AFP Buenos Aires
Venezuela’s top diplomat turned up uninvited to a meeting of the South America’s Mercosur on Wednesday, despite Caracas’ suspension from the trade bloc for failing to meet democratic and trade standards.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pushed her way through a crowd of riot police and journalists to enter the Argentine foreign ministry in Buenos Aires where the extraordinary meeting was held.
“These (Mercosur) presidents insist Venezuela can’t participate,” she told reporters outside the building. “Well, we’ll come in through the window because we’re here to defend Venezuela’s rights and also defend the rights of Mercosur.”
She later tweeted a picture of herself inside the conference room.
But her colleagues – who had explicitly said Venezuela was not invited – excluded her from the meeting, Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said.
The other Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – had suspended Venezuela earlier this month for failing to ratify rules on trade, politics, democracy and human rights.
In a surreal turn, Venezuela insists it still holds Mercosur’s rotating presidency – a claim Rodriguez repeated on Wednesday.
But Malcorra said Argentina had in fact taken over the presidency at the meeting.
Speaking in Havana, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took a defiant tone.
“Nothing and nobody is going to remove us from Mercosur because Mercosur belongs to the people,” he insisted, accusing an alliance of “ultra-right” governments in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay of trying to destroy the bloc.
Venezuela’s neighbours are becoming increasingly wary of developments in the once-booming oil giant.
Maduro has presided over an economic meltdown marked by food shortages, riots and looting.
The opposition accuses the deeply-unpopular president of trampling on democracy by throwing its leaders in jail and blocking efforts to remove him constitutionally.
Announced on December 2, the Mercosur suspension represents the international community’s biggest rebuke of Maduro’s government since the political crisis deepened this year.
Venezuela joined Mercosur in 2012 when fellow leftist governments held sway across the region.
But the political tide has turned as a regional recession bites, with Maduro now facing sharp criticism from centre-right presidents Michel Temer in Brazil and Mauricio Macri in Argentina.
Wednesday’s meeting was called to discuss the regional impact of the Venezuelan crisis and progress toward signing a trade deal with the EU.
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