Brazil backs Trump and blames Cuba for Venezuela’s problems

The new foreign minister of Brazil joined the Trump administration blaming Cuban forces for propping up Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and called on Russia to join developed nations in backing an interim government to change in the oil-rich South American nation.

Ernesto Araújo, who has been installed as the top diplomat of Brazil, said Thursday during a visit to Washington that Maduro probably wouldn’t be in power if he was not supported by Cuban forces in Venezuela.

“This is a big part of the problem,” Araújo said. “We totally agree that Cuba has a role, an unfortunate role in keeping Maduro’s dictatorship in power.”

It’s a significant development for South America’s biggest nation to throw such support behind the Trump administration on one of the more controversial aspects of its Venezuela policy.

In recent months, since the arrival of National Security Advisor John Bolton, the White House has been aggressively reshaping Venezuela policy with an eye toward Cuba, or as some put it, the “Cubanization of Venezuela policy.”

But the administration has also come under criticism for risking isolating the United States by going after the small island nation in the Caribbean.

In Brazil’s new right-wing government, the Trump administration has an important ally at a crucial time. Brazil carries great economic and political influence in the region as one of the most important trading partners.

Araújo also met with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., who has worked closely with Trump on Latin American policy, to address the fight against Maduro and Cuba’s role.

“We also discussed the destabilizing role the Cuban regime plays, as it continues to protect Maduro and his thugs,” Rubio said.

Some worry the Trump administration’s increased attention toward Cuba risks fracturing a delicate international coalition administration officials worked so hard to build.

Brazil has historically taken a neutral position in the longstanding U.S.-Cuba dispute. The left-leaning Workers Party began to embrace Cuba late last decade, while pushing it to open up. Under President Jair Bolsonaro, the foreign policy of Latin America’s largest country appears to be shifting closer to the U.S. viewpoint.

Bolsonaro came to power in a fashion similar to Donald Trump, with his countrymen angry at the political class. And Araújo said Brazil seeks “a new bilateral engagement.”

And that includes pressure on Venezuela and Cuba, allies who for decades have counted on Brazil keeping distance from U.S. goals in the region.

Five years ago, Latin American opposition to U.S. sanctions on Cuba left President Barack Obama isolated at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

But Fernando Carrera, Guatemala’s foreign minister in 2013 and 2014 and attended the summit, said times have changed. He doesn’t expect the Trump administration to be so publicly scolded like the Obama administration had been, but he said Trump shouldn’t expect regional government to slap their own sanctions on the Havana government.

Carrera said as the narrative of the Trump administration is about Venezuela and other authoritarian government in Nicaragua, Trump will continue to get the region’s support.

But Carrera said the Trump administration will raise questions if the administration focuses on Cuba instead of Nicaragua next.

“It’s not that people in Latin America admire or like to emulate Cuba at all,” Carrera said. “There is a wide consensus that it is a dictatorship and a failed economic system. What happens is we don’t believe Cuba is creating trouble. It’s as simple as that.”

Araújo said its important for countries such as Cuba and Russia who still support Maduro to realize “there is no hope for the people of Venezuela outside of a democratic transition.”

“Anything that gives one more day for Maduro means more suffering, means more starvation, more lack of services and more desperation for Venezuelans,” Araújo said.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.