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LATIN AMERICA | 07-01-2020 08:13

Fernández administration walks a fine line on Venezuela crisis

Complications from crisis in Venezuela highlight president's delicate balancing act over an issue that is splitting Latin America’s political allegiances.

Argentina’s new government is trying to walk a fine line on its policy toward Venezuela, distancing itself from the Lima Group that sees President Nicolás Maduro as a dictator, while at the some time condemning his assault on the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The administration of President Alberto Fernández on Sunday said the push by Maduro’s security forces to bar opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his backers from entering the National Assembly was “unacceptable” and “a new obstacle to the full functioning of the rule of law.”

Still, the Argentine government declined to sign a condemnatory statement by the Lima Group, the ad-hoc outfit created in 2017 by nations, including Argentina, seeking free elections in Venezuela.

This dual approach highlights Fernández’s delicate balancing act over a hotly debated issue that is splitting Latin America’s political allegiances.

As head of a left-leaning Peronist coalition, the president has signalled he is realigning the country’s foreign policy; in part by granting asylum to former Bolivian president Evo Morales and engaging with Maduro’s officials during his inauguration last month. At the same time, moving too close to a regime the Donald Trump administration is trying to remove may jeopardise US support in key economic negotiations for Argentina.

A senior Donald Trump administration official told Bloomberg News last month that sheltering Morales and engaging with the Venezuela regime crossed a red line and could cost Argentina backing for a new International Monetary Fund financial package and American investment in the nation’s vast shale oil and gas fields.

Fernandez is seeking a middle ground on Venezuela without upsetting Trump on the way, said Andrés Malamud, an Argentine political science professor at the University of Lisbon.

“By not signing together with the Lima Group he can bet on being a moderator,” he said by message. “Argentina needs Trump’s support to renegotiate its debt.”

Argentina’s new government doesn’t recognise Guaidó as Venezuela’s president and also doesn’t consider Maduro a dictator, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News.

The Lima Group communiqué, signed by nations including Brazil and Canada, described Maduro’s government as a dictatorship, something the Fernández administration wasn’t ready to support, the person said, declining to be identified because the discussions are not public.

Argentina wasn’t the only left-leaning country to condemn Maduro’s move that led to Luis Parra, a deputy ensnared in a corruption scandal, declaring himself the new leader of the chamber on Sunday.

Uruguay, which also doesn’t consider Maduro a dictator, said his government’s attitude “seriously damages” the efforts to find a solution to the Venezuelan crisis. And while refraining to condemn the situation, Mexico called for the democratic process to be followed in the National Assembly vote.

by Jorgelina do Rosario, Bloomberg

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