Venezuelan right wing negotiates in Oslo after failed coup attempt

May 31 — The panorama in Venezuela has changed during the course of one month. At dawn on April 30, Juan Guaidó, the fugitive Leopoldo López, and several deputies of the National Assembly had publicly led an attempted military coup. Over the past several days, the scene has now shifted to Oslo, the capital of Norway, where Chavismo’s representatives and a sector of the opposition have been negotiating.

There is a direct relationship between the two events. The collapse of the April 30 political-military coup attempt has forced the right wing to publicly recognize their adversary at an arena using dialogue.

Things didn’t quite go according to plan that morning in April. What was supposed to happen?

The rightists were going to liberate López from house arrest via the main gate (the Altamira overpass in east Caracas) and place him next to Guaidó to lead an uprising, in which they would meet with soldiers from the military barracks, high commanders of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB) and sectors of government institutions. They sought to unleash a massive popular movement there that would move in a massive wave towards the Miraflores Palace.

Few on streets with opposition

In fact, the only thing that happened was that López, Guaidó, some assembly members and leaders, about 40 armed men and the chief of the intelligence service were joined on the streets by only 5,000 people. After that, López and many of the leaders fled to various embassies.

Speculation proliferated from that moment on. Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, said that everything had been set up by those who he alleged had made commitments.  He claimed that the commander-in-chief of the army (FANB), the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, and the chief of the Presidential Honor Guard had been involved.

According to Abrams, there was a 15-point agreement.  However, that agreement has never been disclosed or confirmed.  Neither was the purported participation of the people he named. On the contrary, the three officials Abrams claimed to have been involved appeared with President Nicolás Maduro and carried out their respective assignments.

Even the media that supported the attempt to overthrow Maduro openly challenged this version of the April 30 operation. They called into question the Venezuelan right wing, as well as the actors in Donald Trump’s administration and internal tensions in the White House concerning strategy toward Venezuela. The U.S. president favored getting out of the crisis by resorting to dialogue, while the John Bolton-Mike Pompeo axis wanted to advance towards a military escalation.

Guaidó faced internal dissent

The still-existing speculations were modified by information about the first round of talks in Norway. These talks had taken place  unofficially before May 17, when they became public. Guaidó faced accusations from his own ranks.

Those who accused Guaidó pointed out that he went to Oslo without informing other sectors of the opposition. Consequently, he did not take into consideration the possibility of modifying the order of the three steps he had promised from day one: Put an end to “usurpation,” establish a transitional government and hold “free elections.”

Opposition demands Maduro resign

On May 28, a second round of talks took place in Oslo. Guiadó, the self-proclaimed “president,” reiterated his rhetoric, adopting the tone of an ultimatum. Guiadó was reinforced by men from his Popular Will party, including his envoy to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, a fugitive from justice.  Vecchio asserted: “All options depend on Maduro’s departure.” There would be nothing to negotiate other than the form of Maduro’s exit and his destination.

On May 29, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs — which called for maximum caution regarding the confidentiality of the results — reported through a communiqué that the meeting addressed economic, political and electoral issues.

Part of the resolution would require elections in order to be adopted. Where, when and under what conditions would they happen? That is one aspect of the debate on which there is no agreement.

Bolton: U.S. strangling economy

The other core issue is economic: The Venezuelan economy is being strangled by a U.S. blockade that seeks to suffocate the people. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton graphically explained: “It’s sort of like in Star Wars when Darth Vader strangles somebody, that’s what we are doing to the regime economically.” Bolton’s objective now is to strike at the heart of the government’s plan to control high food prices, by blocking food imported by Venezuela’s Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP).

The government’s political situation inside Venezuela puts it in a stronger position for dialogue, while its economic position is weaker. Data published by the Central Bank of Venezuela indicate the difficulties: The gross domestic product contracted by 52.3 percent between the third quarter of 2013 and September 2018. Inflation in 2015 was 180.9 percent, 274.4 percent in 2016, and 862.6 percent in 2017; it skyrocketed to 130,060.2 percent in 2018.

What room for maneuvering does the government have with such statistics in an economy subjected to an international economic and financial blockade — and with oil production that still shows no signs of a recovery?

Chavismo committed to dialogue

Guaidó announced that he had not reached an agreement in Norway and that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called to support him. Venezuela’s government, through Minister of Communications Jorge Rodríguez, a participant at both meetings in Oslo, says it will continue working “for peace, agreement, democracy and the defense of the Constitution,” following the Chavismo commitment to dialogue.

Maduro made that commitment clear when he said: “It has taken a lot to get to Norway, several months of secret conversations.”  The president added: “Be courageous, tell your people the truth” about what happens in Oslo.

If the right-wingers who went to Norway — subject to U.S. orders — abandon the new dialogue, will they return to machine guns or to a pattern of escalating violence? Their discourse has boxed them into a position defined by a maxim: The only thing they will accept is that Maduro leave. The sticking point is that to negotiate is to give in, among other things.


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