Venezuela Weekly: Opposition Stalls as Push for Military Action Rebuffed

The Venezuelan opposition and its backers in the US government seem to have lost momentum in the past three days. On Monday the Lima Group of countries that since 2017 have worked together to try to pressure a return to democracy in Venezuela, made clear they did not support using force to address the situation. In their statement after their meeting they said they “reiterate their conviction that the transition to democracy should be led by Venezuelans themselves, pacifically and within the framework of the constitution and international law, supported by political and diplomatic measures, without the use of force.”

In his speech to the Lima Group, of which the U.S. is not a member, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions on four Socialist Party governors for presumably preventing the entrance of aid shipments, and encouraged Latin American countries to: restrict the visas of Maduro government officials, freeze the assets of PDVSA in their countries, and transfer assets to the Guaidó government.

It was a disappointing result for Interim President Juan Guiadó and the opposition coalition as well as their allies in the U.S. goverment. On Saturday evening after it was clear that the opposition would not be getting aid across to the border into Venezuela, both Marco Rubio and Juan Guaidó suggested they might push for military action. On Sunday, exiled legislator and now Guaidó’s ambassador to the Lima Group, Julio Borges was less subtle tweeting that the opposition coalition would “demand an escalation in diplomatic pressure and in the use of force against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.”

But in the 36 hours preceding the Monday meeting of the Lima Group there was clear international rejection of this direction. The European Union told the press that they supported a peaceful, democratic resolution to the crisis “this obviously excludes the use of force.” Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell suggested that Spain would condemn a military invasion. See also manifestations from: Human Rights Watch, Guatemala,  Panama, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. For good measure, the Brazilian vice president said that under no circumstances would his country allow the U.S. to invade Venezuela from its territory.

The opposition comes away from what they hoped to be a turning point in their struggle, weakened and trying to figure out what is next. It is not even clear that Guaidó will be able to return to Venezuela. After audaciously appearing in Colombia on Friday, defying a travel ban imposed by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and suggesting that he would return through Venezuela’s main international airport “like any president,” now many worry that he will be arrested if he tries. U.S. threats of “serious consequences” for those who might harm Guiadó back in January, now seem less credible after Monday’s international smack-down of the military option.

  • Commentator Keymer Ávila suggests that both sides of the political conflict have ignored the popular sectors as a potential actor and said “in Venezuela the objective conditions are ripe for a popular rebellion, but unfortunately the opposition leadership does not manage those codes, nor do they have any interest in them.”

Humanitarian Aid

The opposition’s effort to bring humanitarian aid into the country largely failed (see coverage and photos here). Its long anticipated strategy was to drive cargo trucks straight to the border crossing, and be met by Venezuelan protestors on the other side. The hope was that this would lead to the military to flip against Maduro and in favor of Guaidó. However only isolated individuals and small groups defected. And the aid was effectively stopped short of entering by security agents using tear gas and anti-riot equipment, and non-uniformed armed actors (usually glossed as collectives) firing live rounds. The lead truck on the bridge to San Antonio, Venezuela eventually caught fire—its cause is still in dispute—and the others turned around and returned to Cúcuta.

  • New York Times reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev, who covered the aid initiative over the course of three weeks, published a devastating Twitter thread suggesting the aid initiative was misleading and poorly organized.
  • On February 22, 70 Venezuelan and international organizations including WOLA released a statement arguing that the provision of aid should follow humanitarian principles. Indeed in the days before the showdown on the border, Venezuelan officials raided several HIV organizations that distribute antiretrovirals looking for humanitarian aid coming from the U.S.
  • On Saturday evening, U.S. Representative Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) published a Twitter thread warning Democrats against following support for humanitarian aid down the path to war.

Military desertions

  • By Monday afternoon approximately 150 military had deserted, crossing into Colombia or Brazil. Videos of them defecting caused considerable jubilation.
  • It is indicative of the situation of fear and distrust within the ranks of the Armed Forces that most of those who deserted did so running across the border. This National Guardsman was actually shot by his company when he fled across the border into Brazil.
  • While such minor defections are clearly not what the opposition had in mind for the 23rd, one commentator argues that if they continue, this trickle of defections “could quickly become a significant shift in the balance of power.”

More on Military Intervention

  • On Saturday night, the top trending Twitter hashtag was #IntervenciónMilitarYa (#MilitaryInterventionNow). WOLA’s Adam Isaacson provided an analysis of what a U.S. military intervention would involve. He suggests it would likely start along the Colombian border but quickly focus on aerial bombardment including extensive collateral damage and loss of civilian life and would face an uphill battle in imposing order after military victory.
  • In this Twitter thread, international relations scholar and veteran of the U.S. invasion of Panama Noel Maurer explains why an invasion of Venezuela would be so different. See also Michael Reid in The Economist.

Diplomacy

  • The technical mission of the International Contact Group visited Caracas during the week in a low profile visit. They made no statements afterwards but insiders suggest that their meetings revealed that neither side is currently interested in negotiation.
  • As I suggest in this radio interview, today’s pushback against the direction of the U.S.-Venezuelan opposition alliance could provide the opportunity for the Lima Group to take a different line and perhaps engage the International Contact Group sponsored by the European Union and several Latin American countries. It could also reduce the Venezuelan opposition’s reluctance to consider negotiation.
  • Costa Rica did not sign the Lima Group statement in part because it disagrees with the requirement that Maduro needs to step down for elections to be held.
  • The U.S. has asked for a U.N. Security Council meeting on Venezuela.

Censorship

  • Netblocks.org documented a number of internet service restrictions at key moments over the weekend, preventing people in Venezuela from seeing the Venezuela Aid Live concert and Juan Guaidó’s declarations (see here and here).
  • Channels carrying the Aid Live concert were also taken off of DirectTV and unavailable in Venezuela

Migration

  • Before the meeting a group of human rights organizations, including WOLA issues a press release urging the Lima Group to take up the issue of Venezuelan migration again and commit to “durable, coordinated, long-term measures.”
  • The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has updated its map, suggesting there are currently 3.4 million Venezuelan refugees worldwide.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such many of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]