By Alonso Soto and Rodrigo Viga Gaier
BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s government has halted exports of tear gas for use in Venezuela due to violent repression of protests there, two sources familiar with the decision said on Monday, a move that added to the diplomatic isolation of Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro.
Brazil’s Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Relations made the joint decision in response to appeals by the Venezuelan opposition, the sources said.
The Defense Ministry said on Friday that Rio de Janeiro-based Condor Tecnologias Não-Letais had not shipped tear gas canisters to Venezuela’s armed forces as negotiated in April, without giving a reason.
Condor confirmed on Friday that it had two active contracts in Venezuela, but declined to comment on specific shipments.
The company and ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
The involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Relations underscores the role of diplomacy in the decision, as Brazil’s armed forces usually take responsibility for licensing the export of “controlled products” such as the stun grenades, rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas made by Condor.
“The (Brazilian) government decided to accept the opposition’s request because there’s a massacre in Venezuela,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity to speak freely. The other source, a senior government official, said export of other crowd control equipment would also be denied.
Anti-government protests in Venezuela have drawn huge crowds over the past two months decrying food shortages, denouncing Maduro and demanding general elections. At least 72 people have died, with victims including government and opposition supporters, bystanders and security forces.
Maduro accuses his foes of a violent, right-wing “fascist” conspiracy seeking a coup similar to the brief 2002 toppling of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles hailed the blocked Brazilian tear gas as evidence that few countries are willing to provide Maduro with riot gear to control the demonstrations.
“(Brazil) did absolutely the correct thing in denying permission for the shipment,” Capriles told Reuters. “We’re working on the others … The only (holdout) seems to be China.”
Condor has drawn attention to Brazil’s export policies in recent years after its products were used to suppress protests in countries from Turkey to Bahrein.
The company said on Friday it did not make political judgments about its clients and warned that blocking its exports “could have dramatic consequences, since there may be no alternative for security forces other than using firearms.”
(Reporting by Alonso Soto in Brasilia and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Corina Rodriguez and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Alonso Soto in Brasilia; Writing and additional reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by David Gregorio)