Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heaped praise on Venezuela’s embattled socialist leader Monday as political and economic ties between the two countries blossom.

Erdogan took the stage with President Nicolas Maduro in the first visit by a Turkish leader to Venezuela. He stopped in Caracas after attending the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

The Turkish president said Venezuela’s government has been unfairly hit by international sanctions amid its economic crisis, punishing an entire nation.

The United States and several European nations have sanctioned Maduro’s administration in an attempt to pressure Venezuela into making a return to democratic ways.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro receives Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Erdogan is on a one-day official visit to the country. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro receives Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Erdogan is on a one-day official visit to the country. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Erdogan vowed to offer help for Venezuela and he praised Maduro, contrasting the Venezuelan against other world leaders whom he said espouse divisive sentiments.

“I think Mr. Maduro’s exemplary attitude is very valuable at a time when enmity toward Islam has risen and Western countries are stoking hostility toward foreigners,” Erdogan said.

Figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute say that in the first nine months of the year, Turkey bought $900 million in gold mined in Venezuela — revenue that has helped replace the government’s crashing oil revenues.

En esta foto divulgada por la oficina de prensa del Palacio de Miraflores se ve al vicepresidente venezolano de Economía, Tareck El Aissami, a la izquierda; a la vicepresidenta venezolana Delcy Rodríguez, y al presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, durante una ceremonia para colocar una ofrenda floral en honor al héroe independentista Simón Bolívar en el Panteón Nacional en Caracas, el lunes 3 de diciembre de 2018. (Oficina de Prensa de Miraflores, vía AP)
En esta foto divulgada por la oficina de prensa del Palacio de Miraflores se ve al vicepresidente venezolano de Economía, Tareck El Aissami, a la izquierda; a la vicepresidenta venezolana Delcy Rodríguez, y al presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, durante una ceremonia para colocar una ofrenda floral en honor al héroe independentista Simón Bolívar en el Panteón Nacional en Caracas, el lunes 3 de diciembre de 2018. (Oficina de Prensa de Miraflores, vía AP)

That marks a dramatic increase in trade between the two countries, which totaled just $84 million in 2016, officials said.

Maduro said the two countries will build on the economic and diplomatic foundations, signing more accords during Erdogan’s visit.

Earlier this year, Maduro drew the ire of critics during a stop-over in Turkey, when he dined at an exclusive steakhouse in Istanbul.

Video clips on social media went viral showing Maduro eating prime meat, smoking a cigar and posing for photos with the restaurant’s flamboyant celebrity chef while people back home struggle with widespread food shortages.

Source: The Associated Press