Upon Donald Trump’s recognition of Juan Guaido as the legitimate President of Venezuela, the situation in the country started to change at last. Since Nicolas Maduro took power as President in 2013, an economic crisis stemming from state corruption and resource mismanagement has set the country in free fall. In 2018, the economy hit an 80 000% annual inflation rate that seriously deteriorated Venezuelans’ living standards. In 2017, the average Venezuelan lost 24 lbs of body weight.
The crisis came with growing public movement of discontent, as tens of thousands people took to the streets to show their support of Guaido’s self-proclamation on January 23. The opposition has been repetitively thwarted by Maduro, who has used the Supreme Court to undermine the powers of the National Assembly – where the opposition holds the majority since 2015. Maduro even created a new Constituent Assembly to bypass the opposition-run one. After a massive drop in oil prices, the national crisis became a regional one, with more than 3 million Venezuelans leaving the country to look for refuge.
Maduro’s tight control of the country made it impossible for anyone to change the course of events. He is still legitimate in the eyes of most of the people who supported former President Chavez – notably the military. Political opponents, on the other hand, are hunted down, and protesters are heavily repressed.
Today, the crisis is played out on the global chessboard, with dictators on one side (Maduro and his authoritarian supporters from Russia, Turkey, and China) and countries demanding democracy, such as the US, EU or the Lima Group, on the other. Thanks to recent American action, the crisis went global and support can be brought to the man who has come the closest to making change possible: Juan Guaido.
The charismatic president of the National Assembly and a 35-year-old member of the opposition, has found a way through a constitutional loophole, to become the leader of those wanting to put an end to this humanitarian disaster. His speeches are conciliatory, promising Western-supported humanitarian aid and new elections. Nevertheless, the military still supports Maduro, suffocates popular movements and blocks foreign aid, claiming that help is not needed.
Furthermore, Maduro has not shown any concrete signs that he is ready to call for new elections and has only issued threats to the US for having recognized Guaido as legitimate President. In response, Trump imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil. It is important to note that in the long term, these sanctions cannot be the only forces putting pressure on Maduro to change: the famished population cannot wait for them to be effective.
After the initial enthusiasm around Guaido, the situation seems to have reached a stalemate. Excluding unilateral military intervention, which could only make matters worse, the challenge is to find a way to balance economic and diplomatic pressure to put an end to the crisis. That is why US involvement, supported by the international community, is necessary. Today, the US is the one actor in the international scene that is capable of finding that right balance to force Maduro into some type of peaceful arbitration with the opposition. Only Americans have the resources and the motivation to spearhead legitimate and multilateral assistance to Guaido’s movement in order to stabilize the country.
However, there have been three main arguments against US involvement. The first one has to do with the history of American involvement in its “backyard”, in the form of repeated support to right-wing dictatorships. However, the situation is completely different today. The US is supporting a democratically elected member of parliament with popular support; not an unlawful coup d’état. Furthermore, Guaido based himself on the Venezuelan Constitution to assume only an interim position in order to organize new elections as soon as the regime lets him. In the meantime, his goal is to help humanitarian aid come in.
The second argument evokes Venezuela’s right to self-determination. For years, the opposition has tried to overtake the regime through elections and has failed every time. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has attempted to start negotiations between the regime and the Opposition, without any success. No one denies that the situation must change, but who else has the means to do it?
This leads to the third argument against American intervention. Trump may well have bad intentions in getting involved, maybe in order to reassert American dominance on the continent to compete with Russian and Chinese influence. However, the alternative is even worse: if the US abstains, negotiations fail because no one else is capable or willing to uphold them.
Negotiations with regional and international oversight are necessary to start a democratic transition, economic recovery and an overall stabilization of the situation. The only way to achieve this is to force Maduro to sit at the negotiating table, and to let the Venezuelan people vote in free and fair elections in order to decide who they want to lead the transition process. For the first time, the opposition presents a united front, with Guaido and international mediation available. Only two factors are missing: full support of Guaido’s actions and Maduro at the future negotiation table. Today, only the United States can make both happen.
Cover illustration: by Jason Sug
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