Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) greet each other after a joint press conference at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 29, 2023

Brasília (AFP) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is hosting his fellow South American leaders Tuesday for a “retreat” aimed at strengthening ties in a region where left-wing governments are newly back in style.

Eleven of the continent’s 12 heads of state are due to attend the summit in Brasilia – the first of its kind in nearly a decade – with only Peruvian President Dina Boluarte expected to miss it.

Veteran leftist Lula kicked things off Monday by meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, hailing the “historic” restoration of a relationship that was severed under his predecessor, far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil had cut diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government under Bolsonaro (2019-2022), who labeled the socialist leader a “dictator.”

“This is the start of Maduro’s return, and (Tuesday’s) meeting will be the return of South American integration,” Lula told a news conference, after greeting his Venezuelan counterpart at the presidential palace with a hug and a back-slap.

- ‘New pink tide’ -

Lula, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, is a self-declared fan of international cooperation and “regional integration,” which featured prominently in his first presidency, and is keen to reboot stalled South American ties.

This is the first summit of regional leaders since 2014 in Quito, Ecuador, at a gathering of UNASUR, a continental bloc launched in 2008 by Lula and late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

That was the moment of Latin America’s so-called “pink tide,” when a wave of left-wing governments led the region.

Now, some political analysts are talking of a “new pink tide” in South America, with the recent election of Lula in Brazil, Gabriel Boric in Chili and Gustavo Petro in Colombia.

Lula wants to get the region cooperating again.

His government has touted projects such as a “Bi-Oceanic Corridor,” a transportation artery to enable countries to ship goods from one side of the continent to the other overland instead of by sea.

The summit will be a small, “more relaxed” gathering, with only the leaders, their foreign ministers and select advisers in the room, a Brazilian diplomatic source told AFP.

- ‘Meeting itself good news’ -

“Groundbreaking visions” for South America’s future are unlikely to emerge from the summit, said international relations specialist Oliver Stuenkel.

But “the meeting itself is good news,” he wrote in Americas Quarterly.

“Even a basic dialogue between heads of state is genuine progress after Brazil largely retreated from its neighborhood during the Bolsonaro years,” he said.

Since Lula defeated Bolsonaro in a divisive election to return to office in January, he has been overhauling Brazil’s foreign policy, vowing to seek friendly relations across the board and cultivating closer ties with partners as disparate as China and US President Joe Biden’s administration.

But he has drawn attacks from opponents of being overly cozy with Russia, China and Latin American leftists such as Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, both accused of human rights violations.

He has also raised eyebrows at times in the West for comments such as his criticism of the United States and Europe for helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.