Key leaders from Argentina’s main opposition coalition strongly criticised President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday after he held a bilateral meeting with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
During the talks, Fernández called for an end to international sanctions against Venezuela and said a “political solution” to the situation facing the country could not be “subject to external pressures or conditions in order to guarantee the full validity of democracy and respect for human rights."
Maduro’s government has been accused of widespread human rights allegations and of leading a crackdown on political dissent. A grave political and economic crisis has sent some seven million Venezuelans abroad in recent years and seen the country's GDP plunge by some 80 percent between 2013 and 2022.
Fernández also called for Venezuela’s reintroduction to international forums and organisations after more than a decade of isolation, citing in particular the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
"I met with the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, to continue advancing in the construction of a united Latin America to defend democratic processes, human rights and the freedom of the people," Fernández posted on Twitter after the meeting.
The talks were staged on the sidelines of the Encuentro de Presidentes de los países de América del Sur (“Meeting of Presidents of South American countries”) event in Brasília and served as the latest stage in the normalisation of ties with Venezuela, which were broken off in 2015 under former president Mauricio Macri.
Argentina restored its ambassador to Caracas in July 2022, with Venezuela’s envoy in Buenos Aires doing likewise in August 2022.
Tuesday’s talks, attended by foreign ministers Santiago Cafiero and Yván Gil Pinto, focused on how to restore bilateral ties.
President Fernández highlighted Argentina’s work in supporting dialogue between Venezuela’s search for a political solution and called for a “roadmap” to the 2024 elections in Venezuela to be established guaranteeing “the full validity of democracy and respect for human rights.”
Opposition presidential hopefuls Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich took the president to task for the meeting, repeating their oft-stated allegations that Maduro heads a “dictatorship” in Venezuela.
"The meeting between Alberto Fernández and the dictator Nicolás Maduro shames me before the thousands and thousands of Venezuelans who chose to live in our country as a refuge from the Venezuelan dictatorship," said the Buenos Aires City mayor.
"Our cause is that of democracy and respect for human rights. My solidarity with all the victims of dictatorships in Latin America," added Rodríguez Larreta.
Bullrich, the City mayor’s rival for the opposition nomination in the upcoming primaries, slammed Fernández’s government for “always being on the wrong side of history.”
Argentina’s president wasn’t the only regional leader to meet with Maduro in Brasília. The Venezuelan leader was given a warm welcome by host Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with Brazil’s president announcing a “full” restoration of bilateral ties.
Uruguay’s conservative President Luis Lacalle Pou, who has also branded Maduro a “dictator,” expressed unrest at the lack of criticism aimed by regional leaders at the Venezuelan government.
Chile’s left-wing President Gabriel Boric also criticised the decision not to highlight alleged human rights abuses in Venezuela, though he did call for an end to international sanctions against the country.