Photo via AFP

After finishing his first international tour of 2018 last week, President Mauricio Macri gave back-to-back interviews to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and journalists from local news agencies that covered his activities in Europe.

Among other things, he warned his administration will not recognize the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela, said that the next round of negotiations between the Mercosur trading bloc and the European Union aimed at reaching a trade agreement will be key for them in order to move forward with a deal, and analyzed the economic issues dominating the conversation at home: the value of the Argentine peso against the US dollar and upcoming wage negotiations.

When explaining why Argentina will not recognize the elections that will take place in Venezuela before April 30, Macri argued that leader Nicolás Maduro is “running a dictatorship” and “making a mockery of the region and the entire world,” after “generating hope” by allowing the Dominican Republic and other Latin American nations mediate in the crisis. “The only thing he has done is continue to trample human rights,” he said.

The National Constituent Assembly voted to approve a motion that ordered the National Electoral Council to set a date before April 30 for presidential elections. The motion was introduced by Diosdado Cabello and approved with cheers in a chamber that does not have opposition representation.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez's regime in Caracas, Venezuela January 23, 2018. (Photo via Reuters/Marco Bello)
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez’s regime in Caracas, Venezuela January 23, 2018. (Photo via Reuters/Marco Bello)

This decision definitely does not come as a surprise. Macri has always been one of the most outspoken critics of Maduro; and on January 24, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie signed a letter by the so-called Lima Group rejecting the elections’ legitimacy.

This position had been established even before the Venezuelan Supreme Court banned the largest opposition coalition in the country – Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) – from running in the elections, arguing the parties comprising it could then compete under two different names.

The President then ruled out any possibility of mediating in the Venezuelan crisis, saying his public feud with Maduro “does not make him the right person” to do so.

However, he assured Maduro is not willing to negotiate with the opposition at all. “At this point I think he does not care about anything that could be suggested to him. He intends to rule Venezuela for many years and those who don’t like what he does have to leave the country,” he added.

Analyzing his week overseas, the President said he leaves France “with good news” and that “he confirmed a number of investments” during his activity at the World Economic Forum that took place last week in the alpine town of Davos, in Switzerland.

After visiting Paris, the President focused on one of Emmanuel Macron’s comments during their meeting and how the trade agreement between Mercosur and the EU could be potentially good for both parties.

However, others might interpret Macron’s words as more cautious, as he also said that even though technical negotiations would be able to hammer out a suitable arrangement, he had “expressed France’s concerns about agricultural issues and beef in particular.”

“We have set out respective interests,” said the French President, who then  stressed that it was not up to Buenos Aires and Paris to hammer out the terms of the negotiations between the Mercosur and the European Union. Macri told AFP that the next round of negotiations, to be held in Brussels this week, will be “key.”

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes President Mauricio Macri at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes President Mauricio Macri at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The journalists from Argentine news agencies, in contrast, were much more interested in the national economic agenda, and the efects the upcoming wage negotiations could have on the inflation rate the government has set as a target for the year.

“Each sector will see what it can do based on its current state. Then, when it comes to the state’s negotiations, it has to do more with what we can pay, rather than the inflation rate. People can’t pay more taxes, and we have committed to lowering them, as they skyrocketed in the last decade, preventing jobs from being created,” he said.

When asked whether he was concerned about the US dollar gaining ground against the peso in the past weeks – it shied away from the 20-peso mark on Thursday – Macri said he was not.

“We need to lower inflation to go back to thinking in pesos. The dollar has been floating freely, it goes up and down, and that’s not something we should pay a lot of attention to. We need to think in pesos.”

The Macri administration will continue showing its intention of continuing lowering public spending by officially announcing a 20 percent reduction in public office jobs in the Executive branch and the freezing of high-ranking officials’ salaries. The government expects this decision will save the state roughly AR $ 1 billion per year.