Argentine president Mauricio Macri drew sharp criticism from Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister Delcy Rodríguez after asking for the release of “political prisoners” in the Caribbean state.
“I want to ask all states, especially the Venezuelan government, to work tirelessly to consolidate a true democratic culture in our region, one that includes everyone,” declared Macri towards the close of his speech at the Mercosur Summit in Asunción.
“In this spirit, I wish to ask expressly for the prompt liberation of political prisoners in Venezuela. There can be no place for political persecution, or for the imprisonment for thinking differently. My vision of democracy goes beyond a vote every few years, it is a form a life, a pact of living together between those who think differently.”
“You are meddling in Venezuelan affairs,” Rodríguez, representing Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, responded to the new Argentine president. “You are defending this person, and this political violence,” she said, holding up photos of opposition leader Leopoldo López and images of violent protests in 2014. “They used bazukas, they set fire to the Public Ministry, to essential public services. In Venezuela there are independent public powers, which should be respected by the international community. And in this case, the judiciary acted.”
Rodríguez went on to target Macri himself. “I understand that President Macri wants to ask for these violent people to be released. I understand because one of his first announcements has been to release those responsible for torture, disappearances, and murders during the dictatorship himself,” said Rodríguez, making an accusation that is not true. “He has vetoed laws against injustice, torture, and forced disappearances,” she continued, without providing specifics.
“We were surprised to see that [Madre de Plaza de Mayo founder] Hebe de Bonafini, loved by social groups across the continent, was accused [of inciting violence] for calling for peaceful protests against the government.”
“If we’re going to talk about human rights, we have to do it without double standards and with honesty,” Rodríguez concluded her response to Macri. “We can’t talk about human rights to defend violent people and not to criminalise social protests.”
Speaking to press after the altercation, Argentine Foreign Affairs Minsiter Susana Malcorra said that Macri would not respond to the accusations, which she said were “erroneous”.
“We did not anticipate the strong reaction of the foreign affairs minister [Rodríguez], which was her right to do so, but she reacted based on incorrect information,” explained Malcorra.
EU Trade Deal
In his first speech to the Mercosur community as president, Macri called the bloc: “A space to strengthen economic and commercial relations, and to help each other grow and reduce regional inequalities.”
The Argentine president called on South American leaders to show flexibility and transparency, and extended his domestic pledges to reduce poverty and combat drug trafficking to a regional level.
Macri also said that a free trade deal between Mercosur and the EU was a “priority”, while adding that the bloc should also integrate further with Latin American countries united in the so-called ‘Pacific alliance’.