BRASILIA Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro got strong backing from regional heavyweight Brazil on Thursday on a tour of South American allies to cement his legitimacy as political heir to the late Hugo Chavez.
The clear endorsement from the largest and most influential Latin American nation will strengthen Maduro's grip on power following his contested election in the oil-producing nation last month.
"We wish you great success with your presidential mandate and your government," Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said after a meeting in which she promised Venezuela food supplies, expanded trade and cooperation in the oil and gas sector.
Maduro announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will build a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. He said Brazil and Venezuela agreed to strengthen military ties.
Maduro met earlier with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose moderate leftist government backed Chavez's socialist revolution but did not share his anti-U.S. policies and rhetoric.
Rousseff said she offered Maduro the same level of close relations that she and Lula had with Chavez.
In private, though, Rousseff was expected to advise Maduro to tone down his aggressive rhetoric against his opponents for the sake of political stability, said a diplomat who was briefed ahead of the meeting.
Rousseff delivered a similar message to Maduro on the need to treat the opposition better at a regional meeting on the eve of his April 19 inauguration, the diplomat said. Following that meeting, Venezuela's electoral authority announced that it would conduct an audit of the election results, which is still underway.
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the April 14 vote to Maduro by less than two percentage points, insists the election was stolen and has demanded a full recount. He is now contesting the result in the nation's top court.
If there were any doubts about Maduro's legitimacy in Brasilia, they were not evident in public during his visit. Only four protesters stood outside the Planalto presidential palace, one carrying a sign that said: "Maduro: Presidente ilegitimo."
Maduro arrived in Brasilia from visiting the leaders of Uruguay and Argentina, which along with Brazil are members of the South American trade bloc that Venezuela joined last year.
While almost every nation in the Americas has recognized Maduro's election as Chavez's successor following the leftist leader's death from cancer in March, the region's nations are anxious to avoid Venezuela sinking into chaos.
Brazil has a commercial stake in the political and economic stability of its neighbor to the north: Venezuela is the second largest market after Argentina for Brazilian manufactured goods.
Industrial goods make up two-thirds of Brazilian exports to the Venezuelan market, handing Brazil a sizeable surplus in its trade with Venezuela that has expanded seven-fold in the last decade to $6 billion last year.
(Reporting by Peter Murphy, Brian Winter and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paul Simao)