Will Argentina mediate between the US and Venezuela?

20th February 2020

By Luciana Bertoia

Will Argentina mediate between the US and Venezuela?

Alberto Fernández’s Argentina has so far been backed by US President Donald Trump, and the latest developments suggest that he could be playing a role as mediator between the world’s largest superpower and its regional nemesis Venezuela, whose leadership is seen as more likely to trust negotiations with Argentina than with the United States.

</p> <p>In less than a week, both President Nicolás Maduro and National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó (who is recognized as the country&#8217;s legitimate leader by the US and others in the region) mentioned Argentina as a potential mediator to end the crisis in Venezuela and move towards elections.</p> <p>So far, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by Felipe Solá has not received a formal invitation to participate in a mediation, but the Fernández government is moving forward with negotiations that will allow it to take an independent stance. The government is willing to intervene if formally required (and has already done so informally), without creating any sparks with the United States.</p> <p>Fernández&#8217;s foreign policy is perhaps one of the marks that most distinguishes him from former president and current VP Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. His approach, generally seen as more pragmatic and less focused on ideologies, has led the country to remain on very good terms so far with the US, something which might have come as a surprise for many observers, who expected a sharp turn after Mauricio Macri&#8217;s exit from power.</p> <h2>Calls from both sides</h2> <p>Last Saturday, Guaidó <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2020/02/15/juan-guaido-argentina-puede-ser-clave-para-destrabar-la-crisis-en-venezuela-o-puede-recibir-a-maduro-como-hizo-con-evo-morales/">said</a> he was &#8220;sure that Argentina can help the dictatorship understand that the only alternative it has is to generate guarantees for a truly free presidential election. I believe that Argentina&#8217;s work can be key to, at some point, unblock the situation. Or they could end up receiving Maduro as they received Evo Morales.&#8221; Morales is currently in exile in Argentina after his violent ousting from government last year, as the sides try to negotiate new elections.</p> <p>Guaidó still took aim at Fernández de Kirchner, whom he described as being close to Hugo Chávez&#8217;s regime, but praised Fernández for condemning the attempts to oust him as National Assembly leader <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/01/09/venezuela-national-assembly-guaido-parra-maduro-cabello-argentina-mexico-uruguay">earlier this year</a>.</p> <p>A day earlier, Maduro revealed that Argentina was among the countries he contacted (together with Russia, Panama, Spain and Mexico) to mediate in the crisis that has been engulfing the country for years. Maduro said he was in favor of creating a consensus national electoral council before the parliamentary elections scheduled for this year.</p> <p>The Argentine administration does not seem to be interested in being classified as a &#8220;friendly country&#8221; of Venezuela, as Maduro called it, but neither does it want to follow the most belligerent positions of the United States or those of the <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/05/09/senator-pinedo-we-dont-want-a-military-solution-for-venezuelas-conflict">Lima Group</a>. However, the Fernández government has made it clear that it cannot abandon contact with either the US or the Lima Group, partly due to the need for US support in its ongoing debt negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Since the campaign, Fernández avoided referring to Venezuela as a dictatorship but said it was an authoritarian government.</p> <p>Sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Donald Trump&#8217;s administration already asked Fernández to mediate with the Maduro regime to improve the detention conditions of six executives from Citgo Petroleum Corporation, the US subsidiary of PDVSA. For the Argentine diplomats, this action was possible due to the dialogue Argentina maintains with the Maduro’s government. “They couldn’t have asked Jair Bolsonaro to carry such negotiations,” a source said.</p> <h2><strong>The different blocs</strong></h2> <p>Solá&#8217;s number two, Pablo Tettamanti, will participate today in the Lima Group summit in Canada. The group was created in August 2017 and maintains an anti-Maduro position, with Guaidó as one of its members. Argentina joined during the presidency of Mauricio Macri, who made his opposition to the Maduro regime a focus for explaining domestic policy. Fernández, who took office in December, decided not to leave the Lima Group, although he has not joined in its latest statements.</p> <p>Sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Solá travelled along with Juan Valle Raleigh, Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs. Although present, the Argentine delegation has instructions not to endorse economic sanctions or the recognition of Guaidó as the Venezuelan president.</p> <p>After Fernández&#8217;s <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/02/06/fernandez-takes-page-from-macri-playbook-european-tour-argentina-france-germany-italy-spain">tour around Europe</a>, the Argentine government decided to join the Contact Group, created in February 2019 by the European Union to address Venezuela&#8217;s political crisis. The Contact Group includes some European countries, such as Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as some Latin American nations, such as Ecuador, Costa Rica and Uruguay. Bolivia was part of it until December, when the provisional government decided to leave to join the Lima Group.</p> <p>According to <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2020/02/05/alberto-fernandez-y-emmanuel-macron-sellaron-una-alianza-geopolitica-que-supera-la-deuda-externa-y-el-fmi/">Infobae,</a> Fernández spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron about Venezuela and they agreed to strengthen the Contact Group. According to <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/club-amigos-alberto-fernandez-reparto-magistral-consejo_0_tXyBk1p9.html">Clarín,</a> it was Uruguayan Enrique Iglesias, former president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and special advisor to the European Union on Venezuela, who asked Fernández to join the Contact Group and bring with him Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Fernández and López Obrador worked together to help Morales leave Bolivia after the coup.</p> <h2><strong>A key election</strong></h2> <p>On March 20, elections will be held at the Organization of American States (OAS) to choose the new secretary general of the entity. Uruguay&#8217;s Luis Almagro is serving a term until May 26 and is seeking re-election. Almagro, whose candidacy is being promoted by Colombia, is a fierce critic of Maduro, whom he describes as a dictator. The secretary general also denied that Morales has been the victim of a coup d&#8217;état and maintains a position aligned with Washington&#8217;s interests.</p> <p>Almagro has two competitors: Hugo de Zela of Peru and former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa. Argentina wants to work on an alternative candidacy to that of the current OAS secretary general, but fears that the votes will not be enough. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will make its calculations and, if it does not reach the necessary number to replace Almagro, will abstain.</p> <p>An abstention will be a way of not endorsing the re-election of Almagro, whom Fernández described as &#8220;the most pitiful secretary general of the OAS&#8221;, but also a manoeuvre to avoid a confrontation with the United States, whose endorsement is needed for debt renegotiation.</p> <p>Argentina is also interested in another candidacy that needs the green light from Washington. The <em>Casa Rosada</em> is promoting Gustavo Béliz, the president&#8217;s Secretary of Strategic Affairs, to the International Development Bank (IDB). According to <a href="https://www.pagina12.com.ar/247796-con-un-objetivo-mas-importante-en-carpeta">Página/12</a>, Trump is reported to have said during his visit to the G20 summit that it was Argentina&#8217;s turn to take charge of the IDB. Béliz is one of Fernández&#8217; most trusted advisors. A former Justice and Security minister under Néstor Kirchner, he was forced to leave the country and move to the US, where he worked for the IDB, after a public confrontation with Kirchner&#8217;s then director of Operations at the Intelligence Secretariat (SI), Antonio &#8220;Jaime&#8221; Stiuso.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.