A Way Out of Washington’s Impasse Over Venezuela

01.08.2020

Until now, Norwegian-facilitated negotiations to end Venezuela’s presidential showdown have failed. Nicolás Maduro has yet to be overthrown in Venezuela. U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela has turned out to be a disaster. To make things worse, President Trump still needs to save face in Venezuela before the presidential election later this year, even if the face-saving comes without President Maduro’s ouster. Although Donald Trump has denied being behind bungled the Venezuelan coup plot called ‘Operation Gideon’, his administration is still being encouraged to investigate the events and clarify its details.

Time has taught us that Donald Trump is a pragmatic politician and businessman. Even if they both have different ramifications and ways that players intrinsically judge them, business strategies are similar to political ones. The main goal of businesses is to make a profit, and governments’ goal is to ensure economic stability and growth. Trump is willing to change direction as long as it is profitable, necessary and high-returning. Long-term confrontation can be expensive and not very convenient. During the last few weeks United States President Donald Trump not only welcomed Mexican left-wing President López Obrador, but also said on July 10 that his administration believed that Venezuelan political figure Juan Guaidó was losing some power.

In spite of Trump administration’s Venezuela policy, Lopez Obrador’s Mexico has supported Maduro. Mexico has stood alone within the once 14-country Lima Group in not recognizing Venezuelan political figure Juan Guaidó. Before meeting Trump, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that he’d be willing to sell gasoline to Venezuela as a humanitarian gesture despite United States sanctions against the South American country. The prospect of a more united Latin American left has been growing since November 2019, when Fernández and AMLO started to discuss reviving CELAC, a regional diplomatic alternative to the Washington-backed Organization of American States (OAS).

On July 17, Donald Trump himself tweeted that John Bolton released massive amounts of Classified Information — material that a government body deems to be sensitive information that must be protected —  in his book. Even if we have legitimate reasons not to believe everything Bolton has said, and he has yet to explain a great many of his motivations, the truth is that many of his statements make sense and seem to be factual. Bolton confessed that Donald Trump has never taken Juan Guaidó very seriously. By spring 2019, Trump was calling Guaidó the “Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela”. In November 2019, Trump called O’Rouke a poor bastard. Moreover, Bolton said that Trump doubted Maduro would fall, having said he was too smart and too tough. In sum, Trump’s opinion on Maduro was by far more positive than his view of Guaidó.

Numerous states still recognize Nicolás Maduro as president, as shown by Venezuela’s election to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in a vote held on the 17th of October 2019. Even if Juan Guaidó is still recognized as the legitimate acting president by 58 countries, including the United States, the pressure has not been enough to dislodge Maduro. In fact, one should acknowledge that there is some gray area here, as India is a key strategic ally of both Venezuelan and United States governments. New Delhi has not recognized Juan Guaidó, and still remains as one of the most important strategic partners of the United States. It is worth to note that shared American and Indian concerns about a rising China’s behavior have been a significant driver of the United States-India partnership over the last two decades.

In Europe, it has become evident that some of the countries that recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president have provided some kind of economic aid to Maduro’s government. Consequently, Trump administration officials last year stressed that they were to push for financial sanctions against Spain for what they say was its financial support of Nicolás Maduro’s regime. According to the United States government, Nicolás Maduro was moving money through Spain’s Central Bank. Venezuela’s central bank was apparently relying on its Spanish counterpart to transfer and receive funds abroad at a time when U.S. sanctions have prompted many large banks and financial institutions to shy away from any actual or perceived dealings with Venezuelan entities. In an emailed statement, a Bank of Spain spokeman said the account kept by Venezuela was used to pay operating expenses related to the diplomatic relations between the two countries and the balance of the account was relatively small.

On the other hand, overcoming sinophobia and russophobia was one of the main challenges of the Venezuelan opposition. Not only their actions, but also their words, have aggravated the already-existing doubts of the U.S., Chinese and Russian administrations. Guaidó’s team did not build confidence among the Chinese and the Russians nor contribute to the conditions needed for a peaceful solution. Therefore, it is very likely that China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Nicaragua, India and Argentina will keep supporting Maduro, more or less.

According to a report from the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonpartisan Washington think tank focused on nuclear non-proliferation, 49 countries violated UN Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea between March 2014 and September 2017. History tells us that a lot of United States allies aren’t following through on their promises when it comes to sanctions. There are very few reasons to think that things will be different this time. It is feasible that many countries, entities and enterprises will find a way to work with Venezuela under the table.

The Trump administration has just realized that Nicolás Maduro was not as dumb as some thought he was, nor are the opposition advisors as intelligent as they claim to be. The Venezuelan opposition has proven to be highly overpromising, optimistic, and ‘sensationalist’, but not very reliable and successful when it comes to veracity of the facts provided and fulfilling of promises made. The damage is already done, not only to Venezuela, but also to the Trump administration, which has lost credibility. Something new has to be done in Venezuela. There is a two-decade-long history of the United States government missing opportunities in the South American country, once the richest and most prosperous nation in the region.

Allies of the two political sides should press them to overcome their reluctance and return to the negotiating table. While this political power struggle unfolds, one of the major underlying concerns for the Venezuelan people is the dramatic ongoing crisis. Though the talks have so far been suspended, their resumption is still the best hope for averting a worsening crisis in Venezuela. As long as we do not set realistic expectations, it is very likely that prospect for a swift return to the table will continue to seem poor. Lastly, and perhaps, most importantly, this inaction is seriously damaging the U.S. reputation across the world. Rarely do things go as planned in revolutionary situations and holding back and waiting can sometimes make the difference between success and failure. What happens next in Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela will be a key factor in determining the direction and strength of the region’s political wave and trends.