“La moral empieza en casa”

(Translation: “Morality starts at home”)

Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuelan foreign minister. Photo Credit: Israel Leal/AP. Source: Miami Herald

As the 47th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in the Mexican resort town of Cancún and discussed and discussed (and eventually did not agree on) how to deal with Venezuela’s current political crisis, a verbal shoving match occurred at the lobby of a hotel close to where the OAS met. In one corner was Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS (like Brexit, what we can now call “Venexit” will take a while to complete, so Venezuela is still technically an OAS member). In the other was Gustavo Tovar, a Venezuelan human rights activist. The climactic moment of the exchange was when Moncada shouted to Tovar that he sold out to the US and Tovar riposted by throwing a Venezuelan bill to Moncada, telling him to accept his alms and calling him “killer”. Needless to say, it all went viral.

Fireworks also went off inside the meeting room, when Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez had this to say before collecting her stuff and storming out:

I call upon those who remain in this organization to remember that they have to take care of the durability of their own institutions if they don’t want the same thing that happened to Venezuela to happen to them.

Coming from the top diplomat of chavismo, the statement is basically a sarcastic snipe at countries who (rightfully) criticize Venezuela. As I said before, immunity from international criticism has always been a foreign policy objective for Venezuela. But looked at closely, Rodríguez’s statement has a kernel of truth, because the current regional effort to chastise Venezuela is led by none other than Mexico. And there is indeed a problem with that.

When Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray declared last month that Venezuela no longer had a “functional democracy”, Rodríguez reacted with a move that otherwise would make Donald Trump proud: she tweeted.

(Translation: It is unfortunate that the government of Mexico attacks Latin American peoples and violates the human rights of its own people gravely and massively.)

The charge of aggression is debatable and perhaps laughable, but one can legitimately ask why Mexico, of all countries, should have led the effort to hold Venezuela accountable while having so many skeletons in its closet. Such behavior is not really new: Back in 1975, when the Spanish dictatorship led by Francisco Franco executed five radicals found guilty of terrorism, Mexican ambassador to the United Nations (and former president) Luis Echeverría called for the expulsion of Spain from that body without him actually saying anything about the October 1968 student massacre in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City, in which the national government he was part of (as Interior Secretary) was implicated. Foreign Minister Rodríguez herself has focused on the (still unsolved) disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, but a case against Mexico’s human rights record can also be made from hard facts collected by NGOs that are currently well out of favor with the Venezuelan government for being too judgmental on it, like Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, or Amnesty International. The rap sheet is long: corruption, electoral irregularities, collusion with drug cartels, tortures, extrajudicial killings, and even spyware attacks that would get two thumbs up from Vladimir Putin. Consequently, as far as functional democracies go, Mexican democracy is not that functional (and no, this is not the first time I talk about that).

Yet Rodríguez’s statement was not the proverbial mike-dropping moment, as domestic and global rooters of chavismo would like us to believe. Not when that statement has the implicit assertion that Venezuela has the sovereign right to tank the economy and force millions of people to queues longer than Maduro’s radio show, as if no one in this era of globalized news would care. Not while pretending to be constantly let off the hook for questionable human rights practices at the same time it wags fingers to other countries for the same reason, as in this tweet:

(It should be obvious at this point that Venezuela considers this kind of talk an act of “aggression” when it is directed against it.)

Also, it is very hilarious to read about Rodríguez accusing Mexico of being a lackey of the US or Moncada saying that human rights activists sold out to the US since, interestingly, the US is Venezuela’s top trading partner. In 2015, the US made up for 24.5% of all Venezuelan exports and 24% of all its imports, while China came in a relatively distant second on both areas (14.1% and 18.3% respectively), bad neighbor Colombia is the third-largest export market (10.8%), and Cuba represented less than 5% of all exports; and in 2016, Venezuela had a goods trade surplus and a service trade deficit with the US. Relying so much on US services (ex. travel and IT) and making a profit out of American demand for goods like oil ($10 billion worth in US imports in 2016) does not fit with the anti-American rhetoric of chavismo, but that is evidently beside the point for Maduro and company (remember that anti-Americanism in Latin America is not as straightforward as anyone might think). Mexico trades more with the US by a country mile (more than 80% of its exports went to the US in 2015), but Venezuela’s nagging of other countries for their links with the US while not being honest about its own is as dumb a move as Mexico’s rather disingenuous criticism of Venezuela. And given that the Trump “administration” has no lost love for Mexico because of NAFTA and immigration (still remember the border wall?), I wonder if Rodríguez and Moncada really knew what they were saying. (Besides, Venezuela might have had, ironically, an unlikely and unacknowledged ally in the US this time around.)

The bottom line is that a much stronger case can be made by either side from a position of walking the walk and not just talking the talk, and walking the walk will take a process of sincere soul-searching that neither government is currently willing to do out of pride. Mexico is no paradise, but neither is Venezuela.

Two wrongs never make a right.

Note: At the time of posting, Samuel Moncada took over for Delcy Rodríguez as Venezuela’s foreign minister.

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