Venezuela Weekly: As Washington Forges Ahead, Geopolitical Standoff Crystallizes

Increased questioning of the pressure-collapse theory of change has had little influence on the Trump Administration as it forges ahead. While many analysts suggest that a breakthrough in the Venezuela stalemate would require the U.S. to seek some sort of alliance with Cuba, China, or Russia, or provide attractive conditions for the Venezuelan military to turn on Maduro, the Administration has aggressively taken actions against all of these actors, hardening their opposition to U.S. policies.

  • On Wednesday, April 17 U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced sanctions on Venezuela’s Central Bank and again spoke of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as the “three stooges of socialism” and the “troika of tyranny.” These sanctions will further cut off the Maduro governments possibilities for financing. This comes shortly after news that Venezuela had sold $400 million of its gold reserves.
  • Cuban president Díaz-Canel said that the relations with the U.S. were the worst in decades and called on Cubans to strengthen the nation’s defenses and economy.
  • Russia pledged it would help Cuba and Venezuela weather U.S. sanctions. Indeed it appears that Venezuela has been able to skirt U.S. sanctions by running its finances through Russian state oil company Rosneft. In an interview with AP Russia’s ambassador to Venezuela Vladimir Zaemskiy derided US actions. “It’s hard to believe that the U.S. administration has invented a time machine that not only allows them to turn back the clock but also the direction of the universe.”
  • This follows an acrimonious exchange with China earlier in the week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of engaging in predatory lending in Latin America, and “malign or nefarious” actions in the region. China responded that Pompeo’s accusations were unfounded and that the U.S. still considers Latin America its back yard.
  • There are reports that the U.S. is developing military options to prevent Cuban, Chinese and Russian influence in Venezuela. Both China and Russia have warned of U.S. intentions in Venezuela.
  • Retired Major General and former head of Venezuela’s political police Hugo Carvajal was arrested in Spain on a U.S. drug warrant. Carvajal is one of the few government officials and military men to have turned on Nicolás Maduro and supported Juan Guaidó. While Carvajal is likely to have a wealth of information, his arrest sends a clear negative signal to other military officials who might think of turning on Maduro.

Commentators suggested the Trump Administration’s actions appear ideological, more aimed at his reelection, than resolving the Venezuelan crisis.

  • Carlos Pagni said Trump’s Venezuela policy appeared to be part of a fantasy that he “can be reelected with marketing that presents him as a little Reagan, who swept away populism in the region.”
  • The Crisis Group’s Ivan Briscoe reacted to Bolton’s speech saying that celebrations of the Bay of Pigs fiasco “suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region.”
  • In Runrun.es I suggested that “the Venezuelan opposition needs to be clear that their interests are not the same as the interests of U.S. politicians.” While a decades-long standoff such as the one in Cuba would be a tragedy for Venezuelans, for U.S. politicians it wouldn’t be so bad, giving them an enduring geopolitical foil for Florida electoral campaigns.

Positions hardened elsewhere as well.

  • The Lima Group of fourteen countries working for the return of democracy in Venezuela, reiterated its demand for immediate cessation of usurpation., urged the International Criminal Court to proceed with its review of crimes against humanity charges against the Maduro government, and called on the International Contact Group to “deepen the process of alignment with the Lima Group.” It also stated its intention to hold in Lima an “International Conference for Democracy in Venezuela” for all states that support the return of democracy in Venezuela.
  • Nicolás Maduro has called for an increase of the citizen militia by a million members. Often confused with informal, armed “collectives,” the militia is a volunteer branch of Venezuela’s armed forces.
  • Canada added 43 individuals to its sanctions list.

Human Rights

  • Persecution of dissent has increased this year with 2019 on track to see the highest number of political prisoners in two decades. Detained protestors are being detained for longer and being held in worse conditions than before.
  • German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said that its television channel had been blocked from Venezuelan cable providers.
  • Netblocks.org recorded that Youtube, Periscope, Bing and several Google services were blocked during U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech on the Colombian border.
  • Reporters Without Borders released its 2019 World Press Freedom Index with Venezuela ranked at 148 out of 180 countries, better than Cuba (169) but worse than Mexico (144). RSF said they had recorded a record number of arbitrary arrests and violence against reporters.

Humanitarian Aid

  • The Red Cross began bringing aid into Venezuela, in what will be major relief operation. Red Cross officials pleaded for Venezuela’s conflicting factions to not politicize the aid. Unsurprisingly, however, both government and opposition quickly underlined the importance of their roles in its arrival.

Migration

  • The UN High Commission for Refugees has updated its estimate to say 3.7 million Venezuelans have left Venezuela.
  • The World Bank, United Nations and Islamic Development Bank have given Colombia a 31.5 million grant to facilitate access to jobs and basic social services for Venezuelan migrants.
  • Chile announced that it was implementing the Quito Declaration’s recommendation that countries accept expired Venezuelan passports.

Economy

  • The IMF has said it will not be able to help Venezuela financially until a “larger majority” of its members decide on who to recognize as the country’s president.
  • Guaidó representatives in the U.S. are seeking an annulment of an $8.7 billion Conoco-Phillips award.
  • The future of Venezuelan dystopia can be seen already in Venezuela’s second city. Maracaibo has been hit harder by Venezuela’s power outages, water crises and associated looting than most places, creating a desolate cityscape.
  • Many Venezuelans are seeking strength in religion to confront the hardships they are facing. More than a human interest story, this helps understand the enduring popularity of the Catholic Church as well as the potential the Church and Vatican could have in mediating the conflict.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]