SAO PAULO (Reuters) - By leaving Venezuela under the cover of night and skipping a funeral ceremony for its late leader Hugo Chavez this week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was once again trying to chart out a more moderate brand of leftism and send a clear signal to investors and diplomats.
Rousseff began a delicate dance of mourning while also keeping a certain distance from Chavez’s legacy just hours after his death on Tuesday. In a speech, she expressed admiration for the socialist leader but also pointedly added that Brazil “did not entirely agree” with many of his hardline policies.
Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have over the past 10 years espoused a more pragmatic, business-friendly set of policies than Chavez, who was well-known for lashing out at Washington, expropriating companies and intimidating his political rivals.
Those close to Lula and Rousseff say they genuinely admired Chavez and his compassion for the poor, and both were emotionally devastated by his death from cancer at age 58.
However, both Brazilians also took numerous opportunities during the week to politely highlight disagreements with him - which officials said was a carefully crafted campaign to draw a distinction between Brazil and Venezuela in the eyes of the international community and business leaders.
“The simple message is: ‘We’re different,’” one Brazilian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Yes, we respect many things he did, and there is a shared cause. ... But Brazil is not the same as Venezuela.”
Such a message could bolster Brazil’s reputation as a leader among the Latin American governments that in recent years have embraced its more moderate leftism, marrying robust social policies with free-market principles such as strong property rights. Diplomats in Washington and Europe were also watching carefully at a time when Brazil is seeking more global influence and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Rousseff and Lula did travel to Caracas on Thursday and joined a long line of well-wishers who visited Chavez’s casket.
Rousseff also offered acting President Nicolas Maduro non-financial assistance in coming months if he wins an election to succeed Chavez, an official said. The offer included technicians from Brazil’s vaunted “My House, My Life” public housing program to help work on similar projects in Venezuela.
Nonetheless, both Rousseff and Lula departed Venezuela prior to a funeral ceremony on Friday that was attended by dignitaries from more than 30 countries, including some polarizing figures such as Cuban President Raul Castro and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Unlike Lula, who was close with Ahmadinejad, Rousseff has mostly avoided contact with the Iranian president since she took office in 2011 as her government has more firmly emphasized democracy and human rights in its relationships abroad.
A member of the Brazilian delegation sent a tweet on Friday shortly before sunrise saying their plane had just landed back in Brasilia.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was also absent from the Friday ceremony, although she attributed her early return to Buenos Aires to health reasons.
Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Eric Beech