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LATIN AMERICA | 14-04-2018 08:36

Macri set to heavily criticise Maduro as nations line up against Venezuela

President expected to strongly criticise Venezuelan president ahead of controversial elections in May. With Donald Trump absent, US Vice-President leads Washington’s attempts to post united front against Maduro administration.

President Mauricio Macri landed in Lima last night for the Summit of the Americas, an event at which he is expected to strongly criticise the Venezuelan government and help lead regional efforts to isolate the Nicolás Maduro administration.

Today, the president will delver a speech at the Lima Convention Centre at 10.45am (Argentine time). As part of a busy agenda, he will hold at least three bilateral meetings in the subsequent hours, official sources told the Télam state news agency.

According to reports, they will include meetings with US VicePresident Mike Pence, US Senator Macro Rubio, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Macri will use his address at the Summit to accuse the Maduro regime of undemocratic, while asking the rest of the region to reject the upcoming presidential elections as illegitimate.

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is reaching epic proportions, with 1.2 million venezuelans having fled to Colombia, 100,000 to Perú and another 100,000 to Panama, and 70,000 in Argentina, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said yesterday.

“We are not against Venezuela, but against the fact that there’s no democracy,” Faurie told local daily Clarín. “The opposition is jailed or[has been] taken hostage by Maduro. You can’t negotiate with the jailer, but we know that it’s also impossible to intervene and remove the president.”

Faurie said Macri will use his international stature to “garner support for a policy of isolationism” against Venezuela.

Upon his arrival in Lima on Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence – standing in for US President Donald Trump, who decided not to attend – urged Washington’s Latin American allies to further isolate Venezuela and send more humanitarian aid to counter the country’s political crisis, echoing Macri’s position.

Pence also announced that the US would provide nearly US$16 million in humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans who have fled their country under the rule of President Nicolas Maduro.

“We want one message to be clear: We are with the people of Venezuela,” Pence said at the US Ambassador’s Residence in Lima, seated alongside a group of Venezuelan opposition leaders. The vicepresident called Maduro’s government a “dictatorship” and said the US would continue to push a hard line against the country’s leadership.

SUBBING IN

Pence is subbing for Trump after the president pulled out of his first planned visit to Latin America to manage the US response to an apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria.

The White House said Pence would meet Saturday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has yet to meet with Trump in an impasse over the wall Trump has pledged to build along the US-Mexico border. Pence’s sit-down with the Mexican leader will follow Trump’s calls to send National Guard troops to the border. That adds further tensions as the neighbours, along with Canada, work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a series of meetings with Latin American leaders, Pence plans to promote good governance and democratic institutions and urge allies to maintain pressure on Maduro. The US has sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top officials, accusing the country of human rights abuses.

With the White House’s encouragement, Maduro has been barred from the Summit over his plans to hold a presidential election that the opposition is boycotting and that many foreign governments consider a sham. During the meeting with four opposition leaders, Pence listened as they described their once-prosperous country devolving into chaos.

David Smolansky, a former mayor of El Hatillo, told Pence that Maduro’s government “has become a threat to the region.”

The Trump administration is considering imposing an oil embargo on the OPEC nation, while Panama recently said it would pursue sanctions of its own — the first Latin American nation do so — by blacklisting dozens of Venezuelan officials from doing business in the Central American country.

Ana Quintana, a senior policy analyst on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere for the Heritage Foundation, said Pence would seek to “continue the momentum” building against Venezuela. She said the “vast majority of the region’s democratic leaders have been so united on addressing the crisis.”

Pence will also aim to counter China’s attempt to exert more economic influence in the Americas at a time when the Trump administration has been embroiled in a trade dispute with the Chinese. White House officials said the vice president would emphasise the US as the “partner of choice” in Latin American trade, noting that nearly half of the US trade agreements are based in the Western Hemisphere.

Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow in the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said it would be difficult for the US to make a case to become the “preferential trading partner” as Trump seeks to upend trade agreements.

“If it means reliable, predictable, Trump is the opposite,” Feinberg said.

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