On May 3, WOLA Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey was featured in a Q&A in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor, along with Maria Eugenia Vidal and Beatrice Rangel, on the recent remarks by Argentine President Alberto Fernández regarding Argentina’s diplomatic relationship with the Maduro government, and the possibility that other countries in the region may consider a closer relationship with the Maduro government in the future. The question and Ramsey’s response is below. View the full Q&A here.

Q. Argentine President Alberto Fernández said April 18 that he wants to restore full diplomatic ties with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The statement led to an angry response from Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Argentina recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president in 2019, though Fernández retracted that recognition after taking office. What would renewed Argentine relations with Venezuela mean for Maduro’s government, and which other Latin American countries that previously sided with Guaidó might follow suit? What forces are leading countries in the region to consider warmer relations with Maduro? Would the election of leftists in the upcoming presidential elections in Brazil and Colombia lead to more regional support for the regime?

A. “President Fernández’s unfortunate remarks are notable given that Argentina never fully cut diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Like most Latin American and European countries that initially recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela in January 2019, Argentina continued to maintain an active diplomatic mission in Caracas. This was the case even under the previous government of Mauricio Macri, who kept limited consular relations with Venezuela. Argentina is not alone in this. Even countries such as Panama, the United Kingdom, Canada and Switzerland that have issued targeted sanctions against members of the Maduro regime have maintained diplomatic missions in Caracas. In some cases, countries such as Chile and Spain have even offered their embassies and residences to shield dissidents and perceived government opponents from repression.

Other countries have used their embassies on the ground to celebrate the work of Venezuelan human rights defenders who have been vital in documenting crimes against humanity committed by officials and government supporters. The experience of these countries shows it is possible to carry out strategic diplomatic engagement in authoritarian contexts while also working actively for a return to democracy. With these latest remarks, however, the Argentine government is missing the mark. By claiming that Venezuela’s human rights crisis is ‘dissipating’ and by backpedaling from condemning the lack of democracy in the country, President Fernández and his administration’s officials are dangerously close to normalizing a brutal dictatorship. That would be a tremendous disservice to countless Venezuelans in the country, as well as the more than six million who have fled in recent years.”