North Korea welcomed a delegation of Brazilian lawmakers this week to Pyongyang to reportedly discuss bilateral ties. Among those present was presidential candidate Sen. Fernando Collor de Mello.
The visit followed a turbulent month for North Korea’s foreign policy, as dictator Kim Jong-un prepared for a planned meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. The unprecedented meeting would follow a similar summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim’s first visit to South Korea, and an in-person meeting with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, Kim’s first trip abroad as head of state.
The communist nation’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identified Collor, the head of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committee, as the leader of the delegation, but did not specify why the group was there or what they discussed with North Korean officials.
“Kim Yong Nam, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, met and had a talk with a delegation of the Brazilian senators led by Fernando Collor,” KCNA reported Wednesday. The meeting reportedly occurred on Monday.
Kim Yong Nam, age 90, is technically the president of North Korea. In communist countries, the role of “president” is largely ceremonial compared to that of the head of the armed forces and the head of the Communist Party (in this case, the Korean Workers’ Party). Kim Jong-un holds the latter two titles, while Kim Yong-nam – like his analog in Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel – only holds the title of “president.” It is, nonetheless, a sign of respect on North Korea’s part to send Kim Yong-nam to meet with Brazilian legislators.
KCNA did not provide any other information on Wednesday.
The Brazilian Senate published a briefing on the meeting in Portuguese on Monday. The note identified the senators that made up the delegation as not being a “delegation,” but just two people: Collor and Sen. Pedro Chaves. Collor represents the Christian Workers’ Party (PTC) and Chaves, the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), both identified as “center-right” parties because of their pro-business stances.
According to the official Senate news site, the two lawmakers intended to discuss “Brazil’s ties to North Korea through an exchange between the Korean Parliament and the Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committee of the Senate.”
The report includes a quote from Chaves: “Brazil is one of the few countries of the world with an embassy in North Korea. A visit to the country at a moment so important as the summit of the Koreas is essential to strengthen commercial relations.”
Brazil established formal diplomatic ties to North Korea in 2001, according to the Brazilian embassy in Pyongyang’s website, but only opened an embassy in the country in 2009 due to logistical issues. The North Korean embassy in Brasilia opened in 2005. Brazil is the only country in the Americas that has diplomatic representation in both North and South Korea.
Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un were recently revealed to have illegally obtained Brazilian passports under pseudonyms to use for foreign travel without attracting scrutiny.
Cleiton Schenkel, charge d’affairs at the Pyongyang embassy, writes on the site, “The geographic distance between the countries does not mean that Brazil does not have immediate geopolitical interests in the region. This fact, tied to the international actions of Brazil based on constitutional principles, confer the country a possibility to contribute to peaceful solutions to conflict.”
Fernando Collor’s decision to visit the state comes amid a bizarre presidential run that has yet to take off. Collor announced his presidential ambitions in January but has done little campaigning. According to Datafolha’s most recent poll taken in mid-April, he receives about one percent support in October’s election. Collor was the first president in Brazil’s history to be impeached in 1992, and little evidence suggests Brazilians wish to give him a second chance.
Collor is also one of dozens of lawmakers under investigation for ties to a corruption scheme now known globally as “Operation Car Wash,” in which politicians used the state-run oil company, Petrobras, to demand kickbacks from overpaid private contractors. The frontrunner in the presidential election, leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence on charges also tied to Petrobras.
According to the Folha de Sao Paulo, at least 15 of the 20 possible Brazilian presidential candidates this year are facing criminal investigations or charges. The frontrunner not currently in prison, conservative Jair Bolsonaro, is not on the list. Folha notes that some public insults he has made have led to a probe for “statements that could be considered crimes.”