(Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) received Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Moscow, 5th December 2018)
The US project on ‘regime change’ in Venezuela has crash-landed. Far-fetched assumptions that have no basis in the ground realities are withering away. The core assumption was that the existing regime in Caracas is lacking legitimacy. But the failure of the coup attempt in Venezuela on April 30 has put the entire regime change project in jeopardy.
The US pinned hopes on the defection of key regime insiders, especially from the military. That failed to materialise. Fatigue has set in among the opposition ranks, financed and supported by the US. The so-called ‘interim president’ whom Washington recognises, Juan Guaidó is no longer able to rally the public. He is unable to gather crowds for his public rallies. No wonder, he has been compelled to endorse negotiations with the government of President Nicolás Maduro, something that the latter had all along offered.
The Washington policymakers have been excluded from the negotiations that have commenced in Oslo under Norwegian mediation. Although a key ally of the US and a NATO member country, Norway has cordial relations with Caracas dating back to the time when Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez worked with the Norwegian mediators closely to bring the civil war in Colombia to an end. (Washington refuses to acknowledge the constructive role by Venezuela in influencing the Colombian left-wing guerrillas to negotiate the final settlement.) Interestingly, unlike many other European countries, Norway has not recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.
Fundamentally, the US failed to understand the motivations of the Venezuelan military. To cover up the debacle, the US officials pointed finger at Russia for interfering and convincing the Venezuelan establishment to hold together and not cave in to American pressure. This is a chimerical tale. But the sad part is that lessons have still not been learnt. There is still lingering hope in Washington that high-level military defections can be engineered in the Venezuelan armed forces, provided the regime change project is tweaked to encourage the Venezuelan generals to join the opposition movement.
The talk of a US intervention still keeps appearing now and then with top officials in Washington making veiled threats. But hardly anyone takes it seriously or thinks that a US intervention is imminent or likely. Cutting across differences of opinion in Venezuelan politics, the public tends to join ranks to oppose any US military intervention. Washington too would know that Venezuela is awash with weapons and it is all but certain that a protracted civil war might ensue if the US militarily intervenes to overthrow the established government in Caracas.
Curiously, even those pro-US Latin American countries that may be inclined to support Guaidó, have serious misgivings about US military intervention. Brazil is a glaring example, openly saying that the US will not be allowed to use its territory for invasion of Venezuela. Suffice to say, there won’t be many takers in the Western Hemisphere for a US invasion of Venezuela and even the moderate opinion supportive of Guaidó will militate against any such reckless move.
This is not to say that Maduro’s politics standing is unassailable. The fact of the matter is that the economic hardships of Venezuelans have become so unbearable that there are cracks in Maduro’s support base. Maduro is not pushing the envelope by arresting Guaidó and sending him to prison or physically intimidating him and this shows that he is conscious of the public opinion, which is on the razor’s edge. Maduro has preferred to retain his advantage as the defender of the status quo.
Given the complete failure of the Trump administration’s Venezuela project, the way ahead seems to lie in building up the Oslo peace process, which began on May 16. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry has said that representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition, who arrived in Oslo to discuss the possibility of starting direct negotiations, demonstrated their readiness to move toward searching for a ‘coordinated and constitutional solution’ to the political standoff. According to Maduro, a governmental delegation has been sent to Norway, comprising Communications and Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and Miranda State Governor Hector Rodriguez.
Maduro recently disclosed, “We have held secret talks for two or three months already, and then we set down at the negotiations table in Norway. I want to achieve a peace agreement for Venezuela.” On Wednesday, Maduro further said, “We are ready to hold parliamentary elections. The country wants the composition of the National Assembly to be renewed.”
But he also added, “US imperialism tries to harm Venezuela from the inside and from the outside every day.” He is right. As things stand, accepting defeat is a bitter pill for the US to swallow. For President Trump, a foreign policy ‘victory’ in Venezuela becomes an important template of his bid for re-election in 2020, considering the Hispanic population in the ‘swing’ state of Florida, which can make all the difference to his support base.
Unsurprisingly, Moscow welcomes plans to continue consultations between the Venezuelan government and opposition in the Norwegian capital of Oslo later in the week, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week on Monday. To quote from the statement, “Moscow welcomes the announcement about the continuation of contacts between the Venezuelan government and opposition being held in Oslo through Norway’s good services. We call on all states involved in the Venezuela situation to support the launch of the political process in the form of talks between the country’s major forces, refraining from issuing ultimatums to Venezuela’s leadership.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry added, “On our part, we are ready to make everything possible to facilitate dialogue if its participants consider it necessary. At the same time, we would like to reiterate that we strongly reject any ideas that allow for a forceful intervention in the country’s domestic affairs.”
From such a perspective, it is at once obvious that China’s willingness to identify with the Russian stance on the Oslo process will have a significant bearing on the future developments. President Xi Jinping told the Russia media in an interview on the eve of his three-day state visit to Russia on June 5:
“On Venezuela, China’s position is consistent and clear. Bearing in mind the importance of upholding the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, China maintains that the issue should be left to the government and opposition of Venezuela to resolve through inclusive political dialogue and independent consultation within the constitutional framework. China opposes external intervention, unilateral sanctions, and the use or threat of force. China will work with the rest of the international community to play a positive and constructive role on this issue, do more to facilitate talks for peace, and uphold international equity and justice, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and regional peace and stability to help Venezuela return to the track of normal development as soon as possible.”
Trump himself has not hidden his frustration over the flawed strategy pursued by his administration. He even publicly distanced himself from National Security Advisor John Bolton’s war cry. (Bolton recently stated that the Monroe Doctrine is “alive and well.”) Paradoxically, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is critical of the US project in Venezuela, still happens to be one of a handful of voices that would seem to have Trump’s ear, and could be a determining factor in helping put the brakes on the Washington hardliners.