Washington Post Op-ed: By Indicting Key Venezuela Powerbrokers, Trump is Sabotaging a Transition

The Washington Post has published my op-ed (disponible aquí en español) about the implications of the Trump Adminsitration’s decision to unseal indictments against Nicolás Maduro and more than a dozen political and military elites in his government. I’m deeply critical of this decision, and I’m not alone. There has been significant resistance to unsealing these indictments among diplomats and analysts who have been working for a transition in Venezuela, which is part of the reason why this took so long despite months of pressure from hardliners.

Those of us who oppose this move do so out of concern for the hope of a democratic transition in Venezuela, not for Maduro or his inner circles. The charges are serious, and fit well with what is known about Maduro’s corruption and authoritarianism. But this makes the odds of internal pressure building on Maduro to negotiate fair elections less likely, not more. Remember that John Bolton and Marco Rubio spent most of last year openly calling on these people to break from Maduro. The U.S. government claims that some of those indicted this week even participated in a failed uprising on April 30, 2019. Now, whatever small incentives they may have had to break from Maduro are even smaller. Why support a transition if it almost certainly means ending up in a prison cell in the United States?

This is more about politics than policy, and it has serious consequences for efforts to promote a peaceful, negotiated, and democratic transition. As I write:

Ultimately, the indictments amount to the Trump administration finally giving up on any strategy that might lead to negotiations between Maduro and the opposition. For purely political reasons, it is embracing the hope of wishful thinkers in the hard-line opposition: that if they just saber-rattle hard enough, the Maduro regime will collapse under its own weight. This baseless optimism seems to sell in Washington, but it has failed the Venezuelan people. Unless the White House actually commits to a negotiated solution in Venezuela, the country will not see a return to democracy anytime soon.