Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, made his first trip to Brazil in eight years on May 29. During his visit, he was received by the new Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of Brazil's Workers Party. This meeting took place prior to the celebration of a summit of Latin American leaders in Brasilia.
Lula said controversial statements about Maduro's governance, such as that Venezuela being under a dictatorship is a “narrative that has been constructed.” He also called Maduro’s visit a “historical moment” and claimed “there is a prejudice against Venezuela”. He also stated:
Eu vou em lugares que as pessoas nem sabem onde fica a Venezuela, mas sabe que a Venezuela tem problema na democracia. É preciso que você construa a sua narrativa e eu acho que, por tudo que conversamos, a sua narrativa vai ser infinitamente melhor do que a que eles têm contado contra você.
I go to places where people don’t even know where Venezuela is, but they know that Venezuela has a problem in its democracy. It’s necessary for you (Maduro) to build a narrative and I think, after all we talked, that your narrative will be infinitely better than the one that has been told about you.
Lula was harshly criticized for his comments, as he legitimized Venezuela's government despite widely reported human rights violations and flawed elections.
Venezuela is deemed authoritarian according to countless democracy watchdogs. The latest Economist’s democracy index ranked it the most authoritarian regime in Latin America. For international non-profit Freedom House, Venezuela is rated “not free.”
‘The authorities have closed off virtually all channels for political dissent, restricting civil liberties and prosecuting perceived opponents without regard for due process,” the Freedom House Report states. The Venezuelan state is also under investigation for crimes against humanity.
Lula's stance also brought criticism from other presidents in the region, among them Chilean leftist Gabriel Boric and the rightwing Uruguayan Luis Lacalle Pou. Boric said the current situation in Venezuela is not “a built-up narrative, but a reality, it’s serious” and remembered he had the chance to witness it personally. Lacalle Pou said he was “surprised” to hear the Venezuelan crisis being called “a narrative,” adding that the worst other nations could do “is to try to cover the sun with a finger.”
Among Brazilians, Lula’s declarations weren’t well received either, but he doubled down on them the following day. The non-profit Human Rights Watch published a dispatch addressing the Brazilian leader.
In it, they wrote:
Various world leaders have met with President Maduro in recent months and positioned themselves to play a mediating role in any negotiations toward the restoration of democracy. But by parroting the Maduro government’s talking points, President Lula aligned himself with Maduro’s authoritarian allies and missed a chance to help lead Venezuela out of a massive humanitarian and human rights crisis. (…) President Lula should pursue every chance to restore the leadership his ill-considered comments undermined and fulfill his promise to lead on human rights worldwide. The Venezuelan emergency and the migration crisis it has generated will continue to be an important topic whenever South American leaders meet.
Brazil felt the effects of Venezuela's humanitarian crisis over the last few years. Last March, the mark of 100,000 Venezuelans refugees and migrants entering the country was reached – people from Venezuela form the majority of asylum seekers in Brazil.
Lula’s predecessor, far-right Jair Bolsonaro, acknowledged Juan Guaidó as president, cut ties with Maduro, forbade his entrance into Brazil, and exploited the image of the humanitarian crisis in the neighbouring country to cause fear during his campaign on what could happen to Brazil if the leftist Workers’ Party was to win the 2022 elections. However, when Bolsonaro was a Congressman in 1999, he had praised Hugo Chávez as “a hope for Latin America” and had parallels with him during his presidential term.
Brazilian journalist João Paulo Charleaux tweeted about Lula's “alternative fact-making”:
É chocante ver o presidente do Brasil – seja ele quem for, não importa – dizendo que o problema da Venezuela é apenas de “narrativa”. Isso é uma fake news. É um “fato alternativo”. É o expediente que a extrema direita usou por tanto tempo para refutar a realidade.
— João Paulo Charleaux (@jpcharleaux) May 30, 2023
It’s shocking to watch Brazil’s president – whoever he is, it doesn’t matter – saying the problem with Venezuela is only a matter of “narrative.” That is “fake news.” That is “alternative fact.” It is the system used by the far right for so long to refute reality.
Many reacted furiously to Lula's comments on Venezuelan Twitter, where the most shared tweet showed a video of Lula expressing his controversial statements about constructed narratives.
Venezuelan journalist Victor Amaya questioned Lula's narrative with reported facts on recent events in Venezuela:
Narrativa: torturas, presos políticos, violación de la constitución, asalto a poderes públicos, supresión de la separación de poderes, inhabilitaciones políticas, fraudes electorales, acoso a disidentes, intervención de partidos, censura, opacidad, criminalización de opinión… https://t.co/5Rq1onbcQN
— Víctor Amaya (@victoramaya) May 29, 2023
Narrative: torture, political prisoners, violation of the constitution, assault on public authorities, suppression of the separation of powers, political disqualifications, electoral fraud, harassment of dissidents, the interference of political parties, censorship, opacity, criminalization of opinion…
Venezuelan human rights organization, Provea, asks Lula to respect the victims of Venezuelan state violence, while other NGOs took the opportunity to show their data and evidence of state persecution and human rights violations since Maduro came to power in 2014.
Sr. Lula, solo en este 2023 unas 8900 víctimas apoyaron abrumadoramente la reanudación de la Investigación por crímenes de lesa humanidad, Venezuela I, en la Corte Penal.
No es una “narrativa construida” es parte de un plan sistemático contra la población civil y disidente,… https://t.co/P7RUC906OG
— PROVEA (@_Provea) May 29, 2023
Mr. Lula, this 2023 alone some 8,900 victims overwhelmingly supported the resumption of the investigation for crimes against humanity, Venezuela I, at the Criminal Court.
It is not a “constructed narrative” it is part of a systematic plan against the civilian and dissident population, as alerted by the UN.
We ask respect for all victims, who deserve justice and reparation that the Venezuelan State does not give.