President Mauricio Macri seized the opportunity of a roundtable discussion at the G20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, today by using his three-minute-long opening remarks to highlight the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela.
Building on US President Donald Trump’s remarks warning world leaders of the military threat posed by North Korea, Macri — who enjoys a firm long-term relationship with Trump— said that global attention ought to remain fixed on Venezuela also while the crisis shows no signs of improving.
“As Trump mentioned the situation in North Korea, I don’t want to miss the chance to call to attention what is happening in Venezuela,” Macri told his fellow delegates and heads of state during the roundtable discussion.
Following previous criticisms of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, Macri used his speech to slam the government as culpable over the ongoing crisis.
“They do not respect human rights and endanger the social peace that all of us here advocate,” Macri said.
Since former President Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, Venezuela’s economy suffered a series of shocks following a global slump in the price of oil, which makes up 95 percent of the country’s export revenues.
Centrist and right-wing opposition parties made massive gains in midterm elections in 2015 and have attempted to force a recall referendum to remove Maduro. This triggered mass protests that have continued virtually unabated after Maduro refused to authenticate the referendum and cited the mandate of the socialist PSUV government which won the most recent general election in the country.
Violence has since erupted in Caracas and elsewhere in the country on numerous occasions during the demonstrations, with the opposition and pro-government activists both implicated. Many of Maduro’s critics cite his alleged dismantling of democratic institutions as a way maintaining control over the country.
Macri has repeatedly highlighted the Venezuelan crisis on the international stage during his presidency and has reported links to key opposition figures in Venezuela who align with multiple aspects of Let’s Change (Cambiemos) party platform.
Within hours of winning the presidency in December 2015 he called on Venezuela to be suspended from regional trading bloc Mercosur — a position he was at first forced to backtrack on after gaining little regional support but which ended in justification following Venezuela’s suspension from the bloc by fellow member states late last year.
Macri’s comments on Venezuela reportedly received only one direct endorsement during the roundtable, from the conservative Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Macri and the Argentine delegation walked a tightrope of tricky encounters at the summit by suggesting Argentina desired to stay neutral in world affairs, endorsing vague liberal norms such as “multilateralism” and “free enterprise,” and attempting to avoid the tensions stoked by political differences between Trump and many of the other delegates at the summit.
Both former millionaire business executives turned conservative heads of state, Macri and Trump are believed to share a viable working close relationship.
However, Macri’s stated policy positions on issues such as climate change and a liberal, inclusive approach to globalization are at odds with the US government, as Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña’s remarks at a smaller discussion during the summit highlighted.
“Our government has a clear and strong position to continue respecting the Paris Climate Accord regarding climate change,” Peña said.
“We believe in a multilateral economic system, in the need to make globalization fairer and in free trade,” he added.
While Macri has vowed to tackle climate change, Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, receiving blanket condemnation from the international community and his peers, many of whom were also present in Hamburg this week. Trump has also repeatedly floated the prospect of greater protectionism regarding US trade.
Further complicating the balancing act for Argentina, Macri’s government have prioritized developing the ongoing negotiations of a trade deal between the Mercosur and European Union (EU) trading blocs, the latter of which Trump has shown contempt for both before and after assuming the US presidency.
Brazil’s top negotiator for the EU-Mercosur deal said Thursday that the “main points” of the complex agreement currently being hammered out between the two trading blocs needed to be tabled by December of this year.
Meanwhile, Macri was also expected to meet with newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, with the reoccurring theme of sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, which are under UK protection but claimed by Argentina, expected to reappear during the UK-Argentina discussion.
‘Not For Sale’
The G20 conference has been marked by clashes between thousands of pro-democracy protestors and a massive police operation, with scores of people on both sides reported injured.
Protestors’ list of grievances at the G20 leaders are diffuse and have highlighted rampant inequality, climate change and the erosion of democratic and civil liberties in member states among other issues.
Argentine news channel TN published a photo of the demonstrations showing an impromptu banner bearing a message for Macri himself. The sign was written in German but translates as: “President Macri, our Argentina is not for sale.”