Mexico defends hands-off stance on Venezuela

Mexico defends hands-off stance on Venezuela; may be seeking to mediate in crisis

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended his administration's hands-off policy on Venezuela Monday, saying it marked a return to the country's longstanding policy of non-intervention.

Lopez Obrador's new administration has reversed years of Mexican pressure on Venezuela, refusing to sign a Lima Group declaration Friday urging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to assume power for a second term.

The new policy is not without its critics. On Friday a Colombian woman approached Lopez Obrador at an airport — the president flies commercial class on regular flights — and asked him why Mexico hadn't taken a position on Venezuela.

"I don't get involved in other countries' affairs," Lopez Obrador answered her.

On Monday, he acknowledged that "this is an issue that generates a lot of polemics, but it should be understood that this is not an issue of political sympathies." Some have accused Lopez Obrador, a leftist, of sympathizing with Maduro, a self-declared socialist.

But Lopez Obrador said it is a return to the non-intervention policy Mexico practiced from the 1960s — when it resisted U.S. pressure to condemn or isolate Cuba — until 2000, when the conservative National Action Party began a adopt a more activist, U.S.-allied stance in foreign affairs.

In Lima, Peru on Friday, a dozen Latin American governments and Canada questioned the legitimacy of Maduro's soon-to-begin second term and urged him to hand over power to restore democracy in his crisis-wracked South American country.

Lopez Obrador said Monday that Mexico "cannot be getting involved in the internal affairs of other countries, because we don't want anybody, any foreign government, getting involved in Mexico's internal affairs."

"For me the best foreign policy is domestic policy," Lopez Obrador said. "This doesn't just apply to Venezuela's case."

Lopez Obrador may be positioning Mexico to serve as a trusted mediator in any possible negotiated solution to Venezuela's crisis.

Raul Benitez, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said foreign policy has been an area Lopez Obrador has shown talent in, and the Mexican leader braved criticism by inviting Maduro to his Dec. 1 inauguration.

"Maduro is isolated, and Mexico could be a negotiator ... because Maduro will have confidence in him," Benitez said.

Lopez Obrador also hinted at dialogue, though such efforts have failed in the past in the face of the government's intransigence and violation of democratic norms.

"We are for dialogue," Lopez Obrador said. "Will participate in that, let everything be done by dialogue."

Venezuela's hyperinflation, crime and shortages have forced millions to flee, mainly to countries in South America but some to Mexico, as well.