PRO party chief Patricia Bullrich took aim at Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday after the Boliviarian leader pulled out of a visit to Argentina for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit.
Celebrating the Venezuelan leader’s absence, the former security minister wasn’t shy in attempting to score points against the government.
"Democracy has won! We stopped the drug-trafficker, Maduro, and he will not come to Argentina. I celebrate how thousands of Venezuelans, who had to emigrate to our country expelled by the socialist delirium, avoided the offence of seeing the government receive this dictator with honours," Bullrich posted on her Twitter account after confirmation of the absence emerged.
The true reason for Maduro’s decision not to attend has not yet emerged, though the Venezuelan leader seemed to blame Bullrich and the “rats of Macrismo” (a reference to former president Mauricio Macri’s 2015-2019 government) in a audio clip.
In the recording, Maduro criticises "the US Embassy with the rats of Macrismo, Patricia Bullrich and the judicial party" for his absence from the regional summit. He said he had “first-level intelligence sources" in Buenos Aires City and even assured that such informants have "saved his life several times."
The Chavista leader also said obstacles including "conspiracies," "persecution" and "ambushes" had forced the cancellation of his trip.
For Bullrich and some of her coalition allies, however, the matter was not so complex.
“He could not step foot on Argentine soil as a drug-trafficker and human rights violator. There is an arrest warrant for Nicolás Maduro for his participation in the Cartel of the Suns," explained the PRO leader, who on Monday filed a complaint with the Drug Enforcement Agency to warn the US agency of the presence of the Chavista ruler.
Other PRO members backed Bullrich, who showed no fear after being pinpointed. "By naming me, he exalts my decision to prevent him from touching Argentine soil," she explained.
One of the first to respond was PRO deputy Cristian Ritondo: "Maduro is a criminal and a coward who had to give in to pressure from good Argentines. The insults of a dictator are a compliment to those of us who defend democracy and freedom."
"Bullrich has courage. Maduro does not. This is how we are going to confront all those who think they are untouchable. With firmness and without fear," remarked Senator Joaquín De La Torre (Juntos por el Cambio, Buenos Aires Province).
The Maduro family's alleged links to drug-trafficking are the subject of an ongoing US-led investigation. Franqui Flores and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, the nephews of Maduro’s wife, First Lady Cilia Flores, were arrested in 2015 in Haiti in an anti-drug operation and immediately transferred to New York to stand trial.
In 2016, the dictator's nephews, aged 31 and 32 respectively, were convicted by a jury and sentenced to 18 years in prison in the US (of which they served seven) for drug-trafficking offences and in 2022 received amnesty from US President Joe Biden.
Maduro's potential presence had become a hot topic ahead of the CELAC summit. Members of Argentina’s opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition had called for his arrest, should he set foot in the country, and individuals and civil organisations attempted to file cases in the courts before the Argentine justice system relating to alleged human rights violations.
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The United States also has a US$15-million bounty on Maduro’s head for information leading to his arrest.
"[Maduro] knows that there is an agreement between Argentina and the United States regarding captures that has already worked. Faced with an arrest warrant from the United States, Argentina can react immediately, which is why he didn’t get on the plane. This is a huge triumph for Venezuelans and Argentines," Bullrich said in an interview with the TN news channel.