Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met Monday with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, vowing a new era for a relationship that was severed under former leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Considered a pariah in some quarters for his socialist government's alleged human-rights violations, Maduro was welcomed by an honour guard at the presidential palace in Brasília, where veteran leftist Lula greeted him with a hug and a back-slap.
"Venezuela has always been an exceptional partner for Brazil. But because of the political situation and the mistakes that were made, President Maduro spent eight years without coming to Brazil," Lula told a press conference.
He announced that relations would be restored “fully” and criticised the “inexplicable" sanctions levelled against the nation.
Brazil cut diplomatic ties with the Maduro government under president Bolsonaro (2019-2022), joining the United States and about 50 other countries in recognising opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president after 2018 elections condemned by critics as a sham. Maduro last visited Brazil in 2015.
Lula has restored relations with Maduro's government since taking office in January – part of an overhaul of Brazil's Bolsonaro-era foreign policy.
The Brazilian president, who invited Maduro for a larger South American leaders' summit on Tuesday, called his visit a "new moment" in Brazil-Venezuela ties and "the start of Maduro's return" and “the return of South American integration.”
"I always thought it was absurd for people who defend democracy to deny you were Venezuela's president, having been elected by the people," Lula said, condemning "prejudice" against the neighbouring country's government.
"Compañero Maduro, you know the narrative that was built against Venezuela: that of anti-democracy, of authoritarianism. It is up to Venezuela to show its [own] narrative, so that people can change their minds," Lula claimed.
Maduro meanwhile hailed a "new era" in the countries' relations. "Brazil and Venezuela must be united, from now on and always," he said.
"Venezuela is ready for us to resume virtuous relations with Brazilian investors and businessmen," added the Venezuelan leader, who led talks on “energy, the environment, agriculture and industry."
The visit drew criticism from opponents.
"Brazil is back to welcoming South American dictators with state honours," opposition Senator Sergio Moro, Bolsonaro’s former justice minister, wrote on Twitter.
Lula, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, cultivated close ties with Maduro's predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).
Since returning to office, he has vowed to seek friendly relations with all countries across the board, cultivating closer ties with partners as disparate as China and US President Joe Biden's administration.
But he has drawn criticism at times in the West for appearing overly cosy with Russia and China and lashing out at the United States and Europe for backing Ukraine in its war with Russia.