The longer President Nicolas Maduro remains in office, the greater the risk of civil war and geopolitical conflict.
More countries have recognized Juan Guaido, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim president, but President Nicolas Maduro is still in power. The longer the standoff goes on, the greater the potential for violence or outright civil war. The question is what more, if anything, the U.S. and other outside powers can do to prevent that.
On one point, the lesson of history is clear: Military intervention would be a disaster for all concerned — worse, even, than letting Maduro and his toxic government prevail. More diplomacy is the answer. Done right, it can succeed.
Although most European countries have recognized Guaido, a handful of holdouts such as Italy and Greece have stymied a European Union declaration in his favor. Japan’s government also is hesitating and has yet to take a clear stand. Guaido deserves credit for reaching out to the Italians, whose coalition is divided on this question, to try to win their support. He could help persuade other fence-sitters by setting a clear timetable for holding elections once Maduro leaves. Greece’s recalcitrance reflects its ties with Russia, which has exported arms to Venezuela and acquired control of some of the country’s oil resources in sweetheart deals. But signs suggest even Russia sees the writing on the wall for Maduro.
To widen the divisions within Maduro’s camp, the EU should expand its sanctions against listed Venezuelans; they currently apply to just 18. Working with the U.S., its governments should target illicit gains hidden abroad.
Maduro’s regime is trying to block the delivery of medicines and food that the opposition, working with the U.S. and other nations, is stockpiling on Venezuela’s border. The U.S. and its allies should step up their aid commitments, and make sure Venezuelans know it. They should also say they’re ready to restructure Venezuela’s debts, which the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director has said will require “generous external support.”
It’s important that these efforts are widened to take in China. Beijing previously backed Hugo Chavez and then Maduro with more than $60 billion in loans, which Venezuela repays with oil. Guaido has called for a “transparent relationship” with China, and pledged to honor previous lawful agreements. The Trump administration should get behind this effort to bring China around, and that means tempering its rhetoric about Beijing’s baleful influence in the region.
A more concerted diplomatic push is the best bet for a peaceful outcome, and it ought to be possible because strong mutual interests are at stake. Hastening Maduro’s exit and a return to political stability in the country with the world’s biggest oil reserves would be to everybody’s advantage.
(bloomberg, Photographer: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)