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Exclusive- Mexico's top diplomat visits Cuba to seek help on Venezuela crisis
August 18, 2017 / 6:55 PM / 3 months ago

Exclusive- Mexico's top diplomat visits Cuba to seek help on Venezuela crisis

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s foreign minister is in Havana hoping to persuade Cuba, one of Venezuela’s top allies, to help resolve the tense political situation in the beleaguered South American nation, according to a senior Mexican official briefed about the trip.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (R) shakes hands with Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray at the foreign ministry in Havana, Cuba, August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

The minister, Luis Videgaray, has not gone empty-handed, according to the official and a document seen by Reuters, and has agreed with Havana’s request to expand a credit line with Mexico’s state-owned Bancomext bank from 30 million to 56 million euros as a gesture of goodwill. Cuba uses the credit line to pay for key imports.

“The foreign minister is going to say, ‘We want to solve the situation in Venezuela. How do we do that?'” the official said. “He’s going to see what the Cubans’ view is, and how we can soften or manage the transition in Venezuela and its impact on Cuba.”

Mexico may struggle to convince Cuba to join its effort. Venezuela is Cuba’s closest strategic and ideological ally, and has showered the island with billions of dollars of cheap oil and aid since the turn of the century.

Mexico, on the other hand, has flip-flopped in its relationship with Cuba, with former President Vicente Fox famously snubbing Fidel Castro at a summit, a move that pleased the United States but damaged Mexico’s regional influence.

Cuba has been loathe to support regional, U.S.-backed efforts to pressure the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro into restoring democratic order after months of deadly protests.

Still, Mexico, which has ditched years of isolationist foreign policies to lead Latin American diplomatic efforts to pressure Caracas, believes there won’t be a peaceful transition in Venezuela without Cuba’s help, the official said.

AIM OF VISIT

If Cuba accedes to leaning more heavily on Venezuela, it would be a massive blow to Maduro, and could prompt some other smaller island allies of Venezuela in the Caribbean to follow Havana’s lead, the official added.

Maduro was in Havana this week, and although there are diplomatic channels between the two countries’ embassies, Videgaray is expecting to have Maduro’s own views communicated to him by Cuban officials.

The purpose of the trip is also to assure Cuba that Mexico will step in to support the island nation if Venezuela collapses. The provision of Mexican oil is not officially on the table, but the official said he thought that could be offered in the future.

For Mexico, the best-case scenario for Videgaray’s trip would be that Cuba publicly recognises that the situation in Venezuela is untenable, and releases a statement critical of the Maduro regime, urging some form of transition, the official said.

However, the official feared Cuba could just as easily reiterate its support for Maduro, and say any resolution to the tense political situation must be negotiated via the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional bloc founded in Caracas.

“The Cubans are very ... unpredictable,” the official said. “They always do what they want.”

‘RESPECT’

After Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited Havana late last month, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a senior Cuban communist party figure, reiterated support for Maduro.

“Cuba ... has absolute respect for the sovereignty and autodetermination of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” he said.

Mexico has chosen to lead regional efforts against Venezuela as part of its efforts to secure a favourable renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Mexican and U.S. officials say.

The diplomatic efforts, largely through the Organization of American States (OAS), are seen as win-win for Mexico, as they please Washington and incur limited domestic political cost.

Videgaray, accompanied by the head of Bancomext, arrived in Havana on Thursday and was scheduled to leave later on Friday.

Speaking at a news conference alongside his counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, in Havana on Friday, Videgaray said he hoped trade between the two countries will continue to grow.

“Bilateral relations are developing well, and in constant progression,” Rodriguez told reporters. “We note that there is great potential in every area to keep developing them.”

The foreign ministries of Mexico and Cuba and the information ministry of Venezuela did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bernadette Baum

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