Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Venezuela's Maduro Globe Trots: Building Regional Ties or a Domestic Distraction?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Venezuela's Maduro Globe Trots: Building Regional Ties or a Domestic Distraction?

Article excerpt

After a stop in Uruguay, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro was received in Buenos Aires today by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the Argentine presidential palace, La Casa Rosada.

Speaking on the tarmac of the city airport, Mr. Maduro recalled that former President Hugo Chavez "deeply loved" Argentina, and told local press he came to "ratify that love."

In his first official tour abroad, Venezuela's new leader is visiting Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil in hopes of strengthening relations and deepening cooperation within the South American trade block, Mercosur. However, while a domestic dispute over the legality of Maduro's presidential victory continues to drag on at home, analysts say Maduro's tour is more about saving face domestically than improving relations abroad.

"When there's problems domestically, there's nothing quite like an international tour to make a president look presidential," says Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.

Mr. Sabatini adds that turning to foreign diplomacy is not a new tactic. He points to the example of former US president Bill Clinton, who when embroiled with the Monica Lewinsky scandal embarked on a series of overseas missions. Presidents tend to travel when they are under fire at home, Sabatini says.

'Alleviating' doubts?

Venezuela has been in the throes of a political crisis since Maduro, Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor, inched out opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in last month's election by less than two percentage points - about 225,000 votes. Mr. Capriles and the country's political opposition have since cried foul and demanded a full audit of the vote.

Julio Burdman, a political scientist at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires, says that the trip could help boost Maduro's popularity back in Caracas. After six years at the helm as Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Maduro "feels comfortable in international settings," Mr. Burdman says.

Generating new accords and working abroad, Burdman explains, "helps to alleviate doubts about his legitimacy as he's being recognized internationally as president by friendly nations."

While the United States and the European Union have still yet to recognize Maduro's April 14 victory, Latin American leaders in both The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and Mercosur were quick to show their support for Chavez's successor, a move observers say reflects their desire to secure a stable trading partner. …

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