Brazil leads international support for Chavez

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 09, 2013 22:15 hrs

Brazil and several other South American nations rallied behind Venezuela's decision to defer the inauguration of ailing leader Hugo Chavez, with the presidents of Uruguay and Bolivia and Haiti's prime minister traveling to Caracas on Wednesday in a show of support.

But some regional neighbors, including Chile, joined the European Union and the United States in steering clear of the legal debate over the swearing-in, which had been scheduled for Thursday.

The 58-year-old Chavez in December underwent a fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba, where he remains. His supporters have postponed his inauguration for a new presidential term, while an opposition coalition argues that the delay violates Venezuela's constitution.

Brazil's backing as a regional power is especially important as Venezuela tries to manage its political future, said Adam Isacson, of the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S. think tank.

"Brazil has a record of saying 'no' to Venezuela, of being independent," said Isacson. So when Brazil offers its support, "it really counts, it's not a knee-jerk" reaction, Isacson said.

Marco Aurelio Garcia, the top international affairs adviser to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, visited Havana on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, meeting with Cuban authorities and Venezuelan Vice president Nicolas Maduro, but not with Chavez himself.

Garcia has said that what he heard in Cuba, and found in additional research, convinced him that the Venezuelan constitution makes provisions for deferring a presidential inauguration if the elected leader cannot attend.

He made it clear that the Brazil was not worried about the situation.

"The Brazilian government, Mercosur and Unasur would be concerned if there were a process of instability in Venezuela, in which there was a disruption of order," Garcia said, referring to South America's major trade blocs.

Chavez's strongest support comes from fellow leftist Latin American leaders and governments that rely on Venezuela for support.

Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla known for his modest living and for espousing the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage and abortion rights, traveled to Caracas in a show of solidarity both as Uruguay's president and pro tempore head of Mercosur.

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe were also traveling to the Venezuelan capital. They and Mujica were expected to attend a gathering of Chavez supporters at the presidential palace Thursday.

Like other Caribbean and Central American countries, Haiti benefits from Petrocaribe, a Venezuelan program that supplies fuel and allows the nations to pay part of the bill with goods such as rice and beans rather than cash. Haiti welcomes the aid because it has fewer conditions than that imposed by the U.S. and other donors.

"They helped us after the (2012) floods. They sent over 600 tons of food just recently. They are helping us every day with Petrocaribe," Lamothe said before boarding his flight to Venezuela. "We're going there to pay tribute to their people and of course show solidarity with the Venezuelan people."

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez on Wednesday sent Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to Caracas to express her nation's "explicit support" of the Venezuelan government and its people "in this moment when all of Latin America is united in wishing the best for the healthy recovery" of Chavez. Fernandez announced that on Friday she would make her own trip to Havana, where she hopes to meet with Chavez.

Argentina has maintained close ties with Venezuela since the economic crisis of 2001 when Chavez began buying Argentine bonds. Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, considered the move an act of solidarity.

The United States government has kept clear of the legal debate.

"This is a decision that has to be made by Venezuelans for Venezuelans," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. "This is something that very much has to be consensual, has to be agreed, has to be transparent as it moves forward, but it's not a decision for us to make. It's for Venezuelans to make."

Still, with Chavez possibly in his last days after 14 years of championing a Latin America free of U.S. influence, there might be an opportunity for improving relations between the two nations, she said.

The European Union, which usually withholds opinions on internal matters even among its members, was also neutral on Venezuela. The EU praised the country's commitment to democracy and noted only that "it is important that the constitution is respected and interpreted correctly, and that an orderly form of government is preserved," according to a statement from Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Spain, which has strong economic ties but a roller coaster political relationship with Venezuela, has kept mum, with no official pronouncements on Chavez's health or the continuity of his mandate.

With unemployment at 25 percent and no economic rebound in sight for Spain, "political debates take the back burner," said Martin Santivanez, an international relations expert at the University of Navarra. "They're waiting for the situation to define itself based on the health of President Chavez before refining their conversations and relations with Venezuela."


Associated Press writers Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Bradley Klapper in Washington; Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil; Jorge Sainz in Madrid; Pablo Fernandez in Montevideo, Uruguay; Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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