Venezuelan official ruffles feathers in Brazil

AP News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2014 2:31 PM
Venezuelan official ruffles feathers in Brazil

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan official's seemingly low-key visit to Brazil has drawn a rare rebuke from a staunch ally and prompted grumbling at home about privileges enjoyed by top government officers.

Brazil contacted Venezuelan diplomats on Wednesday to complain that the socialist country's former foreign minister, Elias Jaua, had met with a domestic activist group without providing any kind of heads up.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said the surprise visit was out of step with the excellent relations between the two countries, and could be interpreted as interference in internal affairs. Brazil does not require ministers to provide notification when they do work in the country, but it is considered good form.

The trip got off to a rocky start two weeks ago when Jaua's nanny was caught with a handgun as she arrived in Brazil on a plane owned by Venezuela's state oil company. She said the gun belonged to Jaua, who had arrived in Brazil a day earlier with his son and ill wife.

Jaua was Venezuela's foreign minister until this fall and remains in the cabinet as vice president for the development of socialism. He posted on his Twitter account that he had signed an agreement with Brazil's Landless Workers Movement, a group that advocates for land reform, and visited laboratories to discuss the supply of pharmaceuticals in shortage-plagued Venezuela.

The opposition is holding up the trip as proof that Venezuelan officials enjoy special privileges while most of the country suffers.

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who twice nearly unseated the ruling socialist party in elections, questioned why Jaua was using a government-owned plane to travel, given that he no longer holds a diplomatic post.

Government critics quickly found the nanny's Facebook page, which documented various trips she'd taken, presumably with the then-foreign minister. On social media, some called her the jet-setting, gun-toting nanny, and suggested she should get her own reality television show.

Others asserted that Jaua was traveling to Brazil to seek expensive medical treatment for his wife, and questioned how the family could afford an expensive stay in a first-class foreign hospital on a government salary. But a letter attributed to Jaua and posted to the governing party's website says the minister was traveling on official business when his wife unexpectedly fell ill. He said the nanny failed to remove the gun from his briefcase in the rush to get to Brazil.

The visit touched a nerve with government opponents in Brazil as well, where left-leaning incumbent Dilma Rousseff recently won a second presidential term, and critics are denouncing what they call the "Venezualization" of their country.

An opposition congressman has asked for a hearing on Jaua's visit, and Figueiredo is expected to testify on November 19.

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Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Sao Paulo.

Hannah Dreier on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier