Brazil’s newly re-elected leader visited Venezuela on Monday in a show of support for his fellow leftist, President Hugo Chavez, who is himself campaigning for another term in a December 3 vote.
Chavez and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are probably the two most influential men in Latin American politics and have forged a solid relationship despite representing two sides of Latin America’s generally leftist tilt of recent years.
The presidents shook hands enthusiastically and laughed when Lula stepped out of his plane late on Sunday on his first foreign trip since re-election last month.
Chavez, who ordered the arrival to be broadcast live on all national TV stations, put his arm across Lula’s shoulders as they chatted at a red-carpet ceremony to greet each other’s diplomats.
Lula, a former labor union leader, pushes centrist economic policies that have cheered Wall Street and made him a comfortable partner for Washington. Chavez sells most of Venezuela’s oil to the United States but criticizes the superpower for meddling in the region and advocates hard-left socialism.
Lula will promote regional integration with Chavez by inaugurating a Brazilian-built bridge across the Orinoco River and overseeing work by the countries’ state oil companies exploring Venezuela’s vast reserves.
The visit helps blunt opposition criticism of Chavez – Cuba’s top ally – that he is out of touch with modern leaders and also provides the impression that his regional diplomacy is producing concrete economic results.