Brazil pledges staunch support for Venezuelan opposition leader


Brazil’s president on Thursday received the leader of Venezuela’s opposition and vowed that his government would continue to support efforts to bring about political change in that oil-rich country.

In a joint statement after a private meeting, Jair Bolsonaro said Juan Guaido, regarded as Venezuela’s interim president by Brazil and around 50 other countries, represents the hope of the Venezuelan people for a return to “democracy and freedom.”

“Sometimes we ask ourselves how a wealthy and prosperous country, with wonderful people, can plunge into chaos,” Bolsonaro said of Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves.

The rightist president blamed the situation on “that left that poor people like so much” but which he said ends up creating more poverty.

Brazil “was on a similar path, but the people woke up” in last year’s presidential election and said no to that populism and cheap demagoguery that leads to where Venezuela is now,” Bolsonaro said.

He was referring to the center-left Workers’ Party of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva , who was the front-runner in last October’s balloting until being barred from competing due to a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.

Guaido arrived in Brasilia on Thursday morning from Colombia, having traveled to that neighboring country in defiance of a travel ban.

The speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly (unicameral legislature), who says leftist President Nicolas Maduro ‘s re-election victory last year was fraudulent and proclaimed himself acting president on Jan. 23, was recently barred from leaving Venezuela as part of a probe into his alleged role in “serious crimes that threaten the constitutional order.”

While in Colombia, he led an operation last Saturday aimed at delivering humanitarian aid from the border town of Cucuta into Venezuela, which is suffering from severe food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation.

Maduro has rejected the aid, saying it is a Trojan horse and that he would be paving the way for a United States-led military intervention by letting it enter from either Colombia or Brazil.

Maduro also says economic warfare by the US, including a recent move to impose crippling sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, is to blame for the country’s economic problems.

Guaido, who has indicated that he plans to return to Venezuela this week, said after his meeting with Bolsonaro that the struggle in his homeland can only be characterized as one “between democracy and dictatorship.”

Rejecting the notion that Venezuelans face a choice between “war and peace” or “between one ideology or another,” he said Maduro has lost the support of ordinary Venezuelans and is being propped up by the military.

“The Maduro regime is so weak that all it has left are arms. Imagine that regime without weapons. We’d already have taken the step toward free elections,” Guaido said.

While the US, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Canada and several of the largest European countries - save Italy - all recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim head of state, Russia, China and India are among the dozens of nations that regard Maduro as the legitimate president.

Opposition to Maduro has been seen in large anti-government demonstrations this year in Venezuela, but pro-government rallies also have occurred, including one on Wednesday in Caracas (to commemorate a 30-year-old deadly uprising) that drew thousands of people.