Cristina Kirchner and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro enjoyed an amicable relationship. Photo via elcomercio.com

In his first press conference yesterday morning as President-elect, Mauricio Macri confirmed that he will attempt to bar Venezuela from the economic trade bloc Mercosur for human rights violations under President Nicolás Maduro. The statement reflects the expected shift in the nation’s foreign policy that will accompany the political transition in December.

“It is evident that the bloc’s democratic clause should be invoked [against Venezuela] because the accusations are overwhelming; they are not made up,” said Macri during the conference.

Mercosur’s democratic clause was introduced in 1998 under the Ushuaia Protocol on Democratic Commitment, which enables the regional bloc to respond to a “breakdown of democracy” in a member state by suspending its rights as one of them. The protocol was accompanied by another more stringent one in 2011, that allowed for more severe punishments to be used, including closing frontiers, limiting air traffic and cutting communications or energy supplies. However, it can only be applied with the full consensus of member states, which today are formed by Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Venezuela is currently on the Inter-American Commission  on Human Rights’ (CIDH) black list, specifically for the government’s repression of protests carried out in 2014, trumped-up charges and jailing of members of the opposition.

A map of Mercosur's member states (blue) and associates (green). Source: Popular Agency for South American Communication
A map of Mercosur’s member states (blue) and associates (green). Mexico and New Zealand are supervising states and are not included on this map. Source: Popular Agency for South American Communication

Macri had alluded various times to this measure during his campaign and was in fact accompanied by Lilian Tintori in the Cambiemos’ bunker (campaign headquarters, not a nuclear refuge) on ballotage day. Tintori’s husband, Leopoldo López, is a prominent Venezuelan politician for the Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party who was sentenced to 14 years of prison in September and is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Macri has called for López’s release and condemned Venezuela’s poor human rights record.

“Today Argentina made the impossible, possible. In unity together we will also make it happen!”

“We thank Mauricio Macri for his principled stance towards democracy and human rights concerning what is happening in our country.”

The democratic clause has only been implemented once, when Paraguay suffered a parliamentary coup in June 2012: the suspension was lifted one year later when Horacio Cartes was democratically elected President. The likelihood of it being used once more against Venezuela, however, is fairly low. The High Representative General of Mercosur, Brazilian Florisvaldo Fier, has already dismissed Macri’s idea because it can only be implemented “when there is a coup against a constitutional government.”

Noble as his position vis à vis Venezuela’s plight may be, it should be noted that Macri does not have the best reputation or track record when it comes to human rights in Argentina. His team has been questioned on its stance concerning the current trials against the military dictatorship for human rights violations and the metropolitan police, throughout his term as Mayor of Buenos Aires, has repeatedly been accused of racism, repression and even forced disappearances. However, Macri showed support for the justice and memory trials as well as other human rights issues in yesterday’s conference and has yet to prove himself in this area.

Macri’s desire to implement the democratic clause is indicative of the foreign policy shift that is expected to occur with his administration. Case in point: outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has kept very friendly terms with Venezuela, being very close to the late ex President Hugo Chávez. Macri seems to be heading in a different direction, and the feeling is apparently mutual: having been vocally against Macri’s campaign, Maduro has remained conspicuously silent on his electoral victory.

The Mercosur Summit will be held on December 21st, the first item on Macri’s international agenda, and is set to be an interesting one. Mercosur was established in 1991 and is tasked with developing economic measures to promote free trade and market union.