War of words over Venezuela’s future

This article was published in pagina12.com.ar on June 10. Translation by Michael Otto.

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, has four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and Caribbean. All of them fit within a day and a night. They overlap.  They create rhythms and dramas, especially for motorcyclists who flee the daily downpours. In only 10 minutes the sky seems to have emptied. It’s everyday life in a city where the country’s national politics are almost totally concentrated. What happens outside the capital is news when it involves strategic territories in the geography of war.

One of those territories borders Colombia. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the reopening [June 8] of the international crossing between the state of Táchira, Venezuela, and the city of Cúcuta, Colombia.  This story made headline news on Feb. 22 and 23 when the border bridges were transformed into a Hollywood set for a hostile attempt to enter Venezuelan territory by force. The reopening took place within a zone that normally combines fuel smuggling and Colombian paramilitarism with economic and media attacks on Venezuela.

Media attention to self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaidó has accompanied him into his decline. He spent barely four months in an ascension catapulted by [U.S. President] Donald Trump’s support for his current attempts to stick to his plan to replace Maduro. Guaidó’s tendency to lose strength is due to his own inability to fulfill his promises.  This arose from his initial miscalculation, which led him to announce the imminent fall of President Maduro’s government.

What kind of outcome did Trump have in mind when he blessed Guaidó with a tweet? One similar to what happened with the conflict that [Washington] opened against Mexico on May 30 and was resolved last Friday night [June 7]. That threat was based on an asymmetry of power, the cornering of the adversary and a forced negotiation with Trump’s shots fired via Twitter.

Then Trump used the result with Mexico to display an international trophy for his domestic program, which is already taking the form of a presidential campaign. Defeating Bolivarian Venezuela was also supposed to be a quick victory.

But it didn’t work for four reasons: Venezuela diversified its markets — mainly with China and Russia — to seek a way out of the economic blockade.  The Bolivarian government was able to counter such scenarios due to their experiences in 2014 and 2017 [when faced with right-wing violence]. The coup plotters’ were unable to crack the Bolivarian National Armed Forces.  And the practice of holding regular mobilizations in the streets was a way to support the internal balance of power within Chavismo, among other things.

Opposition forces divided

This is compounded by what U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recognized: the divisions and personal ambitions within the Venezuelan right wing. “Keeping the Venezuelan opposition united has been diabolically difficult for us,” he said in a recent audio, adding that 40 opposition figures have presidential ambitions. (venezuelanalysis.com, June 6)

This division within the opposition is public. One sector maintains that force alone can lead to the fall of Maduro and does not recognize Chavismo as a political player.  Another states that the outcome may include dialogue with Chavismo, provided that the roadmap begins with the departure of the current president. Still another remains cautious in its statements in view of the present lack of clarity surrounding the situation.

Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, stated in an article in the June 5 Miami Herald that the resolution of the conflict should pass, in part, through the departure of Nicolás Maduro and the recognition of the National Assembly by Chavismo.  In other words, representatives will return to the National Assembly chamber.

Three interpretations follow:  First, Abrams’ public message maintains that President Maduro must leave, while at the same time it recognizes Chavismo — mainly the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — as a political actor in Abrams’ scenario for the future. Second, that one of the core points of the current attempt at debate and dialogue concerns legislative authority, which include both the National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly — and a possible electoral resolution. Third, Abrams seeks to divide Chavismo with his words in order to create false paths. These private and public  machinations are aimed at locating points where Chavistas might split.

End the U.S. blockade!

Maduro has referred to the National Assembly on several occasions.  He has repeatedly stated that Chavismo must prepare for an early election campaign and has reaffirmed the constituents’ decision to extend the National Constituent Assembly’s operation until the end of 2020. As for  economic issues, the Venezuelan government demands that the U.S. blockade must end, while John Bolton, U.S. national security advisor, states that it will be intensified, particularly in the oil sector.

Those are the last public statements of each side. It is not yet known if there will be another round of negotiations in Oslo, Norway’s capital, the city where the first steps have been taken [in meetings this spring]. In a statement in which he expressed his support for a peaceful resolution, President Vladimir Putin of Russia confirmed that his government is neither creating a military base in Venezuela nor deploying troops.

Putin declared: “Let’s elect a US president, a British prime minister, a French president like that. What will it be? — where would that lead? I would like to ask those who support this kind of thing — Have you gone mad? Do you understand where this can lead?” (AFP, June 6)

Putin was referring to what is at stake with Guaidó’s self-proclamation as Venezuela’s president. Putin’s statements were made during the meeting attended by People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where cooperation agreements were signed between Venezuela and Russia.

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