Can Venezuela Actually Join BRICS+?

Maduro recently visited China, emphasizing his desire to have Venezuela join BRICS+. Can a cuasi-failed state like Venezuela actually join?

“We are in the century in which hegemonies and imperialisms end,” Nicolás Maduro said during his recent visit to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, “This is the century in which a new world, a multipolar world, a pluricentral world for peace and cooperation is born.” Maduro’s speech, in the midst of a visit to Venezuela’s most important creditor, emphasized another motivation for the trip to China: Venezuela’s request to join BRICS+.

BRICS is not just a witty acronym for a group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Established in 2006, BRICS has long been regarded as a potential counterweight to the dominance of the United States on the global stage. Originally aimed to facilitate economic cooperation among its members, its scope has broadened to encompass political coordination and joint efforts on various international issues. In fact,  BRICS’ main selling point across the globe is the idea of a “multipolar” world: a narrative that has struck a chord in the Global South, tapping into a historical yearning for a more balanced global power structure. Recently, the group expanded to include six new members from South America, Africa and the Middle East—Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Ethiopia, Argentina and Egypt—and renamed itself as BRICS+. Although Venezuela officially submitted its request to join BRICS+ on August 3rd, the country isn’t among the new members. 

Venezuela is seeking to join BRICS+ for multiple reasons. First, BRICS’ narrative resonates perfectly with Miraflores, considering that not only the anti-imperialist trope has been the bedrock of Venezuelan foreign policy from an ideological point of view for the past 24 years. More importantly, three of BRICS’ five members—Brazil, Russia and China—are close to the Chavista administrations. No wonder Venezuela wants to join its buddies: and have access to money, trade, and—above all—survival.

Srdja Popovic, a Serbian activist who chairs a center on nonviolent protests at the Harvard Kennedy School, coined the term “Maduro model” to denote a model in which an autocrat is willing to pay the price of economic collapse, isolation and mass poverty in order to stay in power. Thus, BRICS provides an ideal framework from an international standpoint to perpetuate said model (and thus, the regime’s survival) because being an international pariah is not an issue to Miraflores, as it isn’t for the Kremlin or Tehran.

Most, if not all, of Venezuela’s international trade ventures of the last five years have had the swerving of US and EU economic sanctions as its building block. In this sense, de-dollarization—one of BRICS’ main talking points—falls into Miraflores’s plans como anillo al dedo. Although the idea of BRICS+ generating a common currency is far-fetched, the ease of negotiating in a non-Western currency with ease can deepen the relationship of the “Bad Guys” (as Anne Applebaum named them) through their collective need for survival. The irony is not lost on the challenges related to using America’s currency when you can buy $1 hot dogs across Venezuela’s main cities.

Unlike other international groups, there is no straightforward process to enter BRICS+. To potentially join, Venezuela has not only to formally apply but also receive unanimous backing from all their members, which is completely possible nowadays after the recent change of government in Brazil. It is worth noting that the six new members of the group either have great or amicable relations with Miraflores.

While Venezuela’s disastrous economy and gargantuan debt might make BRICS+ members think twice before taking a cuasi-failed state into their fold, the stage is set for a potential transformation in the geopolitical dynamics of Latin America.

Notably, Miraflores has displayed a fervent interest in securing a BRICS+ membership. Across social media platforms, the government has used its social media machinery at full throttle by employing hashtags like #Renacimientodelsur alongside #BRICS during key events. Behind the propagation of these narratives are state-sponsored media outlets from the key suspects. RT, TeleSUR, and similar media have played a pivotal role in advocating for BRICS expansion and its inherent narratives of multipolarity and de-dollarization. 

But, can Venezuela actually join?

Although it is uncertain and Venezuela’s exclusion from the new cohort is telling, the conversations surrounding this possibility shed light on Miraflores’ aspiration and perpetuation of its model within the region’s shifting geopolitical landscape. While Venezuela’s disastrous economy and gargantuan debt might make BRICS+ members think twice before taking a cuasi-failed state into their fold, the stage is set for a potential transformation in the geopolitical dynamics of Latin America. And Venezuela’s sociopolitical disarray won’t necessarily be an impairment: Ethiopia, which recently joined BRICS+, just endured a two-year ethnic armed conflict and is sliding into a new civil war.

If there is a government that is an expert on reinventing itself regardless of consequences for its survival is Venezuela: even more so if Russia’s and China’s need to irk the United States could mean giving a financial and political backbone to such a reinvention. One thing is certain: the refreshment and renewal of the Maduro regime’s image on the international stage is in full swing. Let’s see if it will yield the results they want.