s the stand-off between Venezuela’s acting-president Juan Guaidó and Nicolas Maduro’s regime drags on, two democratic countries in the region have notably failed to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader: Mexico and Uruguay.
Uruguay is paying lip service to free and fair elections in Venezuela, while at the same time, actively taking measures to undermine the legitimacy of Guaidó’s government. Meanwhile, Mexico is vocalizing perfunctory support for dialogue and democracy with no actual support for action, hiding behind a facade of non-interventionist foreign policy. The company that Uruguay and Mexico keep by not recognizing Guaidó—Cuba, Russia, China, and Iran among others—is in itself damning. Even through tacit rejection of Guaidó’s democratic claim to the presidency, the governments of Mexico and Uruguay are actively supporting a dictatorship and, in the process, eroding their own domestic support and diplomatic capital.
Uruguay has struggled to find a consistent message in its approach to Venezuela, oscillating between denouncement and pseudo-support of the Maduro regime. The government expressed deep concern over the detention of Guaidó back in January and in March, signed onto a declaration supporting free and transparent elections in Venezuela, known as the International Contact Group. Yet, Uruguay refuses to join the Lima Group (a regional bloc that has continuously denounced the undemocratic actions of the Maduro regime), voted against Guaidó’s pick for permanent representative at the Organization of American States (OAS), and in April voted against a motion at the regional trading bloc MERCOSUR that would have discussed the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s re-election.
These contradictory responses to the Venezuelan political crisis are quickly eroding domestic public support for the Uruguayan government. A recent poll showed that 48% of Uruguayans believe Juan Guaidó to be the legitimate president of Venezuela, while 35% consider Nicolas Maduro to have the rightful claim. Although a slight majority of respondents believe the government should remain neutral, a growing percentage finds the Maduro government to be unacceptable, and supports the opposition.
As a leftist government, Uruguay’s Frente Amplio (FA) party sympathizes greatly with Chavismo—the socialist political ideology associated with former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez—but has failed to recognize that Maduro’s autocratic government drifted away from Chavismo some time ago. With Uruguay heading into one of the closest presidential elections in over a decade at the end of October, the ruling party’s desire to support a political ideology that is no longer present could, in the end, bring the fall of their own government, especially if the opposition ratchets up criticism of the government’s position on Venezuela. Given that the FA party has enjoyed nearly 15 years in power, a transition to the opposition would shepherd in a significant policy shift towards the center for Uruguay, supportive of a Guaidó government.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mexico’s about-face on Venezuela is unraveling hard-won efforts to burnish its credibility on the global stage. When Vicente Fox came to power in 2000, he gradually shifted Mexico’s historically non-interventionist foreign policy to one of more prominence, publicly denouncing Cuba’s human rights abuses and the US invasion of Iraq. President Enrique Peña Nieto continued this outspokenness, joining the Lima Group in calling out electoral and constitutional violations in Venezuela and pushing for the Organization of American States (OAS) to respond regionally to Venezuela’s democratic breakdown in 2017.
Yet with the 2018 election of leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s foreign policy towards Venezuela has retreated to its non-interventionist roots, a shift partially attributed to ideological similarities López Obrador and his cabinet share with Venezuela’s Chavista roots. Mexico has since refused to sign a January Lima Group declaration delegitimizing the re-election of Nicolas Maduro. In other international fora, Mexico has also voted against or abstained on motions criticizing the Maduro regime.
Not only is Mexico eroding its global credibility, President López Obrador is acting against his country’s own interests by remaining silent on an international crisis affecting his nation. Already combatting immigration pressures from Central America, Mexico has experienced four digit increases in refugee applications from Venezuelans over the last three years. Turning a blind eye to Maduro’s actions will only prolong his time in power and increase the social and political pressure on Mexico and other countries in the region, as Venezuelans continue to seek safe haven elsewhere.
While there have been attempts to facilitate mediation between the Guaidó and Maduro governments, it is now clear that there is only one outcome that will be accepted by the citizens of Venezuela, the government of Guaidó, and the international community: Maduro must go. Although Mexico and Uruguay recognizing Guaidó will not lead to immediate regime change, it will signal to Maduro that his allies are thinning and the world is still paying attention. This is an important message, given that a resolution to the Venezuelan crisis will only be achieved through constant pressure on the regime.
Through their failure to take positions that are strong, consistent, and democratically-oriented, Uruguay and Mexico are extending a lifeline to a clear dictatorship. Beyond the humanitarian implications, both governments have their own strategic objectives at stake, and will soon find that the crisis in Venezuela will brew significant problems at home.