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Venezuela Represents Acid Test for AMLO’s Diplomacy


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Contexto Diario

By RICARDO CASTILLO    

Mexico’s new brand of diplomacy is about to undergo its first acid test. On Friday, Jan. 4, the Foreign Relations ministers or secretaries of the 14 Latin American nations that make up the Lima Group (a multilateral body that was established following the Lima Declaration on Aug. 8, 2017, in the Peruvian capital under which representatives of 17 countries met in order to establish a peaceful exit to the mounting Venezuela crisis) will gather in Lima, Peru, to discuss a new what to do about rogue Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, who’s slated to start governing again next Thursday, Jan. 10.

Most definitely, all eyes will be on Mexico’s new and still-sorely greenhorn Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who will unveil President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) stance on continental ideology and whether to recognize Maduro’s regime.

Based on previous stances, we can expect 13 of the participating 14 nations to sign the declaration and vote nay on giving Maduro official recognition. Those 13 nations are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Saint Lucia.

Mexico already had one head-on collision with its Latin American counterparts when Secretary Ebrard invited every president of the nations with an embassy or official representation in Mexico to AMLO’s inaugural ceremony last Dec. 1.

Ebrard was extremely careful to invite – but not really – U.S. President Donald Trump. Instead the Trump administration sent Vice President Mike Pence and First Daughter Ivanka Trump. Pence went unnoticed and Ivanka made the fashion pages of Mexican media.

Secretary Ebrard, nevertheless, showed extreme carelessness at dealing with Nicolas Maduro. Ebrard took it for granted that because Venezuela has a bona fide embassy in Mexico City, Maduro could be invited, just like everyone else.

The invitation wreaked havoc on the Mexican political scene. For one, sore and battered opposition senators belonging to the now-minority National Action Party (PAN) and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) demanded that the incoming president (AMLO) “reconsider the invitation made to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros to the inaugural ceremony for being incompatible with Mexican foreign policy.”

The “request” by the opposition senators was joined with a letter signed by 19 current and former presidents of different nations subscribed to the Democratic Initiative for Spain and the Americas (IDEA) that included the inked signatures of former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón.

Ebrard, backed up by AMLO, stood his ground and Maduro flew to Mexico to attend the inauguration ceremony.

A funny thing, however, happened to Madero upon arrival at Mexico City’s airport. The public account is that he arrived late for the ceremony, but privately it was reported that he and his numerous entourage (over 100 people) were kept inside their plane for two hours while AMLO received the presidential sash.

Two things happened during the ceremony: On the one hand, PAN congresspeople raised a big banner at the Chamber of Deputies, where the ceremony was held at, that read “Maduro you are not welcome.” While raising the banner, PAN senators and deputies chanted “dictator!”

It was feared that the presence of Maduro at the Chamber of Deputies facility would would lead to a serious clash between him and U.S. Vice President Pence and definitely Ivanka. In fact, in his inaugural address, AMLO did mention Maduro in absence as one of his invited guests. Needless to say, AMLO was heckled.

“We don’t intervene in (internal) matters of other nations and we did invite the first mandatary of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Communications Secretary (and pretty much AMLO’s spokesman back in those days) Javier Jiménez Espriu told reporters.

Maduro, however, did attend the luncheon AMLO held at the National Palace, where the great majority of his entourage was not allowed to enter, mostly because there was a full house inside already. Pence and Ivanka did not attend the luncheon and immediately flew back to Washington.

The acid test for AMLO’s foreign policy does not come without a complex background. From 2000 to 2012, the two consecutive PAN rightwing presidents, Fox and Calderón, had a major ideological rift, first with now-deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and then, with his successor, Nicolas Maduro. Those rifts led to the retirement of ambassadors.

Tension dropped during the 2012-2018 administration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, but with the absence of Barack Obama and the incoming of Donald Trump, Pena Nieto’s Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray actively participated in the formation of the Lima Group, which was exclusively created to seek a solution to the deep political crisis and economic quagmire Venezuela is suffering under Maduro’s leadership.

In fact, some of the backers of President Pena Nieto’s candidate for president opposing AMLO, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, contended that AMLO might lead Mexico on the exact same path that Chávez and Maduro led Venezuela. In response, AMLO rejected any similarity with either Chávez, “whom I never met personally,” or Maduro.

Now, all eyes will be on  Ebrard in Lima as he has to take a stance in front of a group that Mexico helped create.

He will definitely will be confronting hardline representatives, particularly of Colombia, which has already stated that its “position for the Jan. 10, the date in which Nicolas Maduro will initiate a new presidential period, will be taken jointly with the chancellors of the Lima Group.” Colombia has already nearly broken diplomatic relations with Maduro’s regime, and the only official communications between them is through their trade attachés.

We’ll soon find out what Mexico’s position on Maduro’s presidency will be. If we go by the diplomatic book and AMLO’s stance of Mexico as an independent nation, it will be one of returning to the traditional Estrada Doctrine  (developed by former Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio’s Foreign Relations Secretary Genero Estrada and the country’s core policy from 1930 to the early 2000s) of not interfering in the internal affairs of any nation, thus preventing other nations from intervening with Mexico’s internal political life.

The Estrada Doctrine worked well for the nation, but three presidencies in Mexico in the 21st century claim that it was a doctrine of the past and that Mexico must have a revitalized presence and performance, particularly in the affairs of the American continent.

Truly, I’m anxiously waiting to see what will be the stance the AMLO administration will have, at least for the next six years. Will it drop out of the Lima Group and join the radical leftwing nations headed by Cuba and including Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela? Or will AMLO go with the tide and join the Group of 14, which could collapse without Mexico’s presence?

Indeed, a diplomatic acid test for AMLO and definitely one for Ebrard.

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