Trouble in the Lima Group
In 2017, 12 countries of the Americas forged an alliance to help restore democracy in Venezuela. Now, the more influential members of the club face challenges that could alter their stance towards our country.
Photo: Infobae retrieved
Once the Maduro regime installed the National Constituent Assembly as a parallel congress to formalize its rejection to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, 12 governments met in the Peruvian capital and signed the Lima Declaration, where they promised to join forces and help restore democracy in Venezuela. The Lima Group was born and would be, in the following months, a very vocal high-level source of pressure on the chavista regime. Even when one of its founding members, Mexico, changed its stance on Venezuela when Andrés Manuel López Obrador became president, this club of democracies has been critical in denouncing the illegitimate election of May 2018 and a source of international support for the National Assembly. Therefore, its position has been crucial in so many countries recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
However, the Lima Group is now facing an existential threat in the different scenarios that its most influential members—in terms of economic and geopolitical weight—are exposed to. Political change inside the Lima Group means, at first glance, another source of concern for the democratic field in Venezuela. We could see the disappearance of the group or a change in its expectations… from ousting Maduro to living with him.
But everything depends on what happens in these places.
President Mauricio Macri, one of Maduro’s fiercest critics in the Americas, is struggling to improve vote intention to his favor before the general election of October 27th: he’s more than 15 points behind his challenger, Alberto Fernández, who’s running on behalf of Argentina’s more popular and enduring political force, Peronism—one of the main influences of the chavista populist doctrine.
Fernández has in his ticket, as vice-president in waiting, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Chávez’s close friend. If these people come back to power, even if the relationship with Maduro will hardly be as close as in the Chávez-Kirchner years, the Venezuelan opposition will lose a good ally.
Macri is a good fighter and Peronists are involved in many corruption scandals, but Argentineans are angry about the economy after four years of a rather disappointing Macri administration.
On the surface, South America’s powerhouse looks stable. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro seems able to rule his highly polarized country, especially with leftist leader Lula da Silva in prison after the Petrobras corruption scandal. However, the distrust on the entire political class is still there, and therefore the risk of a new political crisis. The same nature of the Bolsonaro populist movement leads to think that he will become more authoritarian once the existing conflicts in the Brazilian society, one of the most unequal on Earth, increase resistance to his policies. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro is being more vocal than really aggressive towards the Maduro regime; his vice-president, a retired Army General who previously worked as a military attaché at the Brazilian Embassy in Caracas, has made it clear that they are not considering being a part of any plan for an armed intervention in Venezuela. On the contrary, the Brazilian Armed Forces are busy keeping good terms with Venezuela’s FANB and organizing the assistance of Venezuelan migrants who reach Brazil on foot.
On the federal election of October 21st, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just managed to remain in power because his Liberal Party retained more seats in Parliament, but the Conservatives won the popular vote and Trudeau’s leadership is weakened over a divided country. The Trudeaumania of four years ago is long gone: Trudeau will need support from the New Democratic Party now that the Liberals will form a minority government.
The NDP is way more to the Left and some of his members have supported Maduro; in exchange of support, they could force some nuances in Canadian foreign policy and the stance on Venezuela, which while unmistakably hostile to Maduro, has been from the beginning quite clear in its opposition to the idea of military intervention. Another possible effect of the new Canadian political reality after the election is that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, one of the Lima Group founders and one of the more articulated voices in the global arena against the Maduro regime, could leave her post in the expected cabinet shuffle to come.
The whole continent is surprised by the events in Chile in mid October, precisely the most stable and prosperous democracy in Latin America. The announcement of a new subway fare in Santiago ignited a student protest that was taken over by radical groups. The riots and looting spread to other cities, caused catastrophic damages in the subway, and didn’t stop even though President Sebastián Piñera, another enemy of Maduro, reversed the measures of the subway fare and declared a state of emergency and ordered the Army to handle the situation. In a country still healing from the wounds of almost two decades of dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, seeing soldiers in the streets sparks awful memories.
Center-right President Piñera doesn’t seem to be on the brink of being ousted, but his image has been severely damaged. Most of all, the riots revealed the real magnitude of the tensions that inequality has been brewing in Chile, and announce an era of conflict in the only country in Latin America with “first-world” prospects. This clever piece compares what happens in Chile to Venezuela’s situation in 1989.
Regarding the stance on Maduro, this new situation drives less attention among Chileans to foreign affairs… although the probable involvement of Maduro agents in the street violence could, if proved, increase the sense of the chavista regime being a common enemy in the region that must be neutralized.
The subject of the Maduro regime as a national enemy is way more relevant in Colombia, where the peace process looks stagnated amid the half-hearted management of the government’s commitments in the agreements, killing hundreds of local leaders or activists allegedly linked with guerrillas, the prevalence of cocaine production and the call to arms by a fraction of FARC and ELN, under the evident protection of chavismo. President Iván Duque is not doing very well at the polls: his approval rate fell under 30 % and most Colombians think he’s not doing what he promised against corruption, the economy and the worrying issue of Venezuelan massive immigration.
On Venezuela, the Duque administration is being accused of being obsessed with Maduro instead of solving the problems of his people, while the Venezuelan dictator is still there no matter how much Duque has predicted his ousting. Colombia is severely under pressure: the peace process is not working, the economy is not well and the Venezuelan situation is overwhelming for the amount of poor, sick migrants, and the support the regime provides to enemies of the state such as FARC and ELN. But Duque has very little space to influence the situation, and more reasons to focus on his problems at home.
Since the Lima Group was formed, this country saw President Pedro Pablo Kuczinsky quit before being ousted by the Odebrecht bribe scandal. Now interim President Martin Vizcarra had to dissolve Congress to avoid a similar move against him (and to refresh a Congress paralyzed by an opposition deeply involved in several corruption cases). Vizcarra had domestic and foreign support when dissolving Congress, because he did so according to the Constitution, but it remains to be seen if he can conjure the threat of the pro-Fujimori opposition and complete his mandate until 2021.
In this context, the increasing xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants forced the Peruvian government to narrow the chances for Venezuelans to be admitted in the country, while President Vizcarra must focus, like his counterparts in Chile, Colombia and Canada, in securing his own hold on power, rather than working for the demise of Maduro.
Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported.
We’ve been able to hang on for 19 years in one of the craziest media landscapes in the world. Now, the difficulty level was raised abruptly with the global pandemic. We’ve seen different media outlets in Venezuela (and abroad) cutting personnel to avoid closing shop. This is something we’re looking to avoid at all costs, and it seems we will. But your collaboration goes a long way in helping us weather the storm.Donate