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Venezuela demands Unasur speak up

Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Elías Jaua speaks during a press conference alongside his Argentine counterpart Héctor Timerman, at the Government House yesterday.
Jaua on LatAm tour to shore up support for Caracas; Argentina says region won’t back ouster

BUENOS AIRES — With Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Elías Jaua in Buenos Aires, the Argentine government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner expressed “total and absolute support” for President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and manifested the need “to defend institutions over anything else.”

Argentina was the third stop of Jaua’s regional tour, during which he hopes to shore up support for Maduro’s embattled government and convince leaders to have regional bloc Unasur discuss the situation in Venezuela, where violent anti-government protests calling for the president’s resignation have killed at least 16 people.

In a joint press conference with Argentine Foreign Relations Minister Héctor Timerman, the Venezuelan official said that he had “found in Argentina a firm position in defence of democracy and the right to live peacefully” in Venezuela and thanked the Argentine government for its “unambiguous support.”

Timerman underlined that “we are going to support the right of the Venezuelan people to be ruled by Nicolás Maduro like it expressed in free elections eight months ago” and added that “we, and because of our history, are going to ask protesters in Venezuelan to respect democracy and to sit down at the negotiationg table.”

“Nobody in the region will back the ouster” of Maduro, Timerman emphasized, and insisted “that institutions and popular will must be respected.”

One of the main goals of Jaua’s regional tour is to convince Unasur to discuss the political situation in Venezuela, for which he already obtained Uruguay’s support.

“Unasur is the natural place to analyze what’s happening in Venezuela,” Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro said in Asunción after meeting with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. In a press conference, Almagro reminded reporters “that last year in Lima, Unasur released a statement demanding the end of violence in Venezuela. Unasur should maybe give continuity to that statement.”

While announcing the creation of an “Economic Truth Commission,” Maduro also called yesterday for Unasur to analyze the political crisis in Venezuela.

In Montevideo, Uruguayan President José Mujica said he’d be willing to mediate between the Venezuelan government and the opposition if he was asked to do so, but Jaua said that “for the moment, we don’t see the need for international mediation.”

Regional tour

After meeting with Venezuela ally Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz early on Wednesday, Jaua visited Asunción, where he met with Paraguayan Foreign Relations Minister Eladio Loizaga.

The Paraguayan welcome wasn’t as warm as Bolivia’s, though Loizaga restrained from antagonizing Caracas.

“We met briefly, just the necessary time for a technical stop,” he said, referring to his meeting with Jaua late on Wednesday. “He gave me a report which accounts for the events that took place during the last few weeks, from the government’s point of view.”

He pledged to “read the report carefully” and expressed that “the path to an agreement is dialogue,” but avoided taking sides.

The governments of Paraguay and Venezuela have just recently moved past tensions in bilateral ties, that began following the fast-track ouster of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2012, which Caracas condemned. Paraguay was temporarily suspended from Mercosur and Unasur following Lugo’s ouster and was only readmitted after general elections were held.

“The space for negotiations could be Unasur, Mercosur or the Organization of American States (OAS),” Loizaga said.

An OAS meeting to analyze the situation in Venezuela — which had been called for by Panama — was cancelled at the last minute citing protocol mistakes. Jaua said, however, that “Venezuela doesn’t favour the issue being discussed at the OAS.”

Jaua visited Montevideo last night and will make a stop in Brazil today.

Protesters persist at start of holiday

The start of a weeklong string of holidays leading up to the March 5 anniversary of former President Hugo Chávez’s death did not completely pull protesters from the streets yesterday as the government apparently hoped.

Hundreds of students rallied on a leafy street in east Caracas demanding an end to the government crackdown on protests and the release of those jailed in recent weeks.

In Valencia, about 170 kilometres west of the capital, protesters manned burning street barricades and clashed with police.

Maduro announced this week that he was adding yesterday and today to the already scheduled long Carnival weekend that includes Monday and Tuesday off, and many people interpreted it as an attempt to calm tensions.

Yesterday’s student protest was intended to send the government a message that demonstrators would not be distracted by a vacation.

“They want to demobilize us with this decree that joins Carnival with these two days commemorating the Caracazo,” said student leader Juan Requesens, using the common term for a wave of anti-government protests in 1989.

“Maduro is mistaken,” he added. “We’re going to continue in the street, we’re not going to abandon our democratic fight for six days at the beach.”

Herald with Télam, AP, online media

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