With the recent drastic change in political tune in both the Brazilian and Mexican administrations – the two largest economies in Latin America – it didn’t take long to for these two countries to send shockwaves throughout the regional geopolitical arena.
With a new statement from the Lima Group rejecting the legitimacy of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro’s new presidential mandate – set to start on January 10 – as a backdrop, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AKA AMLO), took diametrically opposed stances regarding their diplomatic approach to the Venezuelan regime.
Bolsonaro, in line with his rhetoric previous to taking office, hardened Brazil’s institutional line and, when compared to his predecessor Michel Temer, he spares no criticism to Maduro: “it is his opportunity to leave power with at least minimal dignity,” said the Brazilian Foreign minister Ernesto Araujo in a recent interview.
AMLO, in contrast with the Peña Nieto administration, had Mexico be the only country of the Lima Group which did not indicate that will not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new mandate.
“We do not meddle with other countries’ internal affairs because we don’t want other governments, other countries, to meddle with affairs that only concern the Mexican people,” said AMLO when asked about his decision. Remember that Latin governments that are more friendly with the Maduro administration, such as those from Bolivia and Ecuador, are not part of the Lima Group, created specifically in 2017 to address the crisis unfolding in the Caribbean country.
AMLO in fact invited Maduro to his own inauguration, which took place on December 1, 2018. He did not enjoy the warmest welcome, as a group of legislators shouted “dictator, dictator” at him when his presence was announced to the Mexican Congress.
Bolsonaro, in stark contrast, withdrew Maduro’s invitation to his inauguration.
Last year, the group denounced the early presidential elections called by the Venezuelan Constitutional Assembly, and refused to acknowledge their legitimacy after Maduro was proclaimed victor with 68 percent of the vote. The Venezuelan opposition also denounced the election and most members did not participate, arguing there were no democratic guarantees to ensure a transparent process.
Argentina was one of the 13 countries that did sign the Lima Group statement. Besides the statement regarding the mandate, the group decided to take the following actions against the Venezuelan regime.
- Reevaluate the status or level of diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
- Prevent Venezuelan officials from entering the territory of the countries of the Lima Group.
- Suspend military cooperation with the Maduro regime.
- Urge other nations to support an International Criminal Court investigation into the commission of possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela.
- Call on the international community to adopt similar measures.
Also this time, the meeting had a distinctive presence: the participation via teleconference of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo took to Twitter to further cement his support for the Lima Group, indicating that the Trump administration “applauds” it for “standing up for democracy and denouncing Maduro’s upcoming sham inauguration.
The U.S. applauds the #LimaGroup for standing up for democracy in #Venezuela and denouncing #Maduro's upcoming sham inauguration. The elections in Venezuela were flawed, unfree, and unfair. We stand with the region to demand the restoration of democracy and fundamental freedoms.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 5, 2019
The Maduro regime did not take long to respond. In an interview with Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, Maduro himself assured that 2018’s presidential elections were completely transparent, and were held under the strict oversight of national and international organizations.
Specifically addressing the criticism from his regional counterparts, Maduro said: “the decisions about Venezuela are not made by foreign governments. We are not a country under the intervention or tutelage of any empire. Neither from the Northern empire [the United States] nor its satellites in Latin America and the Caribbean, nor from Europe.”
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued an official statement going along the same lines, expressing its “utmost perplexity before the extravagant statement of a group of countries in the American continent that, after receiving instructions from the American government through video conference, agreed to encourage a coup d’etat in Venezuela.”
The release went on to adopt a more threatening rhetoric. “Venezuela will know how to respond, in light of the reciprocity principle, to the actions each country decides to take, in the corresponding proportion and in the field each chooses.”
This is far from being the first time in which the Maduro regime answers to criticism with not-so-veiled threats of retaliation. However, as of 2019, it is more than likely to be met with responses that match its tone from the Brazilian president.
The Bolsonaro administration is eager to take the center stage in the Venezuelan conflict. Its tougher rhetoric aligns with the Trump administration, something that, at the same time, could prove to be detrimental to Argentina.
So far, the Argentine government has held a clear leading role on the issue, but even though government officials – with President Mauricio Macri at the forefront – have taken any possible opportunity to criticize the regime, the Trump administration has showed signs of being more comfortable cozying up with its new Brazilian counterpart.
In fact, and in a clear sample of this strategy, Mike Pompeo revealed on Sunday that Bolsonaro offered the US government to install a military base on Brazilian soil.
“We are satisfied with President Bolsonaro’s offer. I trust we will keep discussing many subjects with Brazil while the new government takes over. This is something we are very much looking forward to,” Pompeo said in an interview with Estado de Sao Paulo.
In an interview with SBT channel, Bolsonaro had already warned about his openness to have the US open a military base in Brazil as a way to, in his eyes, counter Russian military support in neighboring Venezuela.
This scenario still remains a distant possibility and, in fact, has already been met with resistance from the country’s armed forces. According to Reuters, the offer was a surprise to the military, with some senior officials anonymously saying they are against it. Furthermore, the Brazilian Defense Minister came out to announce he had not discussed the matter with the President.
However, the opening of a base would mean a major geopolitical change in the region. Not only in Brazil, but Latin America as a whole.
Although most Latin American countries deal with severe violence problems domestically, the inter-border situation in the region is largely pacific. Russian and American bases facing each other in two neighboring countries would definitely create a tension that Latin America has not experienced in a long time.