By inviting Maduro, Mexico’s López Obrador breaks with region’s diplomatic efforts to isolate Venezuela

Columna
Miami Herald, 14,11,2018
Andrés Oppenheimer, periodista argentino radicado en Miami

Mexico’s leftist president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has decided to break with Latin American efforts to isolate Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and has invited him to his Dec. 1 inauguration. It will be Maduro’s biggest diplomatic victory in recent times — unless Mexicans do something about it.

Maduro, as expected, accepted the invitation immediately. It will be the first occasion in a long time in which he will be able to rub shoulders with democratically elected heads of state, sending a message back home that he’s not an international pariah.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Colombian President Ivan Duque, Costa Rica Vice President Epsy Campbell and British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn are among other leaders expected to attend the inauguration.

Maduro’s presence at the ceremony will be a serious blow to the 14-country Group of Lima, which has taken escalating steps to isolate the Maduro regime.

In February, the group — which includes Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Chile — issued a statement supporting Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra’s decision not to invite Maduro to the Summit of the Americas because of the Venezuelan leader’s violation of the rule of law.

On May 21, a day after Venezuela’s fraudulent elections in which Maduro re-elected himself for a new term in office, the Group of Lima issued a new statement stating that Maduro had “violated the democratic order,” and that they would “not recognize the legitimacy” of the elections. The statement was co-signed by the United States and Spain.

On Sept. 26, several members of the Lima Group issued an unprecedented petition to the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into Maduro’s alleged crimes against humanity.

But, signaling that he may break from the group of countries that are trying to press for a restoration of democracy in Venezuela, López Obrador has said that he will invite all countries in the world to his inauguration.

Furthermore, he said that he will revert Mexico’s foreign policy to its 20th-century practice of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs. In fact, that was the term Mexico’s authoritarian governments used as an excuse not to criticize Cuba and other leftist dictatorships.

More than 75,000 Mexicans already have signed a Change.org petition asking López Obrador to withdraw his invitation to Maduro. Nineteen heads of state — including Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, and Felipe Calderon and Vicente Fox of Mexico — issued a petition earlier this week asking López Obrador to abide by the Group of Lima agreements and “avoid the presence” of Maduro at his inauguration.

López Obrador’s designated foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, justified the decision to invite Maduro by saying that Mexico will have friendly relations with all countries, and that former presidents Fox and Calderón had also invited late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to their respective inaugurations.

In fact, when Fox was inaugurated on Dec. 1, 2000, Chávez had just won a democratic election in Venezuela and could not be considered a dictator. When Calderón took office in 2006, Chávez had already shown authoritarian traits, but had not been condemned by the international community for breaking the rule of law.

Some Venezuelan exiles have suggested that Latin American democratic leaders boycott López Obrador’s inauguration if Maduro attends. But that’s unlikely to happen because, among other things, most countries won’t want to antagonize the new Mexican president from Day One.

Others are proposing a massive demonstration against Maduro in Mexico City on the day of his arrival. “The Venezuelan diaspora and pro-democracy Mexicans should show Mexico’s new president that the Venezuelan refugee crisis is a direct result of Maduro’s dictatorship,” says exile leader Carlos Vecchio.

Indeed, a huge anti-Maduro protest on Dec. 1 would remind López Obrador that his country is bound by international agreements to defend democracy in the region, and that his proposed non-intervention policy is outdated.

It would be a good way of sending a strong message not only to Maduro, but also to López Obrador.

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