The Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Argentina is withdrawing from the Lima Group multilateral body, which was created in 2017 to push for a peaceful exit from the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
"The actions that the Group has been promoting at the international level, seeking to isolate the Venezuelan government and its representatives, have led to nothing," the Foreign Ministry said in a damning statement on Wednesday, controversially delivered on the 45th anniversary of the coup that brought the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to power in Argentina.
The Lima Group was established by 12 nations from across the Americas, who said they intended to help restore democracy in Venezuela through a "peaceful and negotiated solution." Three additional nations later signed up, as well as the European Union.
Argentina was initially a key supporter of the group, which was set up during former president Mauricio Macri’s government, and a vocal critic of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
Current President Alberto Fernández, however, has backed off from that stance, revoking Macri’s formal recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the true interim leader of Venezuela.
Detailing its position on Wednesday, Argentina’s government said it agreed with the group’s mission statement but not the 2019 acceptance of Guaidó and his interim government as a member of the bloc. Buenos Aires said it opposed the “participation of a sector of the Venezuelan opposition as one more member of the Lima Group,” which it claimed had led to the group adopting positions Argentina could not support.
"The best way to help Venezuelans is by facilitating an inclusive dialogue that does not favour any particular sector, to achieve elections accepted by the majority with international oversight," the Foreign Ministry said in its statement.
"A dialogue that would undoubtedly be enriched with voices from the main social actors in the country, such as the Church, the business sector and non-governmental organisations, without exclusions," it added, criticising attempts to shutter out the Maduro administration.
Argentina also strongly criticised sanctions and blockades levelled against Venezuela, especially in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which is said had “only aggravated the situation facing its population and, in particular, its most vulnerable sectors."
The decision is in line with previous statements by both Fernández and Foreign Minister Felipe Solá, who have indicated Argentina prefers the so-called “third way” approach favoured by Uruguay and Mexico.
Last November, Solá said that the government was not committed to the Lima Group as it was not “a full member,” before stressing that free elections were the only way out of the crisis.
"Argentina has gone a few times [to meetings] but has not signed any document and does not have a great commitment to the Lima Group," he said in an interview. “"Strengthening bilateral relations is more important than being in that group. We want to be prudent in that sense, and that is why we are improving bilateral relations, with Uruguay, with Brazil, with Bolivia, we maintain a very serious relationship with Chile, and we want to establish a relationship with the government of Peru."
Elisa Trotta Gamus, the lawyer who serves as Guaidó's envoy to Argentina, said she "lamented" the government's decision.
“We regret the decision of the Argentine Government to leave the Lima Group, which since 2017 has been fundamental in denouncing the serious human rights violations in Venezuela, and working on the only real solution, which is to recover democracy in our country,” said Trotta Gamus, who was granted diplomatic credentials by Macri which were later revoked by the Peronist government.
“Venezuelans are fighting against a dictatorship that has murdered tens of thousands of people through repression, vigilante operations, hunger, lack of medicine and more. We too want to shout ‘never again,’ and to achieve this we need all the help we can.”