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Newly elected Argentine President Mauricio Macri took the floor at the Mercosur meeting today in Asunción, Paraguay, and called on Venezuela to “free political prisoners,” saying “there can be no space for political persecution based on ideological reasons, nor to illegitimately detain [individuals] for thinking differently.”

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri attends a session of the Summit of Heads of State of MERCOSUR and Associated States and 49th Meeting of the Common Market Council in Luque, Paraguay, December 21, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

Macri also congratulated Venezuelan authorities for accepting the results of the December parliamentary elections and asked opposition members – who won a landslide victory – to act prudently.

The immediate – and not surprising – reaction by the Venezuelan foreign affairs minister was to accuse Macri of interfering with Venezuelan affairs and defending “political violence.” The minister asserted that Venezuela is a human rights “model in the world.”

But there is no such thing as interfering with internal affairs when someone is speaking out to defend fundamental rights. Citing sovereignty as an excuse to avoid international scrutiny of human rights violations is a shameless tactic of authoritarian leaders with something to hide.

The human rights situation in Venezuela has deteriorated dramatically in recent years. Opposition politicians have been arbitrarily arrested, then prosecuted and convicted on politically motivated charges, and barred from running for office in the December legislative elections. The government has targeted dozens of lesser-known critics, including independent media outlets and journalists and harassed human rights defenders. Security forces have arbitrarily arrested, beaten, and tortured largely peaceful protesters without being called to account.

The pro-government majority in the outgoing National Assembly is bound to fill at least a dozen vacancies in the Venezuelan Supreme Court before leaving office in early January, ensuring many more years of a Chavista Supreme Court. Since the political takeover of the Supreme Court in 2004 – which increased the number of justices from 20 to 32 and packed the court with supporters of Hugo Chávez’s presidency – the judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government.

Given this grim scenario, Macri was not asking his fellow presidents for a favor – all Mercosur member countries have recognized in regional agreements that the protection of human rights and the “full validity of democratic institutions” are key for regional integration. It would be in the best interest of all Venezuelans for other leaders to echo Macri’s concerns and call on the Maduro administration to end its assault on judicial independence and fundamental freedoms.

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