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ARGENTINA | 11-12-2019 08:53

Trump's envoy skips inauguration over presence of Maduro minister

Top adviser Mauricio Claver-Carone flew to Buenos Aires – but decided not to attend Alberto Fernández’s inauguration after learning that a minister from Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro would be attending.

A top adviser to US President Donald Trump flew to Buenos Aires but decided not to attend Alberto Fernández’s inauguration after learning that a top minister to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro would be attending.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a presidential adviser for hemispheric affairs, told local newspaper Clarín he hadn’t been told in advance that Maduro’s deputy, Jorge Rodríguez, would also be there.

Fernández was sworn in as Argentina’s president Tuesday. Argentine media showed photos of Rodríguez at Argentina’s Congress Tuesday, where Fernández’s swearing-in took place.

“Unfortunately, due to some invitations and surprises that we learned about upon arrival, I decided not to go and I’m leaving early,” Claver-Carone told the newspaper.

A US Embassy spokesman confirmed the quotes when contacted by Bloomberg.

“I’m not going to have the many work meetings that we have scheduled for tomorrow,” Claver-Carone told the paper.

The US Embassy spokesman said the meetings would still go on with other US officials.

Claver-Carone told Clarín that Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, would remain in Buenos Aires, adding that he had communicated his displeasure to Fernández’s secretary for strategic affairs, Gustavo Béliz.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar did attend the inauguration and greeted Fernández.

Claver-Carone emphasised to Clarín that the Trump administration is committed to helping Fernández’s new government turn around the economy, which is in recession, battling 50 percent inflation and facing an unsustainable debt load. And Fernández’s comments about potentially offering asylum to former Bolivian leader Evo Morales and the presence of former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa factored into the decision not to attend, Claver-Carone said.

“However, these distractions don’t bring any benefits to Argentina,” Claver-Carone said, according to Clarín. He added that Fernández was perhaps “poorly advised” and that “you don’t do this between friends.”

Fernández’s spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Claver-Carone appears to be the top contact between Trump and Fernández after he met with the Argentine leader in Mexico in early November and co-led the delegation to Buenos Aires. Fernández has also met with US Ambassador to Argentina Edward Prado.

His absence potentially holds implications beyond optics and diplomacy. Argentina has a record US$56-billion credit line with the International Monetary Fund, which is currently on hold until Fernández spells out his economic policies. The US government is the IMF’s top financier, giving it heavy influence over the approval of any new deal between the new government and the Fund.

Trump labels Maduro a dictator and the US government has slapped a range of sanctions on the Venezuelan government in an effort to push him out. Trump recognises Juan Guaidó, a Maduro opponent, as Venezuela’s president, and up until now Trump counted on Fernández’s predecessor, Mauricio Macri, as a Latin America ally against Maduro.

Fernández hasn’t completely reversed Macri’s stance on Venezuela, but he hasn’t labelled Maduro a dictator either and his stance is muddled thus far. Fernández’s vice-president, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was a close ally of Maduro during her time in office. His foreign minister, Felipe Solá, said Argentina will remain in the so-called Lima Group, composed of several Western Hemisphere nations that condemn Maduro as a dictator.

Fernández’s inauguration was a difficult call for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, too. After initially saying that Brazil wouldn’t send anyone to the inauguration, Bolsonaro decided at the last minute to send his vice president. Fernández is a friend and advocate for Bolsonaro’s political foe, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Claver-Carone did hold at least one meeting in Buenos Aires: He met Elisa Trotta Gamus, Guaidó’s appointed ambassador to Argentina, Tuesday morning.

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by Patrick Gillespie, Bloomberg

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