Nicolás Maduro Hobnobs with World Leaders in Search of Legitimacy

At the UN climate summit in Egypt this week, Maduro exchanged pleasantries with Macron, shook hands with Kerry and lined up with other world leaders for a group picture

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, center, at the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
By Ezra Fieser and Nicolle Yapur
November 11, 2022 | 09:46 AM

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Bloomberg — For years, Nicolas Maduro stuck closely to the confines of the presidential palace in Caracas as the US isolated him abroad. This week, though, he roamed the UN climate summit in Egypt, gleefully approaching fellow presidents and posing for photos.

He exchanged pleasantries with French President Emmanuel Macron, shook hands with US envoy John Kerry and lined up with other world leaders for a group picture. Even though the State Department said the meeting with Kerry was not planned and that Maduro had interrupted other leaders at the event, Venezuela’s state media apparatus was quick to broadcast the encounters.

Once a persona non grata in international circles who the US and dozens of other nations tried to unseat by cutting off ties with his government and supporting his opponents, Maduro is using the images to project a sense of legitimacy on the diplomatic stage and normalcy at home.

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“The photo is a fundamental thing for Miraflores,” said Felix Arellano, professor of international relations at Central University in Venezuela, referring to the presidential palace. “They can manipulate it.”

Caracas can use the pictures, Arellano said, to portray a message of world acceptance for Maduro, even if Venezuela has no intention of giving up its political and ideological agenda to play by the rules of international organizations.

These days, the 59-year-old Maduro is more willing to venture out of Caracas and send his top aides to international events.

The trip to Egypt was the first time he attended a UN-sponsored event since 2018. Earlier this year, he visited a handful of countries in the Middle East and Europe to shore up ties with allies. Last month, he walked the streets of a small town in Venezuela that had been devastated by days of flooding, hugging residents and promising to rebuild their town.

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He’s dispatched one of his top deputies, National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez, to France to take part in the Paris Peace Forum that starts Friday. Macron’s government, which organizes the forum, had previously called Maduro a dictator and supported Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim leader.

Rodriguez tweeted several photos from the meeting Friday and said the path forward for Venezuela was based on dialogue, a suspension of sanctions and respect for the constitution.

‘Recognize Maduro’

Like many countries, France has distanced itself from Guaido. The US has lost most of its allies in the campaign it launched in 2019 to push out Maduro by recognizing Guaido. Today, only a handful of governments continue to back Guaido and Venezuelan opposition parties are split over whether to continue to support him at home.

“Many of the countries that once criticized the election are now shifting toward the left,” said Daniel Varnagy, a professor of political science at Simon Bolivar University. “And they recognize Maduro, validate him.”

Meanwhile, Maduro has held direct negotiations with officials from President Joe Biden’s administration. His government and members of the opposition are also expected to soon restart political negotiations in Mexico aimed at setting conditions for a presidential election in 2024, which could prompt Washington to begin easing some sanctions on its oil industry.

On his return to Caracas from Egypt, Maduro said the world is recognizing and respecting his administration.

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“Geopolitics moves in the hallways, some of which is seen and some of which is not seen,” he said. “What is seen says much about how the world is moving and the role Venezuela is called upon to play.”

--With assistance from Andreina Itriago Acosta

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