Reviews | US policy towards Venezuela has never been to promote democracy
Last year, then Special Representative Elliott Abrams declared that the Trump administration was “working hard” to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Now Abrams (currently a senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations), in collaboration with the Biden administration, is urge the Venezuelan opposition to participate in the next national and local elections in November.
Washington’s recent setback, however, does not mean that they have given up on interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
Unsurprisingly, Washington lobbied the Venezuelan right-wing opposition, led by self-proclaimed President Juan Guaidó and opposition leader Leopoldo López, to to give up their three year policy to boycott the elections, which they claim to be rigged. Voter turnout is a tough pill for both politicians to swallow because it shatters the illusion, held by many in Washington, that Guaidó is the legitimate president and that he is only a few days or weeks away from occupying the office. presidential palace.
Pushing for concessions in the interests of American business is hardly the same as promoting democratic ideals.
Maduro’s rejection of legitimacy dates back to early 2015 when the Obama administration declared Venezuela is a threat to the national security of the United States. The statement paved the way for Trump severe penalties, designed to intimidate global companies into severing their relationship with Venezuela. Francisco Rodríguez, a Venezuelan economist formerly of the Bank of America and top adviser to the opposition, extrapolated that without the sanctions, oil production in the high-yield region of the Orinoco would have been three to five times bigger this year.
In the November elections, the conservative Popular Volunteer party, founded by López, will present candidates on the ticket of an alliance between the main opposition parties in the country. A host of small moderate parties are also fielding candidates who have criticized the sanctions and, contrary to popular will and its allies, recognize Maduro’s legitimacy. The fragmentation of the opposition increases the possibility that Maduro’s United Socialist Party will achieve plurality at the ballot box.
A recent poll placed the Socialist Party’s popularity at 34%, compared to 13% for Popular Will and the rest of the opposition combined. (Opposition pollster Luis Vicente León, on the other hand, says the Socialist Party is 20 to 25 percent). Despite the advance of the Socialist Party, a “Nicaraguan phenomenon” (where Nicaraguans voted the Sandinistas removed from office in 1990 for fear of continued violence and economic sanctions promoted by the United States) may benefit the opposition.
Virtually nothing has changed since President Joe Biden took office in 2020, Maduro recently claimed. “There has not been a single positive sign,” Maduro lamented, while acknowledging that at least some State Department officials “agree with a political dialogue between Venezuelans.”
Nonetheless, Biden’s policy departs from Trump’s strategy of inciting a military coup and threat of military intervention. However, despite this approach, the Panama Post noted that the Biden administration has generally downplayed the importance of Venezuela and “turned its gaze to Nicaragua,” where the prospects for regime change are more promising.
The real change in 2021 was pushing Maduro to welcome us economic and political interests, as opposed to regime change. A few days after the 2020 US elections, Abrams recommended to Biden that he no longer uses sanctions as a regime change strategy against Venezuela. Instead, the new approach proposes modifying or lifting the sanctions in exchange for Maduro’s concessions.
Maduro, in an interview with Bloomberg, said he knew how to play the game. “Bondholders know it is possible to invest in Venezuela, “he said,” as long as all this persecution and these sanctions are not there. “
In response, Bloomberg reporter Erik Schatzker asked: “When negotiations begin, if they do, will you seek an all-or-nothing deal, or will you accept a gradual process? How far are you willing to go with this [economic] reopening?”
Washington’s leverage approach reveals that politics towards Venezuela has never really been about democracy. Pushing for concessions in the interests of American business is hardly the same as promoting democratic ideals.
Carlos Ron, Venezuelan deputy foreign minister for North America, told Progressive that, despite Washington’s positions, he “never really cared about Venezuelan democracy and attempted to undermine and reject all electoral processes since President Chavez. ”
Concerned that Biden should lift the sanctions, Maduro’s concessions tilt in favor of the Popular Will party. In July, Maduro released Popular Will’s Freddy guevara, accused of inciting violence, from prison. Unsurprisingly, it was Guaido who appointed the opposition negotiating team for talks with the Venezuelan government in Mexico.
White House spokesperson Ned Prize has announced that Washington will “ease sanctions” if there is “significant progress” in negotiations between Maduro and the opposition. In the same way, Abrams suggests the possible “easing of sanctions or agreement to use certain frozen assets for health and related purposes”, depending on the concessions Maduro is prepared to make.
Much like the administration’s market-driven approach to securing economic concessions, its piecemeal strategy on the political front favoring right-wing leaders makes it difficult to argue that democracy is, or ever has been, Washington’s end of the game when it comes to Venezuela.
Washington’s binary rhetoric of good versus bad would convince anyone that the choice in November is between Maduro and Guaidó. Filling the mantle of Washington, “our man in Caracas”, Guaidó is supposed to be the main opposition spokesman, while Popular Will is supposed to be the biggest opposition party.
This status denies The unpopularity of Guaidó in Venezuela and the fact that the Popular Will is a relatively small party on the radical fringes of the opposition. Indeed, the privileged treatment accorded to Guaidó and his party by Washington has hurt the opposition as a whole, as other anti-government parties and leaders have greater credibility in Venezuela.
The rivalry between the popular will and its closest allies ahead of the November 21 elections is just the tip of the iceberg. As of September 6, there was 70,244 candidates — the majority of whom are anti-government — vying for 3,082 positions. While the four biggest parties, including the Popular Will, are united in an electoral alliance, other groups blame them for their botched attempts at regime change under Washington’s leadership.
Opposition pollster Luis Vicente León predicts an abstention rate of 50 to 60 percent, despite the national and international attention these competitions have received. According to Léon, the problem for the opposition is its extreme fragmentation and the fact that in some cases it leads “candidates who are unrepresentable, who arrive on the scene following a political agreement”.
Politically, America’s policy toward Venezuela has also had a devastating effect: it exacerbates polarization at the expense of common ground between opposition moderates as well as Maduro’s critics on the left.
US sanctions have wreaked havoc on the Venezuelan economy and people. How could it be otherwise when for a century Venezuela has been totally dependent on the export of oil which is now blocked by sanctions against any company anywhere in the world that dares to purchase the product.
Politically, America’s policy towards Venezuela has also had a devastating effect: it exacerbates polarization at the expense of common ground between opposition moderates as well as Maduro’s critics on the left. The moderates, as opposed to the Popular Will, are more in tune with the concerns of Venezuelans; they oppose the punishments and focus on solutions to concrete economic problems rather than regime change.
The big dilemma for the opposition will be to get the vote in November. The projected 50 percent abstention rate in November reflects widespread rejection of the entire political class among voters. Indeed, half the country blames the government for the country’s pressing economic problems, as well as the opposition for cracking down on Washington’s regime change agenda.
Over the past three years, the main opposition parties have welcomed the high abstention rate in Venezuelan elections, affirming that those who did not vote were a “silent majority“who sympathized with their cause. Now that these same parties have opted for voter turnout, the high abstention rate expected for the November election is a clear indication of their overestimated popular support.
If this is indeed the case, the failure of the Venezuelan right to secure a substantial majority among eligible voters will demonstrate the folly of Washington’s continued recognition of Juan Guaidó as the true president of Venezuela.