Mexico Treads Carefully As it Confronts Venezuela Democracy Crisis

By Mark Browne | April 12, 2017 | 8:53 PM EDT

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. (AP Photo, File)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Mexico’s insistence that the government of Venezuela return to “democratic norms” is not an effort to take the lead in Latin America’s response to the country’s worsening economic and political crisis, according to political analysts here.

Instead, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto believes that to remain silent is not in Mexico’s best interests, said Jorge Chabat, professor of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching on Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City.

Peña Nieto’s PRI party has in the past tended to avoid making pronouncements or getting involved in the internal affairs of other countries, Chabat noted.

The PRI ruled Mexico for more than 70 years prior to the election of former President Vicente Fox of the PAN party in 2000 – and then returned to power with the election of Peña Nieto in 2012.

“The government of the PRI wasn’t very democratic, so they didn’t want to offer an opinion on the process of other countries, so as to avoid having to talk about what was going on in Mexico,” Chabat said.

Recent events in Venezuela, however, forced Mexico’s hand.

He said Peña Nieto reached the conclusion that staying on the sidelines would be worse than taking a public position, especially if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government fails.

Mexico continues to be careful not to criticize Maduro directly, but doesn’t want to be seen as supporting him.

“The international political cost,” Chabat said, “would be too high.”

As Venezuela has been hit with street protests, shortages of foods and medicines, and skyrocketing inflation, Mexico has carefully calibrated its response.

According to Chabat, it became especially difficult for Mexico to remain silent after the Venezuelan Supreme Court took away the legislative powers of the Congress in a ruling on March 29 – a move that produced international criticism and ongoing street demonstrations in Venezuela.

The court reversed itself several days later, but the original ruling provoked an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States in which member states, including Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, called for a return to democratic order.

Mexico’s foreign ministry called the original court ruling “an attack on the essential principles and values of representative democracy and the separation of powers.”

“The region can’t remain indifferent” to events in Venezuela, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray said at a March 23 banking convention in Acapulco, according to release of his remarks provided by the foreign ministry.

“We consider it urgent that priority be given to the release of political prisoners, to recognize the legitimacy of the decisions of the National Assembly, according to the Constitution, and to establish an electoral calendar, including postponed elections,” the ministry said in a statement that same day.

At an OAS extraordinary council session on March 28, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora said the principle of non-intervention could not be used to “justify or conceal alterations to the democratic order in the hemisphere, and even less to evade responsibilities in the field of human rights or respect for the rule of law.”

Last week Peña Nieto met with Venezuelan opposition activist Lilian Tintori, the wife of the jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

That meeting, and a call by the Mexican leader on his Twitter account for a “return to democratic normalcy” in Venezuela, marked a break from past traditions, said Luz Maria de la Mora, another CIDE professor.

But as a signatory to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Mexico has “certain responsibilities,” she told CNSNews.com.

The charter, signed by OAS member nations in 2001, is designed to reinforce “the instruments of the OAS for the active defense of representative democracy,” according to the OAS website.

“This is part of the process of the construction of democracy in Latin America,” de la Mora said.