Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro embarked today on a three-day tour of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, all members of Mercosur (The Common Market of the South). Following Paraguay’s suspension from the free-trade group, Venezuela joined Mercosur last year and will assume the bloc’s temporary presidency for the first time on June 28 during a summit in Montevideo.
During a ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro announced that he would visit the other Mercosur countries to “continue bringing forward a perfect equation of financial, energy, cultural and political integration.”
In Uruguay, Maduro will meet with Uruguayan President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, union leaders and the electrical transformer company Urutransfor. Members of the Uruguayan opposition have criticized Maduro’s visit as “tactless and inconvenient” because of the current political tensions that exist in Venezuela. Later this week, Maduro will meet Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia to discuss the next steps for the regional bloc.The Venezuelan president’s tour is seen by the Venezuelan opposition as an attempt to legitimize Maduro’s presidency following the controversial April 14 elections in which the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela—PSUV) candidate and political heir of Hugo Chávez defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a margin of less than two percentage points. Following the election, the opposition has called for an audit of the electoral results, claiming that there were a number of irregularities during the vote that potentially affected millions of ballots.
Yesterday, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral—CNE) began an expanded audit of the results. The electoral authority will examine 350 ballot boxes a day over the next month for a total of 10,500 ballot boxes, auditing around 46 percent of the total vote tally. The audit will be observed by CNE officials and members of the PSUV and other political parties, but the opposition will not take part in the audit because it does not accept the terms of the process. On Thursday, Capriles filed a legal appeal to challenge the outcome of the country’s recent presidential elections.