Colombian President Calls for Fair Elections in Venezuela – The Organization for World Peace


March 7and, Colombian President Ivan Duque has said that any solution to Venezuela’s humanitarian and political crises must go through transparent presidential elections. The announcement came as the United States began bilateral talks with Caracas to discuss the possibility of easing oil sanctions. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and could help the United States turn away from Russian oil. President Duque did not explicitly condemn the talks, but argued that the United States should push for an election rather than more modest political demands.

The situation in Venezuela has deteriorated over the past decade. Falling oil prices and increasing repression have led to human rights abuses and created a growing refugee crisis. The Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela estimates that there are more than six million Venezuelan migrants and refugees as of February 2022. The National Living Conditions Survey, meanwhile, reports that 79% of Venezuelan households live in extreme poverty. . The political upheaval intensified in 2018 with President Nicolás Maduro’s victory in what was widely seen as a sham election. Maduro’s supporters and opponents have imposed maximalist demands on each other, and the international divide surrounding Maduro has only exacerbated the polarization. In January 2019, the United States responded to concerns over the election by recognizing opposition candidate Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. But Maduro supporters in Cuba, China, Russia, Turkey and Iran have all helped Venezuela evade sanctions and maintain a modicum of economic activity. With their help, Maduro has been able to retain power even as the economic situation of ordinary Venezuelans deteriorates.

Caracas’ relationship with Washington has been strained for years, but has gotten much worse with the imposition of sanctions by the Trump administration and the concomitant severance of diplomatic ties with Maduro. Donald Trump has exerted maximum pressure and hinted that all US efforts to oust Maduro, including military intervention, are on the table. Moisés Naim and Francisco Toro note in Foreign Affairs that some of Venezuela’s most radical opposition politicians have also called for US military intervention. Colombia, which has struggled to manage large numbers of Venezuelan refugees and face skirmishes with drug cartels along its border with Venezuela, also strongly opposes Maduro. President Duque’s comments on Monday reflect Bogotá’s resistance to easing sanctions against the Maduro regime.

Maduro and opposition leaders have previously attempted to negotiate with talks facilitated by Norway. However, the main opposition leaders pulled out of the talks in September 2019. Both sides appear unwilling to compromise, but according to the International Crisis Group there have been encouraging signs. When civil society groups and a minor opposition faction met with the Maduro government, the government was ready to discuss concessions on electoral policies and humanitarian aid. Maduro granted the opposition two seats on the five-person National Electoral Council. Guaidó’s opposition has since resumed talks with Maduro as well, but progress has often stalled.

Ironically, the sanctions meant to weaken Maduro seem to have weakened his opposition instead. President Maduro has blamed Venezuela’s economic problems on US interference rather than the actions of his own government. According to a poll by Datanálisis, 71% of Venezuelans oppose US oil sanctions. Venezuela’s opposition has lost support as it struggles to justify the need for tough sanctions on citizens. The Datanálisis poll further revealed that Guaidó’s approval rating stood at over 60% in February 2019, but by May 2020 his approval rating had dropped precipitously to 25%. Maximum pressure has failed to oust Maduro so far, and Guaidó doesn’t seem to have a chance of success if this strategy continues.

President Duque is right: the goal should be free and fair elections in Venezuela. Unfortunately, Guaidó’s supporters are unlikely to achieve that goal any time soon. The Venezuelan opposition has already tried to make dramatic demands in the negotiations and has had little success. While compromises and partial wins aren’t as satisfying, they’re the best way forward. As public support for the opposition wanes, it’s time to push for more manageable goals.

The opposition and its allies in the United States could offer oil sanctions relief in exchange for small improvements in elections, human rights or humanitarian aid. Maduro may resist giving up some of his power, but the United States should encourage Guaidó’s allies to stay at the negotiating table. Even minor victories can increase the popularity and power of the opposition.

Advances in human rights and humanitarian aid will also improve the situation for ordinary Venezuelans. The opposition and Maduro previously discussed social protection options during the Norwegian-led negotiations. These conversations should resume with more urgency; with high inflation, gas shortages and growing malnutrition, Venezuelans need help. Funds from oil exports could be used to improve the daily lives of citizens, but the US and Venezuelan opposition must persuade Maduro to pass on some of the profits. The current situation is untenable and citizens cannot wait for a change of government to alleviate the crisis.

The climate for negotiations is more favorable today than in previous years. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven a wedge between Russia and Maduro. The Biden administration is more open to discussions than the previous administration and is actively seeking new sources of oil. The United States should use its influence and work with Guaidó to negotiate reasonable and meaningful improvements in Venezuela.

Maduro’s government is authoritarian and criminal, but continued demands for free elections and regime change have come to nothing. A new strategy focused on achievable change must replace all-or-nothing ultimatums. The American and Venezuelan opposition should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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