These are some of darkest days in many years for democracy in Latin America. While Venezuela’s dictatorship is moving ahead with measures to rig the December legislative elections and wipe out the country’s organized opposition, major democracies in the Americas — including the United States — are making things worse.
The international coalition of almost 60 countries that backed Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, the country’s courageous opposition leader, is losing steam. It has been weakened by major defections — including Mexico and Argentina — and by President Trump’s ambivalent statements about Guaidó.
Mexico and Argentina, which until recently supported efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela, are now tacitly — if not explicitly — supporting Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.
On June 27, when the 34-country Organization of American States condemned the Maduro regime for illegally appointing a pro-government National Electoral Council to oversee the upcoming elections for a new National Assembly, Mexico and Argentina shamefully abstained. Their abstentions were tacit approval for Maduro’s latest coup, which was condemned by a 21-vote majority at the OAS.
What’s more, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is scheduled to meet with Trump in Washington on July 9, said recently that he is willing to sell gasoline to the Venezuelan regime for “humanitarian” reasons. Both Mexico and Argentina’s leftist populist governments now claim to be “neutral” in Venezuela’s internal conflict and have reduced their participation in the Lima Group of Latin American countries that seek free elections in Venezuela.
“Since Lopez Obrador took office, the Mexican government has effectively become a supporter of Venezeula’s dictatorship,” former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told me this week. “They don’t say it explicitly, they try to hide it because they don’t want to get in trouble with Trump, but deep in his heart, Lopez Obrador has no doubts. He stands with Maduro, and with Cuba, and with Nicaragua.”
Mexican officials say that Lopez Obrador is merely adhering to his country’s traditional foreign-policy principle of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs. That’s baloney. Mexico has a long history of intervening in others’ affairs.
Former Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas supported the Republicans during Spain’s civil war in the 1930s. President Luis Echeverria sided with the opposition to Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet and broke diplomatic ties with Pinochet in 1974. And President Jose Lopez Portillo supported the Nicaraguan opposition in the late 1970s and broke ties with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. These are just a few of many examples.
In Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez seems to be warming up to Maduro at the urging of his vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is pretty much the power behind the throne. She spent several months in Cuba visiting her daughter last year, during which she met frequently with top Cuban officials.
But perhaps the most serious setback for Venezuela’s organized opposition has been Trump’s erratic Venezuela policy. As his former National Security Adviser John Bolton says in his book “The Room Where it Happened,” Trump has been all over the map on Venezuela, one day saying that it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela and the next day praising Maduro as a smart politician and belittling Guaidó.
To make things worse, Trump publicly undermined Guaidó by suggesting in a June 21 interview with Axios that he had never fully supported the National Assembly president. Axios ran the interview under the headline “Trump cold on Guaidó.”
Despite the White House’s frantic damage-control efforts a day later, insisting that the United States continues to support Guaidó, Trump’s ambivalence about Venezuela’s brave opposition leader undoubtedly has weakened Guaidó’s standing at home and abroad.
None of this bodes badly for Venezuela — or for democracy in Latin America. While Maduro prepares to rig the December legislative elections with the new pro-government electoral tribunal, Mexico and Argentina are looking the other way, and the Trump administration is paralyzed by its own indecisiveness and ineptness.
Time is running out. Guaidó’s National Assembly leadership is the last hope for a negotiated solution under stronger international pressure to hold free elections. Without Guaidó, finding a peaceful political solution will be much harder, if not impossible.
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