HOW should you deal with elected leaders who view their domestic opponents as agents of foreign powers and occasionally muse about invading their neighbours? Brazil has some experience of this question after ten years of the presidency of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Its answer has always been simple: hug them close. This week that approach was stretched a little further when Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was received in Brasília on a state visit.
Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, offered support for Iran’s work on nuclear technology for (supposedly) peaceful use. He also talked about Israel’s right to stay just where it is on the map, coexisting with a Palestinian state. Outside, protesters waved banners reminding Mr Ahmadinejad that the Holocaust had indeed taken place, and a debate on Brazil’s foreign policy began to blaze. “It is one thing to have diplomatic relations with dictatorships,” wrote José Serra, the governor of São Paulo state and (undeclared) front-runner for next year’s presidential election, in the Folha newspaper. “It is quite another to welcome their leaders into your house.”