Bad week for Venezuela's Maduro: Trump and Bolsonaro have a bromance
For Venezuela's dictator, Nicolas Maduro, this is not his best week.
President Trump today is reportedly set to make a major policy speech on Latin America, which could include new sanctions on his socialist regime, likely for thuggery, theft and drug dealing. He might even get mentioned for his role in instigating the Honduras migrant caravan to the U.S. border, given that the president of Honduras believes that he's the problem. The migrant caravan is likely to dominate the Trump speech. So maybe he doesn't get mentioned at all. But no matter which way it goes, it's going to give Maduro the creeps.
Then there's what may be an even bigger problem from him on his southern flank: The election of conservative populist "Tropical Trump" Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.
That one's a bad one. Bolsonaro has an absolute thing against communism, a lifelong abhorrence of the socialist plague, it's a subject that obsesses him, same way it obsessed Chile's Augusto Pinochet, a leader he admires. Bolsonaro wants that ruinous, tyrannical ideology gone.
Nice guy to have on your southern border as Venezuela's refugees flee (and sometimes cause problems) over to the other side.
It's not just that Bolsonaro is an opponent of socialism, however.
It's that his election signals the breakup of the Sao Paulo Forum. That's the community of far-left socialist parties that up until a few years ago, had a hammerlock on all Latin America. Their members ran Latin America's states and those leaders were Cuba's and Venezuela's and other Latin dictators' prime protectors as they demonized the U.S. and wrought havoc through the region. They're the reason the U.S. could never effectively counter the plague that was ruining Venezuela, because all they ever did was serve as its protection racket.
And Brazil in particular was a protector of Venezuela, and not just because it was socialist. Brazil, remember, is a big state. It's a potential rival to the U.S. Having a creepy little failed state such as Venezuela in the mix as a buffer state was always a good thing for checking Uncle Sam in the calculus of realpolitick. Anytime the U.S. wanted to condemn, or sanction, or blast Venezuela, or fortify its embattled smaller neighbors, Brazil was there to diplomatically at least, put the kibbosh on. Ever since the socialist Worker's Party took the helm in 2003, it's always been there to defend Venezuela for socialist reasons alone, but it went beyond that. Latin America's largest country has always happily enabled the Venezuelan mess both for Bismarckian checks on U.S. influence, and for socialism sympathy.
That's over. Now there's this "bromance" between Bolsonaro and President Trump, and it's a warm one. Trump reached out right away to the new Brazilian president-elect to congratulate him and here's Trump's tweet:
Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
The media is howling its disdain, but can you imagine how Maduro took that particular news?
No Sao Paulo Forum to back him up like the old days. No Brazil to back him for realpolitick reasons as he's always known. He's now the rotten meat between two huge pieces of fresh bread and one can only imagine how things will be rearranged. Trump is talking "military" cooperation with Bolsonaro, and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is having explicit talks about military cooperation and Venezuela. That has got to be concentrating his mind.
What's more, the Colombians have signaled, via the New York Times's Brazil bureau chief, that if Brazil wants to hose things out in Caracas, Colombia'll be right there with them to help out:
A Colombian government official tells @folha's @sylviacolombo that if Brazil under Bolsonaro decided to intervene militarily in Venezuela, Colombia would be right behind. What was unthinkable a year ago now seems conceivable. https://t.co/U7s7Ds5Nk7— Ernesto Londoño (@londonoe) October 29, 2018
For the record, Bolsonaro has said he doesn't want to invade Venezuela right now (someone asked) but experts cited say anything is possible in the future or in the planning. He may have nationalist realpolitick impulses to keep Venezuela as a check on the U.S., or he may just want to end the plague altogether, making common cause with pretty much ... everyone save the left, so the matter will be watched closely.
Maduro himself has tweeted a timid congratulations to Bolsonaro, larded up with a lot of fakey talk about brother-peoples and multi-polar worlds and mutual respect. Sounds like flop sweat.
Bottom line: the brutal dictatorship in Venezuela has just had the last pillar of its stool of support kicked out from under it with Bolsonaro's election, and now it sees its worst nightmare: it's two new big enemies getting together in a warm, unprecedented embrace. At a minimum, it's going to get very uncomfortable for Maduro and his vile and failing socialist regime.