January 13 2020
By Francisco Herranz
As a result of the strong support of Russia and Cuba for Nicolás Maduro, and the division of the opposition groups, the US has modified its strategy towards Venezuela. It no longer shuffles the use of force among his plans. Now it only demands a negotiating process between the two opposing parties with the aim of renewing the Presidency and Parliament.
Although it occupies only three paragraphs, the statement of the US Department of State, released on January 9, clearly indicates an important change of course, not because of what it says but because of what it omits. It doesn’t say it has all the options on the table. Nor does it require the immediate or prior departure of Maduro as an essential condition to address the necessary changes. That represents a very remarkable circumstance in diplomatic and political terms.
The document, signed by the US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, argues that “a rapid negotiated transition to democracy is the most effective and sustainable route to peace and prosperity in Venezuela.” Pompeo adds that “the negotiations could open the path of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections.”
The Pompeo project sets a road map for the two elections to be held later this year. For this, it demands a new and independent National Electoral Commission, elected by the National Assembly (Parliament), as stipulated in the Constitution, to control the electoral process.
Two other requirements cited by Washington would be the renewal of the Supreme Court of Justice, the highest body of the Venezuelan judicial system, as well as unlimited access to media, telecommunications, internet and radio and television spaces of all candidates, parties and electorate. .
Pompeo wants elections open to all parties and candidates, which would apparently include the chavistas of the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), but that is especially complicated because the four most important opposition formations are banned and their main leaders, disabled.
This is about:
First Unit, party of the former presidential candidate and former governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, sentenced to 15 years of disqualification for corruption by the Comptroller General of the Republic;
Voluntad Popular, the party led by Leopoldo López, currently host-refugee at the Spanish Embassy in Caracas;
- A New Time;
- Democratic Action
The first three are part of the main opposition coalition, Bureau of Democratic Unity (MUD).
The tactical change is very significant because for months the Trump administration insisted that “all options were on the table” in relation to the crisis in Venezuela. That meant that it included the military option, that is, a scenario with invasion of ground troops and special operations.
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At the beginning of last December, Pompeo himself showed that the US Executive no longer considered the possibility of sending the Marines, although he did not say so clearly. Instead of the military option, the Secretary of State then mentioned the economic sanctions decreed by the US against the Venezuelan oil industry.
The idea of applying new sanctions is the one that takes more force and particularly against other politicians, for example, against Luis Parra, a First Justice deputy who went to the ruling party and proclaimed himself president of the National Assembly, unsuccessfully disallowing the leader of the Legislative, Juan Guaidó.
The United States had asked Maduro since January 2019 to leave the country, and in April of that year Pompeo had said, after a stifled military uprising, that the Venezuelan leader had a plane ready to flee to Cuba.
The sharp turn taken by the White House is the result of a serious failure of political calculation. The US special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, acknowledged to the press that his country underestimated the support of Russia and Cuba for Maduro, which was ultimately a blunder. Moscow and Havana “are the two pillars of support for the regime and, without them, [Maduro] would not be in power,” said the veteran US diplomatic representative, who obviously feels “frustrated” by the current situation of the crisis that It crosses the Caribbean nation.
The United States sees what happened in 2019 and Maduro is still at the Miraflores Palace, and maybe it is looking to change his toolbox (sanctions, threats, blockades, diplomatic and political siege) for a new one that sets course towards a negotiated solution. Trump would like it to be this year to show it as an achievement for his re-election in November.
“Nor is it ruled out that he seeks to push Maduro toward the dilemma of making concessions or facing greater danger. Anyway, it seems that someone in Washington reread Kissinger, ”says an experienced Venezuelan journalist.
However, the negotiations that the State Department is talking about now sound like mere illusions, because the process of open dialogue through Norwegian mediators has been suspended for weeks. A couple of days ago, Guaido himself informed national and international public opinion that a commission from the Kingdom of Norway was arriving in Caracas, but added that they were not “going to participate in any meeting”, especially after the incidents occurred on January 5, when a group of soldiers and police prevented him from entering the National Assembly building to be re-elected one more year in office.
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After his vain attempt, Guaidó organized an unpublished session in the newspaper El Nacional, where he was ratified by 100 opposition deputies of the 167 that the Chamber has.
Another reason for the change of opinion of Pompeo would be the great political and personal differences between the Venezuelan opposition. They did not learn from the mistakes of yesteryear and their unity cracks. Guaidó, who has not achieved much in this last year as “president in charge” of Venezuela, is increasingly facing the radical sectors of the opposition that favor the use of military force to drive Maduro out of power.
The most famous clash against Guaidó has been starred by María Corina Machado. The media coordinator of the Vente Venezuela movement has already denounced that the leadership of the National Assembly is “infiltrated” and that it leads the country to “false dialogues” and “criminal cohabitations”. The uncompromising but popular María Corina Machado has declared, by active and passive, that Maduro “only yields to the force” and proposes an international joint action, while Guaidó considers, until now, that this path is meaningless, very dangerous and risky.