Last November, when Mauricio Macri won the Argentine presidency and ended the Kirchner Era, a frisson ran through Venezuela’s embattled opposition movement. It happened just a couple of weeks before Venezuela’s own legislative election, and seemed to herald a whole new era for the region. For the first time, one of the big Left-Populist autocratic movements had been defeated at the polls. Chavismo had lost one of its two major diplomatic allies. Anything was possible.

Today, Venezuela’s hopes for the Macri regime slammed into a wall of cold, hard realpolitik, as it became clear that Argentina’s new conservative government has turned, incongruously, into Venezuela’s best remaining ally in hemispheric politics. (If you want to understand the dynamics, it’s important to read the whole thing.)

How could this have happened?

The news our friends at Vertice News are hearing about the behind-the-scenes scheming in Washington are confusing and upsetting. Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra, appears to be taking the lead in trying to forestall application of OAS’s Democratic Charter to Venezuela, apparently as part of a complicated negotiation to line up diplomatic support for an eventual bid to become UN Secretary General. Her line has set her on a collision course with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, now leading the charge in favor of an invocation of the charter.

Argentina’s OAS Ambassador, Juan José Arcuri, is now actively maneuvering to forestall the use of the charter, proposing instead a vanilla resolution about “fraternal dialogue” sugarcoated to within an inch of his life. It was Argentina that called tomorrow’s extraordinary meeting of the Permanent Council in its role as pro-tempore head of the organization.

Apparently, Almagro is pressing ahead with his charter invocation, even though he may not have the votes to carry it through. He seems to be almost daring Malcorra to put Argentina on the record effectively backing the Maduro administration. Almagro seems to be courting Macri’s personal involvement: with his long record of support for Venezuela’s democratic movement it would be seriously awkward for Macri to now vote against a charter invocation, especially in the wake of Almagro’s very strongly worded report urging it.

The U.S., disappointingly, appears to be backing Malcorra’s position, while Brazil pretty much sits out the crisis.

Yet it’s Argentina that now seems to have the whip hand in the Washington-based diplomacy on the Venezuelan crisis.

For many years, Malcorra was Chief of Staff to outgoing UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. A proper diplomatic heavyweight, she knows everyone, and everybody knows her. Well. Calls for the next Secretary General to be a woman are loud and in many ways justified. But the job is meant to rotate among continents, and former New Zealand Prime Minister and current UN Development czar Helen Clark has a better chance. Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, currently the chief of UNESCO, could also take the job.

How far will Macri go to push his candidate to the UN’s top job? Can he really allow Venezuela to become collateral damage in her bid?

As Mauricio Macri knows very well, within living memory, Venezuela’s democratic governments stood by Argentina’s democratic activists through the worst of its dictatorships. Will the history books be able to say Buenos Aires reciprocated?

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