.

The Brazilian president has repeatably pushed back against criticism of the Venezuelan government, which is widely condemned for its human rights abuses and mishandling of the economy.

“Maduro does not have dollars for imports,” he said. “It’s the fault of the US, which created an extremely exaggerated blockade.”

Across the region, even some of Maduro’s critics have taken steps to re-engage. Last week, Chilean President Gabriel Boric nominated a new ambassador to Venezuela, a position that had been unfilled since 2018. Foreign Relations Minister Alberto van Klaveren said on Monday that there’s a need for strong working ties between the two nations given areas of common interest, such as migration.

At the end off 2022, Colombian leader Gustavo Petro officially reopened his nation’s border with Venezuela.

--With assistance from Fabiola Zerpa and Matthew Malinowski.

(Updates with Maduro’s reward, Lula’s comments beginning in sixth paragraph.)

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