Maduro Like Bolsonaro? Lula's Double Standard On Democracy
Brazilian President Lula da Silva's goodwill toward the Venezuela's President Maduro, in spite of the signs Maduro might hijack the 2024 general elections, suggests Lula has a problem with Western-style liberal democracy, even after he has criticized his predecessor for the same thing.
In Venezuela, authorities slapped a 15-year ban on María Corina Machado, a former legislator and a favorite to unite the opposition in the general elections scheduled for 2024. She was thought to have a good chance of stopping President Nicolás Maduro's new attempt at reelection.
Our great Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges observed, a little ironically, that history loves symmetry, though in this case the coincidence is, frankly, haphazard. The big difference between the disqualifications is that in Brazil, the judiciary acted against Bolsonaro in a country where the due process of law, and thus personal rights and pertinent evidence, are respected.
Venezuela, which the Left has governed for 20 years with a mix of iffy elections and brazen shenanigans, emulated its friend and ally, Nicaragua, which is excluding all opposition from politics to ensure the regime's perpetuation in power. The ban on Machado – a member of the Vente Venezuela (Come On Venezuela) party – was political, though clear reasons were not given. In Brazil, the judiciary was doing its job, while in Venezuela, despotism was briskly at work.
This coincidental tale of two cities is interesting for exposing the enduring immaturity and contradictions that afflict our region. For while Lula welcomed the triumph of legality in Brazil, he decided, perniciously, to side with the Bolivarian state and against the law in Venezuela, by keeping quiet about Machado.
Just last May, he cheerfully hugged Maduro at a summit in Brasília, welcoming him back into the regional fold and declaring his faith in Maduro's democratic credentials. Charges against Venezuela's rights violations were part of a "hostile narrative," he said then, regardless of all the reports on unjustified jailings and informal prisons.
He has gone further now, comparing those who challenge the legitimacy of Maduro's 2018 reelection, with the crowd of Bolsonaro supporters who stormed public buildings in Brasília on Jan. 8. "Didn't we have a citizen here who wouldn't accept the electoral results," Lula asked most recently, "didn't we have a little man who tried to carry out a coup on January 8? Some people just won't accept election results."
The president's vision of events is not entirely sound in structure. When he was taken to court for suspected involvement in acts of corruption, he claimed it was a bid to prevent him from running in the 2018 presidential elections. His supporters insist he would have won those elections, in spite of the economic wreck left by his successor, Dilma Rousseff. It wouldn't be far-fetched to say Maduro is doing the same with Machado, though without the legal rituals of the Brazilian prosecutor Sergio Moro, all of which were revoked by the supreme court.
Today, legitimacy is the fruit of fundamental, democratic values
Has Lula kept quiet about Machado simply because she is a liberal, not a socialist, or is his bombastic support for regional socialism an awkward bid to distract from the spending cuts the state of the budget will impose on him? Is he doing all this for ideology's sake, or simply to dissociate himself from Bolsonaro's hatred of the Venezuelan regime?
Sources from the Worker's Party have said his warm words for the ruler of Venezuela had been misconstrued. What they were in fact, they say, was a bid through visible respect and cordiality to inspire that leader to rise to the same level and push his country back onto the path of democratic governance.
The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, embracing the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
It was a hint then, or part of a subtle strategy. Maduro missed both in any case, as the warm embrace in Brasília did nothing to soften him. Upon returning home, he ordered a clean-out of the National Electoral Council, sacking all opposition directors and handing the authority over to his power-broking wife Cilia. The barely-legal ban on Machado followed soon after, effectively removing, for now, the prospect of a free and fair election next year.
Venezuela may become Lula's weakness. Government sources have told me he has ignored the colleagues and friends who have advised him to steer clear of the Venezuelan quagmire, as it could drain political capital. Indeed, he has rattled nerves further by observing that "democracy is a relative concept."
He used to say that his prosecution and efforts to exclude him from front-line politics were harmful to Brazilian democracy, and recently asked, where were his present critics when his rights were being violated?
He is resentful over his imprisonment then, and rancor (holding a grudge) may have blinded him to the fact that today, legitimacy is the fruit of fundamental, democratic values. These are not relative and cannot be reduced to appearances — like the sham elections held in many states — wherein reason is subjected to cynical opportunism.
Socialism is not an alibi
Machado recently told Clarín she may, in time, publicly urge the Brazilian president and other leftist presidents to act on their pledge (made last April in Bogotá) to pressure "their friend" Maduro to assure free and fair elections. She has said she would not obey the ban, and will thus need all the backing she can get in the fight to prevent Maduro from perpetuating himself in power.
By now, these leaders should have understood the dead weight of populist methods. Socialism shouldn't be used as an alibi to defend rights abuses, as Chile's President Gabriel Boric, a critic of Venezuela, has said.
Lula has clumsily nuanced his neutral posture over the ban, recently telling Argentina's President Fernández at the Mercosur summit, "we're not hiding Venezuela's problems," but that he wasn't entirely familiar with details of the Machado affair and in any case, "you cannot count some people's shortcomings but not those of others."
One wonders whether Lula is uncomfortable with liberal democracy. It is a matter of conviction, not of "knowing the details."
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