Venezuela is mired in crisis, but a new round of negotiations, that started in Mexico on August 13th, provide new hope, albeit distant, for something better. Both Mexico and the US have potentially constructive roles to play in this process.
Two years ago, after elections on a dramatically slanted playing field gave Nicolás Maduro a second six-year term as president, 60 countries chose instead to recognize the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó as president. As international support turned to Guaidó, and Maduro’s government became more isolated internationally, both sides turned to Norway to facilitate a process of negotiations.
That round of negotiations, known as the Barbados talks, ended by the fall of 2019, without positive conclusion. Hard-liners and skeptics on both sides willed it to fail, and too many outsiders, including the US, did not actively support the negotiations. Complicating matters even more, Venezuela had become a place where the US’, China’s, and Russia’s geopolitics were playing out.
The biggest losers in all of this are the people of Venezuela. Over 5 million people left Venezuela as a result of the economic and political crisis that started well before 2019. The economy is in shambles. There is hyper-inflation. While not creating the economic crisis, US sanctions have hobbled any possible economic recovery, but not achieved its desired outcome, pushing Maduro to relinquish power. The healthcare system was in collapse, then came Covid-19.
The new round of negotiations is somewhat surprising. Power dynamics and possible outcomes as in any negotiation are constantly shifting; some argue that Maduro is stronger than the opposition political parties. That said, neither side goes into these negotiations with much support from the people they are supposed to serve. A recent Datanalisis poll showed that 75% of Venezuelans consider themselves “independents” and very few trust either the government or political parties.
Venezuelan civil society organizations, working together, are stepping into the credibility gap and developing concrete proposals to solve the problems of daily life. Even if civil society organizations don’t have a seat at the negotiating table, their proposals should be taken into consideration. Working together around these proposals, the government and the opposition could solve concrete problems and build confidence with each other and with the public.
Negotiations observers should not view this as a quick way to reinstate the opposition, as many did the last round. The only way out of this complex crisis is to start walking a path of conflict resolution and problem solving. Hopefully these negotiations begin by creating agreements that ease the lives of Venezuelans and provide greater humanitarian assistance. And, lay the groundwork for local and regional elections in October that encourage participation by all parties.
Only Venezuelans will resolve the deep-seated, multilevel crisis that is Venezuela today. Nonetheless, the international community can play a role in its success or failure. Mexico is choosing to play a constructive role by hosting this process. It is showing that non-intervention doesn’t have to mean non-engagement.
The US is already engaged concerning Venezuela. The EU, the US and Canada recently released a joint statement saying that they were willing to start lifting sanctions if negotiated agreements can be reached. That’s a positive start.
The hardest part of the negotiations process could be to get all parties at the table, and for those supporting it, to keep their eyes on the prize – results that actually benefit the people of Venezuela.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson