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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Politics: Some Latin American governments are making the most of Venezuela's deepening crisis

People at a tribute to victims of violence in protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, in Caracas, July 31, 2017.

The deepening turmoil in Venezuela has brought repudiation from around the world, but some of those governments reap political benefit from their condemnations.

The political turmoil in Venezuela looks poised to deepen, after the company that managed the election technology used in Sunday's constituent-assembly election said Wednesday that vote results had been tampered with.

Opposition leaders have called for a protest on Thursday, the day the assembly is to be installed, raising the possibility of more clashes after four months of violent protests that have left as many as 120 people dead.

Many of the governments in the region have condemned the vote and have refused to recognize it, calling on President Nicolas Maduro not to convene the assembly. For some of those governments, such declarations serve domestic political purposes as well.

In Argentina, President Mauricio Macri is stumping for his party's candidates ahead of August 13 primary elections, which precede October 22 legislative elections.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was president from 2007 to 2015 (Macri defeated a candidate from her coalition), has emerged as a leading candidate with a new party, Unidad Ciudadana. As president, Kirchner was one of Latin America's most prominent leftists and was close with the socialist government of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Macri and his allies have seized on that relationship in this electoral season. During a recent rally, the Argentine president said "there is more and more violence and aggression" in Venezuela, later adding that he couldn't "stop thinking how close" Argentina was "to going that way."

"Everything would have been very difficult ... but luckily a majority decided to change and overcome the resignation they wanted to put on us," Macri added, in what appeared to be a critical reference to Kirchner's government and supporters. His chief of ministers, Marcos Peña, has decried the "hypocrisy" of those "who have maintained a complicit silence" in the face of events in Venezuela.

According to Spanish newspaper El País, many of her campaign events have taken place in front of small groups of supporters and broadcast over social media.

Reporters are usually not present at those events, so Kirchner has rarely been pressed to comment on Venezuela.

The candidate from her party running in Buenos Aires — the country's biggest province — has demurred when asked about the situation in the Venezuela, saying that he did not know "in detail" what was going on there, later stressing the differences between the tenures of Chavez and Maduro and calling for dialogue with a third party, such as the Pope.

At the other end of Latin America, Mexico — the region's second-largest economy, ahead of Argentina and behind Brazil — has also issued condemnations of the Maduro government's actions, despite its own historical aversion to commenting on the internal affairs of different countries.

Mexican and Venezuelan officials have traded barbs in recent months, but the shift by Mexico City appears to have as much to do with politics at home as with events in Venezuela.

Mexican leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — a former mayor of Mexico City who ran for president twice in 2006 and 2012, losing narrowly in contentious elections both times — has gained ground on the governing center-right PRI party in recent months, because of both the PRI's struggles at home and the rise of President Donald Trump as an antagonistic figure north of the border.

"This is a foreign-policy issue turned into a domestic political issue," Carlos Heredia, a professor at the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics, told The Washington Post in June. "It isn't really about democracy in Venezuela. I wish it were. It's about painting Lopez Obrador as the Mexican Chavez."

Lopez Obrador's party, Morena, has dismissed the suggestion it has ideological or political sympathies for Venezuela's socialist government, but this year, opponents in Mexico have played up purported links between the two, as they did to him before the 2006 election.

But he has stopped short of breaking with Morena's a pro-Venezuela wing, as those members have been some of his biggest boosters.

He is likely cautious of alienating that group, especially in light of his at-times fractious relationship with the broader political left in Mexico.

The PRI's somewhat sordid history, both recent and historical, of patronage and links to the criminal underworld makes it possible for critics to raise uncomfortable questions about its fulmination against the Venezuelan government. (Others have suggested raising the profile of human rights and democratic expression may help improve those things in Mexico.)

But Mexico City has stuck to its guns. The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has said it does not recognize the results of Maduro's assembly, saying it "lamented" the decision to have elections "contrary to the universally recognized democratic principles."

This dynamic isn't limited to Latin America.

Parliamentarians and socialists in the UK and Europe are calling on Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's Labour Party and a longtime supporter of Venezuela's leadership, to denounce the Venezuelan government in light of recent events.

Nor is it a recent development. During elections in Spain last year, campaign messages and press reports highlighted purported links between the Venezuelan government and Spain's upstart leftist party, Podemos.

More "governments and more people [are] repudiating everything that's happening in Venezuela," Dmitris Pantoulas, a political analyst and Venezuela expert, told The Christian Science Monitor.

Many of those condemning events in Venezuela no doubt have sincere concerns about the country, its democratic process, and the rights of its people. But, Pantoulas said, many politicians in "countries where the left has a chance at winning elections" are attacking Venezuela "for internal reasons of the left versus the right."



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