Quick to Reject Maduro, Brazil Now Treads Softly on Venezuela

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil was among the first countries to recognize U.S.-backed National Assembly President Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader but it’s unlikely to add much more pressure to help oust Nicolas Maduro.

President Jair Bolsonaro is no fan of Maduro, yet he’s been constrained by economic interests, a long-held Brazilian tradition of non-intervention in other countries, and a dash of political savvy. That means his government is unlikely to offer anything much beyond humanitarian aid or words of support for Guaido.

Quick to Reject Maduro, Brazil Now Treads Softly on Venezuela

Take Brazil’s energy dependence. The country’s northernmost state, Roraima, is supplied by cheap hydroelectricity from Venezuela’s Guri dam. While Brazil has the thermoelectric capacity to supply Roraima, it comes at much higher cost -- an additional 684 million reais ($183 million) per year, according to the country’s electric energy agency.

“It’s hard for Brazil at this moment, especially due to budget problems, to disregard the energy that comes from the hydro plant of Guri,” Vice President Hamilton Mourao said in an interview from his office in Brasilia.

China Concern

There is also caution over a potential clash with China, which along with Russia has supported Maduro’s government. China is not only a major investor in Brazil’s power and logistical infrastructure but also the largest buyer of Brazilian commodities, from soy and iron ore to sugar and coffee.

“We are not exclusive suppliers of any of those. China knows how to play those games and they do it mercilessly,” said Mauricio Santoro, international relations and political science professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “If Brazil and China start getting hostile regarding Venezuela, it is easier for China to create problems for Brazil than the opposite.”

Increased intervention could also prompt the Maduro administration to fuel a mass emigration, like the Cuban boatlift in 1980, affecting primarily Colombia and Brazil, Santoro said.

Matter of Time

While Bolsonaro has upended Brazil’s foreign policy by abandoning neutrality for a pro-Washington stance, the policy of non-intervention has been sacrosanct for so long in Latin America that any covert mission by intelligence or military officials would be hard to swallow for many Brazilians.

Mourao, a four star general who was himself a military attache in Venezuela, believes it’s only a matter of time before the Maduro administration crumbles under economic sanctions and political pressure.

“The Maduro government is strangled. It’s like a house of cards, the same as the Berlin Wall," Mourao said. "At some point a group of military officials will stand up and the whole shebang will collapse."

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