The thorny path of Brazilian diplomacy: From seeking a peace deal in Ukraine to restoring Nicolás Maduro’s image

To the chagrin of the West, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva strongly defends his own position, whether that be on Venezuela or China

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (r) shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasília, on Monday.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (r) shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasília, on Monday.Associated Press/LaPresse
Naiara Galarraga Gortázar

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is receiving 11 of his 12 South American counterparts in Brasília on Tuesday. He has summoned them for a frank and informal conversation on how to strengthen the integration of the Southern Cone despite their ideological differences.

But Venezuela and its insertion in the region is threatening to monopolize the debate. Lula has kept his promise to bring Brazil back to the international stage, but — to the chagrin of Western diplomacy — he insists on defending his own position. In the five months in which he has held office, this position has often clashed with the West’s.

Brazil boasts of being a non-aligned country. For this reason, in addition to its policy of non-interference, its support for peaceful solutions to conflict and the fact that it is a mid-weight power, the president of Brazil has the privilege of delivering the first speech to the United Nations General Assembly. This has been the case since the organization’s founding in 1947 up until today.

But being a non-aligned country is increasingly difficult in a world of growing complexity and interconnectedness. One only need look at the balancing acts Brazil, and other non-aligned countries, have had to perform in order to avoid choosing sides in conflicts such as the U.S.-China standoff or the war in Ukraine.

Here is an overview of Brazil’s position on some of the main international issues under Lula:

Venezuela and Maduro

For Lula, restoring the relationship with Chavist Venezuela, which was broken by his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, has been a priority. Shortly after taking office, Lula sent Brazilian diplomat Celso Amorim to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. Amorim was Lula’s foreign minister during the president’s first terms in office, and now, at 80, he is his main foreign policy advisor. Amorim met with Maduro and representatives of the opposition. The two countries reopened their respective embassies and welcomed back ambassadors.

When receiving Maduro in Brasília on Monday, Lula avoided mentioning the human rights violations in the country, which have been confirmed by the U.N. Instead, the Brazilian president largely embraced the state argument that the crisis in Venezuela is due to a U.S.-led offensive, going so far to say that “sanctions are worse than a war.”


Brazil condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the U.N, but refused to support Western sanctions against Moscow or send arms to Ukraine. Some of Lula’s statements have also been criticized, such as his comment that the U.S. and the European Union were prolonging the war, which, to make matters worse, was said after Lula visited China and before he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Brasília. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded by accusing Lula of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda.” After the backlash, Lula clarified the statement.

Last week, Lula declined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to visit Russia, which was made during a phone call. “I thanked him for an invitation to go to the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg and replied that I cannot go to Russia at this time, but reiterated Brazil’s willingness, together with India, Indonesia, and China, to talk to both sides of the conflict in search of peace,” he wrote in a message on Twitter. But despite investing his diplomatic capital in the issue, Lula’s plan to have non-aligned countries negotiate a peace deal has still not taken off.

Lula has also turned down repeated invitations to visit Kyiv, although he sent Amorim to both the Ukrainian and Russian capitals. The Brazilian president was displeased that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended the recent G7 summit in Japan, and dominated the talks. Zelenskiy and Lula did not hold any bilateral meeting.


The Asian giant has been Brazil’s main trading partner for a decade after it overtook the U.S., which had held the position for almost a century. Although Lula visited Washington before Beijing, his trip to the United States was shorter and more low-profile. “We hope that Brazil-China relations can go beyond trade,” Lula told Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing. Lula also proposed joining forces with China to build a “just and equitable international order.” Brazil, like its South American neighbors, is trying to find common ground with China, but the task is becoming increasingly difficult.


Nicaragua is a hot spot on the American continent. But the repression of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega has received little comment from Lula, who often shields himself behind the principle of non-interference established in the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. Brazil took weeks to break its silence on Ortega’s decision to exile 222 political prisoners and confiscate the property of government opponents. Lula, along with the leaders of 55 countries, refused to back a U.N. report accusing Ortega of crimes against humanity, and instead called for negotiations with Nicaragua. Lula likes to say that every country follows its own model of government, and that it’s not up to him or Brazil to give lessons to other nations. Brazil’s diplomats are used to talking more about interests than common values.

El Salvador

Lula has also not commented on Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s war against gangs, which has weakened the Mara Salvatrucha criminal organization at the cost of imprisoning hundreds of innocent people. Human rights organizations say that thousands of inmates are being subjected to serious human rights abuses.

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