Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest nation, is today a devastated country. Its democratic system has been destroyed as a result of years of authoritarian rule and government corruption. Political opponents are persecuted and jailed and there is no free press. The economic mismanagement has sparked shortages of food, medicines and the most basic supplies, with a resulting humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is also a severe energy crisis and galloping inflation. And the number of pople leaving the country to escape their desperate situation is alarming.
Nicolas Maduro’s permanence in power is deemed illegitimate by most of the world’s democratic nations, as his re-election in May 2018 was clearly perceived as fraudulent. And at least 54 nations have recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s acting president.
But, despite all this, Maduro is still clinging to power. While many analysts, especially in Latin America, believe that the United States intends to remove Maduro from power by force, the truth is that, despite its strong statements, the U.S. government does not seem to have any appetite to enter into a military conflict in Latin America. And the same can be said of the governments of the region, even when some of them are disproportionately shouldering the burden of Venezuela's refugee crisis, as is the case of Brazil and Colombia.
There are two diplomatic initiatives today that are trying to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s catastrophic situation. The first one is conducted by the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela (composed of envoys of the European Union: Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal, plus Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Bolivia). This group is trying to reach a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition in Caracas.
The second initiative is an attempt by the Norwegian government to mediate the crisis. Several meetings were held recently between representatives of the Maduro regime and members of the opposition in Oslo. They were supposed to be secret but were apparently leaked by people close to Maduro. So far, none of these initiatives have yielded any results.
Even though it would be highly desirable for Maduro to agree to leave power and call for free and democratic elections through peaceful dialogue, the truth is that all the previous attempts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis that were held so far (including the one promoted by the Vatican in 2016) have failed. This is so because the regime has used these conversations to gain time, divide and weaken the opposition, and secure its permanence in power. Maduro's main interest in welcoming the current diplomatic initiatives is probably to improve his international image and curb the economic sanctions that have been imposed against his regime.
Given this background, it was a mistake for the contact group to publicly state that peaceful negotiations are "the only possible solution" to the Venezuelan crisis (clearly ruling out the possibility of a foreign intervention). The only way for any of these diplomatic initiatives to have a chance is for a credible threat of military intervention to be on the table. Otherwise, as in the past, these talks will only serve to extend the suffering of the population and the growing deterioration of the country.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
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