Argentina ramps up pressure on Venezuela over opposition embassy refugees

'The entire Machado campaign office is in the official Argentine residence in Caracas’

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado looks on while addressing the media, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2024. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

Argentina’s government is set to ramp up pressure on Venezuela to grant safe passage to six opposition aides who had sought refuge in its embassy in Caracas, official sources said, adding they were at physical risk if they didn’t leave the country.

Two senior Argentine officials told Reuters last week that the administration of President Nicolás Maduro, who has looked to head off political rivals ahead of the July presidential elections, had reneged on promises to allow the six to safely leave the country.

In March, aides to Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado requested asylum at the Argentine embassy in Caracas, after a local prosecutor issued arrest warrants against them for conspiracy. Machado, who has denied any allegations of misconduct by her team, was blocked from being a candidate in the upcoming election despite being the front-runner in polls.

Maduro’s government has been going after political opposition candidates, including Machado, despite electoral commitments signed last year, a trend that saw Washington reimpose broad oil sanctions in April.

In April, Reuters reported, citing a Venezuelan official source, that Maduro’s government would allow the six aides to leave safely, in order to travel to Buenos Aires.

However, senior government sources told Reuters no such concession was ever granted.

“Venezuela is not issuing safe-conduct passes, it is not complying with what was agreed upon or with the (1954) Convention on Diplomatic Asylum,” said one of the sources, an official from Argentina’s foreign ministry.

“In the official Argentine residence in Caracas is the entire Machado campaign office, who are politically persecuted,” the person added, asking not to be named. “They have to leave Caracas because their physical integrity is in danger.”

Venezuela’s Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Argentine comments, previously unreported, mark an important hardening of tone on the embassy issue from the country against Maduro, putting diplomatic pressure on him just months before the oil-rich country’s controversial election.

A third Venezuelan source with knowledge of the matter said that they expected Argentina to make a significant and more public push on the matter this week, aiming to bring more regional pressure on Caracas.

“It is likely that other countries will soon begin to speak out asking for a resolution of this issue,” the first Argentina government source added.

A second Argentine government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the country expected the region to “demand Venezuela respect and comply with the Convention.”

“Venezuela must grant safe-conduct passes without conditions so that the six asylum seekers can leave the residence.”

—Reuters

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