Andres Oppenheimer

Mexico says it’s “neutral” on Venezuela. But Mexico’s actions say it’s siding with the Maduro dictatorship | Opinion

In 2011, Nicolás Maduro visited Mexico as Venezuela’s chancellor.
In 2011, Nicolás Maduro visited Mexico as Venezuela’s chancellor. Getty Images

What a sham! At a time when most Latin American democracies have declared Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s regime illegitimate, Mexico has just announced its de facto recognition of a Maduro envoy as Venezuela’s ambassador to Mexico.

Mexico’s left-of-center President Andrés Manuel López Obrador just granted diplomatic status to Maduro’s envoy Francisco Arias Cardenas, a former coup-plotter alongside late leader Hugo Chávez in 1992.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly had not approved Arias Cardenas’ nomination and appointed its own ambassador. What’s more, Venezuela’s National Assembly asked Mexico not to grant Arias Cardenas diplomatic status, citing charges against him in the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

López Obrador’s decision makes his claim to be “neutral” in the Venezuelan crisis hard to take seriously. While a statement from the Mexican foreign ministry clarified that Arias Cardenas will not have full status as ambassador until he presents his credentials to the Mexican president — something that had not happened at the time of this writing — the Maduro-appointed envoy already has been granted diplomatic immunity in Mexico.

By comparison, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany and dozens of other countries have expelled Maduro-appointed ambassadors or withdrawn their diplomatic immunity. They have instead accepted diplomatic appointments by Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, whom they recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate caretaker president.

Judging from what Guaidó told me in a recent interview, he will interpret Mexico’s latest move as yet another evidence that López Obrador is not neutral, but siding with the Maduro regime.

“We’re expecting more of Mexico,” Guaidó told me in the April 22 interview. When I asked him exactly what he was hoping Mexico would do, he said that, “We would hope that they would, at the very least, support the cause” of human rights and democracy in Venezuela.

López Obrador’s government claims it is carrying out Mexico’s constitutional mandate not to interfere in other nations internal affairs.

But that’s a dubious claim. While Article 89 of Mexico’s Constitution calls for “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs, the same article also calls for “the respect, protection and promotion of human rights” everywhere.

In addition, some of López Obrador’s most admired leaders — the former Mexican presidents whom he cites almost daily as his heroes — openly intervened in other countries’ affairs.

Former President Lázaro Cárdenas supported the Republicans during Spain’s civil war in the 1930s and broke diplomatic ties with Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco. Late president Luis Echeverría criticized Chile’s dictatorship and broke diplomatic relations with Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1974, and late President Jose Lopez Portillo supported the Nicaraguan opposition and broke ties with Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

This makes one wonder whether López Obrador does not condone meddling in internal affairs of other countries when it’s about rightist dictatorships, but somehow condemns doing the same in the case of leftist dictatorships.

And, for the record, there is zero question that Venezuela is a dictatorship. It may have been an authoritarian democracy or an elected dictatorship under late president Hugo Chávez, but it became a an all-out totalitarian state under Maduro.

In 2016, Maduro took most of the powers of the opposition-majority National Assembly, which had won the 2015 legislative elections by a landslide.

Maduro later created a hand-picked Congress of his own, which he calls the Constituent Assembly, to replace the National Assembly. He banned top opposition leaders from running for office and, in 2018, held fraudulent elections without independent electoral authorities or credible international observers. He proclaimed himself reelected in January 2019.

On May 8, Maduro’s thugs arrested the National Assembly’s second-highest congressman, Edgar Zambrano. He is the latest of several opposition members of Congress who have been arrested or sought refuge in foreign embassies in Caracas after being served arrest warrants by Maduro’s prosecutors.

If López Obrador really wants to be neutral and position Mexico as a possible mediator in Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, he should accept both Guaidó’s and Maduro’s respective envoys, or none of them. Instead, what Mexico’s president has done amounts to effectively giving legitimacy — and a propaganda boost — to Maduro’s beleaguered regime.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took office on December 1, 2018, as the new president of Mexico after winning the general election on July 1.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” at 8 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Espanol. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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