COMMENTARY Brazil’s president once steered between left and right. Likening Venezuela’s democratic opposition to Russia’s Ukraine invasion suggests he’s crashed.
By WLRN – Tim Padgett
Jan 27, 2023
There was a time when Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva disguised his leftist hypocrisy more artfully.
A time when he wouldn’t have disgracefully compared Venezuela’s democratic opposition to the monstrous Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he did this week.
When I interviewed Lula in 2008, during his first presidency, he seemed to understand that apologizing too loudly for dictatorial left-wing regimes like Cuba and Venezuela wasn’t the best advertisement for the “third way” persona he was selling in those days. When I brought up his efforts to broker rapprochement between right-wing U.S. President George W. Bush and left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Lula joked that he found their clash “very weird.” But he didn’t scurry down the tiresome leftist rabbit hole of blaming it all on demonic Uncle Sam.
This week, though, Lula burrowed into that hole with one of Elon Musk’s tunneling rigs.
At Argentina’s Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires, during the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, Lula was asked about Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s socialist dictator-president. Maduro didn’t attend the Buenos Aires gathering because Argentina’s opposition leaders threatened to call for his arrest. Maduro, you’ll recall, is under indictment in the U.S. for drug trafficking – his military is considered its own narco-cartel – and the U.N. has slammed his regime for crimes against humanity.
This was Lula’s opportunity to show us he could still drive down that alternative third lane between the unhinged right-wingers and left-wingers who’ve had a chokehold on the western hemisphere in recent years.
But Lula choked.
Lula’s Buenos Aires performance wasn’t just an aging lefty using double standards to defend an outlaw fraternity brother. It was full-on hypocrisy – and insulted democracy in two hemispheres.
He could have acknowledged – or at least could have acknowledged what almost 60 other nations acknowledge – that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a rape of Venezuela’s constitution. He chose instead to lash out at the man who, as a result of that illegitimate 2018 vote, had a legitimate constitutional claim to the presidency: then National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó.
In his gravelly, former chainsmoker’s voice, Lula called Guaidó’s 2019 declaration of himself as Venezuela’s interim president, with U.S. and international backing, “abominable for democracy.” And Maduro? A guy even fellow leftist Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s former president, repeatedly condemned when she was the U.N.’s human rights chief? Well, a scolding Lula told us, Maduro’s a democratic avatar who needs to be treated with “carinho.” Affection.
Lula then made it clear this display was worse than just an aging lefty using worn-out double standards to defend an outlaw fraternity brother. Still referring to the Guaidó issue, he said, “Just as I’m against Russia’s territorial occupation attempt in Ukraine, I’m against so much intervention and interference in Venezuela.”
In one dumb, fell swoop, Lula managed to heap not carinho but insulto on democracy, in not one but two hemispheres.
In the Americas, wittingly or not, he likened a genuinely democratic struggle in neighboring Venezuela to Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin’s crazed bloodlust invasion of neighboring Ukraine. And in Europe, he ended up trivializing the suffering of Ukrainians – made more nightmarish this week by Putin’s new bombardment offensive – by suggesting their pain is somehow also Maduro’s.
Yes, I’m well aware what Lula’s subtext was. Because Guaidó’s move was most enthusiastically backed by Washington, in particular by former President Donald Trump, Lula considers it simply an extension of the U.S.’s shameful history of intervention in Latin América. But while I’m usually the last guy on earth to defend Trump, the astonishing irony here is that, at least in the case of Guaidó, MAGA Man understood the Venezuelan situation far better than Lula does.
That’s the first thing that makes Lula’s Maduro mollycoddling so distressing. It discredits him as a potential arbitrator – the kind he played to some success between Chávez and Bush II – in the renewed democratic reform talks between Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition.
But here’s the second, more dismaying residue from Lula’s full-frontal hypocrisy in Buenos Aires this week. His dreadful parallel between Guaidó and Putin suggests there’s not as much democracy-defending space as we thought between him and the fascist-friendly ogre he defeated in Brazil’s October presidential election: former President Jair Bolsonaro — who considers the country’s brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship a halcyon epoch to imitate.
Lula, in his second presidency, apparently isn’t all that concerned about disguising that contradiction anymore.
Read More: WLRN – Lula used to curb his leftist hypocrisy. Now we get his disgraceful Maduro coddling