Earlier this week, former president of Brazil Lula da Silva gave a warm and unequivocal endorsement of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela’s presidential race. Given that the campaign officially started only two days ago, it would seem that this announcement was well timed for maximum effect. The video was screened first at the Sao Paulo Forum on Monday at a meeting in Caracas , and it has since been aired as a campaign ad on several television stations. Lula made a similar video praising Chávez for the Sao Paulo Forum in 2012.
As many have pointed out, there is a deep irony here. While Venezuela’s socialist party (PSUV) receives praise from political leaders of the Workers Party in Brazil, Henrique Capriles has lauded Brazil’s policy choices under Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff. Capriles has pointed out gains under both these leftist leaders, and has said that he plans to follow the “Brazilian model” if elected, even saying “I'm 100 percent Lula.”
Capriles’ basic argument is that Venezuela has been misgoverned under Chávez and needs to undergo a transformation like the one Brazil experienced since 2002, when Lula was elected. What he does not acknowledge is that while both Venezuela and Brazil have been successful in achieving a more equitable society, in some ways Venezuela has been more successful. For example, during the period when both Lula and Chávez were in office both inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) and poverty rates dropped faster in Venezuela. Also, it is important to note that these statistics are based on measures that include only household income, which underestimates gains made through public programs like those in education, healthcare and pensions, which were expanded more in Venezuela than in Brazil.
Capriles is trying to tap into the “good left / bad left” dichotomy in which Brazil is praised as a regional political leader (and one with a gigantic economy), while distancing himself from the ALBA countries. If we look at recent history, though, this arbitrary division doesn’t make sense. At the last Summit of the Americas, the region united around the issues of (1) ending Cuba’s isolation, (2) finding alternatives to the drug war and (3) ending the occupation of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. Further, we can see that the ALBA countries are not a fringe group and have important ties to leftist political parties in the entire region, as well as the governments of Argentina and Brazil.
Below is a translation of the full Lula endorsement of Maduro:
During the eight years I served as President of Brazil, I had the opportunity to spend time with Nicolás Maduro, then Minister of External Relations for Venezuela. Maduro brilliantly distinguished himself by fighting to protect Venezuela in the world, and in the construction of a more democratic and mutually supportive Latin America. He played a decisive role in the formation of UNASUR and CELAC, and his profound affinity for our friend Hugo Chávez was always apparent. The two of them shared the same ideas about our continent’s destiny and the big problems of the world. Chávez and Maduro thought the same way about the challenge facing Venezuela, in defense of the poorest.
Chávez’s life’s work was to transform Venezuela into a more just country, realizing a massive transfer of oil profits to benefit the social strata that were suffering the most. Nevertheless, Chávez, just like Maduro, always was clear that Venezuela needed to escape what many call the “resource curse,” which is why they and Maduro attached importance to the need to industrialize the country and develop its agriculture. We walk together in that direction, and I’m sure that as president, Maduro will be able to fulfill this goal set out by Chávez.
The decision of picking a new president belongs exclusively to the Venezuelan people. I do not want to interfere in an issue internal to Venezuela, but I cannot help giving my testimony in the name of the future of a country so beloved by the Brazilian people, and also in the name of MERCOSUR, into which Venezuela has just been welcomed. One phrase sums it all up: Maduro as President; that is the Venezuela Chávez dreamed of.