Venezuela Weekly: Heady Days for Venezuela Hawks

It was a week of setbacks and recovery for those who see a credible threat of a military force as the key to pushing for a transition in Venezuela.

On the one hand, the departure of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton from the administration of President Donald Trump was a big disappointment for Venezuelan hardliners as they saw him as their chief advocate. Worse yet, while the issue that led to Bolton’s exit appears to have been Afghanistan, a day later Trump told reporters that Bolton’s counsel on Venezuela was “way out of line,” without elaborating. Other reports suggested that Trump had tired of Bolton’s continual pushes for military action.

The editorial boards of both the Miami Herald and the Wall Street Journal lamented that Bolton’s departure would provide unwelcome relief to Nicolás Maduro.

U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams suggested that U.S. policy towards Venezuela would not change. However it is well known that while Abrams and others in the state Department favor the Norwegian-mediated negotiations, Bolton and those in the National Security Council (NSC) thought they were a waste of time. And while Guaidó and the moderates in his inner circle consulted most frequently with Abrams, opposition figures skeptical of negotiation found sympathetic ears in Bolton’s NSC.

Of course, just what direction the Trump administration’s Venezuela policy will take will depend on who he names as Bolton’s replacement. But as Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group suggested, there is a chance that Bolton’s departure “could create new opportunities for diplomacy on Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Venezuela.”

On the other hand, advocates of a credible threat of military intervention also had victories to applaud as the members of the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (TIAR) voted by a 12-5 margin to take up the case of Venezuela. The TIAR is a multilateral treaty that calls signatories to support each other militarily if they are attacked. The resolution that passed called for a meeting of the member countries during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month to see what measures they should take given “the clear threat to peace and security” Venezuela represents to the region. Juan Guaidó’s Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Vecchio suggested the TIAR “provides a structure that could put an end to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.” It is the tensions on the border with Colombia that has provided some juice to use of the TIAR (see last week’s Venezuela Weekly)

Negotiation

  • The Maduro government again declined to return to the negotiating table this week. This time it accused the Guaidó government of negotiating the Esequibo territorial dispute with Guyana. The government presented a taped conversation between Guaidó’s representative in the UK, Vanessa Neumann, and Manuel Avendaño, Guaidó’s international office coordinator. On the tape, Neumann is heard recommending that Guaidó’s government avoid any mention of the dispute. The Maduro government’s accuses the three of them of treason. Venezuela watchers accuse Maduro of looking for excuses to not return to the negotiation table.
  • Both Maduro and Guaidó held separate meetings with representatives of the diplomatic missions in Venezuela. European Union diplomats highlighted the necessity for both parts to return to the negotiation table and strike a political deal that will include new elections and resolve the country’s deep political crisis.
  • Venezuela continues to be high in European Unions foreign policy. Venezuela will be on the agenda of Federica Mogherini, Europe’s chief of foreign affairs, in her trip in the region, where she will visit Cuba, Mexico, and Colombia.

 Opposition

  • Juan Guaidó appears to have secured support from the small partners in Venezuela’s National Assembly to continue as AN President in 2020. In 2015, the opposition parties agreed that the biggest four parties would alternate presidents (thus Voluntad Popular was able to select Guaidó for 2020) and in the fifth year the smaller parties would choose the president. Nevertheless, these latter said that they would support Guaidó until the usurpation ends and the “national interest comes first.” It is likely that representatives of the smaller parties will fill the vice presidencies.

Human Rights

  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, reported that serious human rights violations continue in Venezuela. She especially pointed out that the Special Action Police Force (FAES) continues with extrajudicial killings. Bachelet also said that civil society groups that collaborated with her in the July report were facing government’s hostility. National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said the update of the report on Venezuela, “does not take away their sleep.”
  • Humanitarian aid appears to have led to small improvements in hospital care.
  • A report by Armando.info shows that the Warao indigenous group in the southeastern part of Venezuela is being exploited by the government’s security forces that engage systematically in fuel contraband.

 Migration

  • The Colombian government has asked Peru and Ecuador to open a humanitarian corridor for Venezuelan migrants so that Venezuelans can leave Colombia and meet with relatives who are settled in other countries in South America. Ecuador said it will consider the option of the corridor but only if they can assure the Venezuelans will only pass through and not stay.

Economy

  • The Maduro’s government’s international payments and trade are becoming increasingly difficult with banks and enterprises around the globe increasingly refusing to transact with it. When they do so and it becomes public they quickly try to minimize the case, as happened last week with Bank of Spain after Bloomberg reported that Maduro’s government was using it to bypass sanctions. Even oil companies as the Russian Rosneft tries to mark distance from politics in Venezuela, by stating that it continues operating in Venezuela in order to safeguard its investments. Rosneft’s statement came after the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams did not discard the possibility that the U.S. could sanction Rosneft.