Andres Oppenheimer

Put pressure on Mexico to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president

Guaidó declares himself interim president of Venezuela

The president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself as the interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before thousands of cheering supporters.
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The president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself as the interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before thousands of cheering supporters.

Now that even Japan and Switzerland — two countries that rarely pick a fight with anybody — have joined the nearly 50 nations that recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, an overwhelming majority of world democracies are supporting the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

The big exception is Mexico. That’s unfortunate, and should draw greater international criticism.

The United States, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, among many other center-right and center-left democracies, have announced in recent weeks their recognition of Guaidó, and their rejection of Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Their decision stems from the fact that Maduro is an illegitimate leader: In May 2018, he proclaimed himself re-elected after fraudulent elections. Guaidó, as president of the National Assembly, has been constitutionally empowered by the legislature to take Maduro’s place and convene free elections.

But Mexico’s new leftist President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1, has said that he is “neutral” on the Venezuelan crisis. López Obrador is not even demanding free elections in Venezuela, like his predecessor did.

Even Uruguay, the only Latin American democracy that alongside Mexico had asked for a dubious “national dialogue” in Venezuela, has since sided with the 28-country European Community in calling for free elections in that country.

“Mexico has been left isolated,” former Mexican President Vicente Fox told me in an interview this week. “But most of us in Mexico don’t agree with López Obrador on this. Those of us who believe in human rights and democracy don’t support him on this one.”

Fox scoffed at López Obrador’s contention that Mexico’s tacit support for Maduro is in line with his country’s tradition of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs. Mexico’s current foreign policy is “terrible, and badly executed,” Fox said.

While the Mexican Constitution’s Article 89 calls for “non-intervention” in other countries domestic affairs, the same article also calls for “the respect, protection and promotion of human rights.” In addition, Mexican presidents have routinely intervened in other countries’ affairs, which led Mexico to break ties with dictatorships in Spain, Chile and Nicaragua.

What’s even more troubling is that López Obrador may be abstaining from demanding free elections in Venezuela for fear that other countries may later ask him to conduct free elections in Mexico, Fox said. “He doesn’t want others to later judge him for his own misdeeds,” the former president told me.

Other critics say López Obrador and leading members of his Morena party have long-standing ties with Cuba and Venezuela. Morena’s leader, Yeidckol Polevnsky, has publicly voiced support for the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships.

But there are also more moderate voices within López Obrador’s foreign-policy establishment who don’t sound like Maduro acolytes.

Senator Hector Vasconcelos, who is very close to López Obrador and heads the Mexican Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me that there is no special relationship between the Mexican president and Maduro.

“I was responsible for Morena’s foreign relations for nearly 12 years, since it started as a movement and later became a political party, and I can tell you that there never was the slightest contact with the Venezuelan governments of Mr. [Hugo] Chávez and Mr. Maduro,” Vasconcelos said.

He added that, “My personal opinion is that we must judge every situation on its merits and have a certain pragmatism, according to the seriousness of each situation, while maintaining the principle of non-intervention.”

That sounds reasonable, but the problem is that the Venezuelan crisis has reached a level of seriousness that affects not only Venezuelans, but everybody in the region.

More than 3 million Venezuelans have already fled the country, and there could be 10 million refugees over the next four years, according to Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

It’s time for the world’s democracies to ask Mexico to support democracy in Venezuela. López Obrador should be named and shamed for his tacit support for Maduro, against his own country’s constitution’s mandate to defend human rights.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 pm ET on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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