Andres Oppenheimer

Brazil stands up to Cuba, Venezuela

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer speaks during a meeting with trade unions, on the government's proposal for Social Security reform, at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia on May 16.
Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer speaks during a meeting with trade unions, on the government's proposal for Social Security reform, at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia on May 16. AP

When I first read that Cuba and Venezuela are leading a diplomatic offensive against Brazil following the constitutional ouster of suspended leftist president Dilma Rousseff and the transfer of power to interim president Michel Temer, my first reaction was that it was a joke.

It’s certainly ironic that Cuba — a dictatorship that hasn’t allowed a free election, political parties or even one independent newspaper in more than five decades — even dares to criticize Brazil’s democracy over Rousseff’s suspension through a series of congressional steps in strict adherence to the Brazilian constitution.

And it’s just as ironic that Venezuela, which has become a de facto regime by refusing to accept the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s laws and by imprisoning opposition leaders, claims against all evidence that Rousseff’s suspension was a “right-wing coup.”

But, indeed, a May 15 story in Brazil’s daily O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that “Cuba is leading a campaign against Brazil,” citing an email sent by Cuba’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva to more than a dozen international institutions to protest against an alleged “legislative and judicial coup d’etat in Brazil.”

Hours later, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry issued a strong statement that “emphatically” denied the statements of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, “which allow themselves to opine and spread falsehoods.”

Curious about the clash between Brazil’s new government and leftist regimes that were close Rousseff allies, I called former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the architect of Brazil’s prosperity in recent decades and probably one of the most respected former presidents in Latin America.

Asked what’s behind the “coup” denunciations by Cuba and its allies, Cardoso told me that it’s most likely a defensive move, prompted by fear.

“Look, they either don’t have any idea of what’s happening in Brazil, or they have a very good idea, and are scared,” he told me, adding that two thirds of the Brazilian congress — including a sizable part of Rousseff’s coalition members — voted for her impeachment in a constitutional process that enjoyed widespread popular support.

“It’s probably a preventive reaction by Venezuela, Cuba and the others, for fears that things will change a lot” under the new government, he said, referring to Temer’s expected shift away from the previous government’s strong support for leftist regimes around the world.

Cardoso added that Cuba and Venezuela are supporting Rousseff’s narrative of an alleged “coup” in Brazil, which seeks to blame her downfall on an alleged right-wing conspiracy, rather than on her own government’s ineptitude, administrative paralysis and rampant corruption. “It’s a way to divert attention from reality and say ‘we were ousted by right-wingers,’ ” Cardoso said.

The former president, who is close to the new government, said that Cuba and its allies have nothing to fear in terms of diplomatic or commercial relations, except for a more assertive Brazilian stand to defend democracy and human rights across the hemisphere.

New Brazilian foreign minister Jose Serra is a progressive democrat who was forced into exile during Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, and who will react strongly “against those that try to meddle in Brazil’s internal politics without knowing the facts, and in support of one faction. That’s unacceptable,” Cardoso said.

Cardoso added that “Brazil’s new government will have a much firmer stand” on human rights and democracy issues in the region, in sharp contrast with Rousseff’s administration. “It will not accept situations of aggressions against democracy that [the previous government] failed to speak out against,” he added.

Asked whether the Temer government would support the Venezuelan opposition’s request that the Organization of American States invoke its democratic charter against the Venezuelan regime, Cardoso told me: “Without a doubt, Brazil’s government, to the best of my knowledge, will be more supportive of the use of the Democratic Charter.”

My opinion: There was no coup of any sort in Brazil, but a perfectly legal suspension of a president during an impeachment process, much like the one that was carried out against former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992.

What’s really outrageous in this Brazil vs. Cuba diplomatic clash is that some — although fortunately increasingly fewer — members of the international community are listening to Cuba’s and Venezuela’s lectures about Brazilian democracy, as if they had the moral authority to talk about it. The problem is not Brazil, which did not break the rule of law, but Cuba and Venezuela, which do it on a daily basis.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español