“I know several Latin American brothers and sisters who have fled their country. Some were born in the era of Chavismo and have not known anything new, until now.”
I cannot recall the last time Venezuela was a democracy. I remember in 2013 hope sparked all across Latin America; Hugo Chávez was dead, and his regime could die with him. Now, six years later, Venezuelans are facing the worst refugee crisis in history, accompanied by power cuts, medicine shortages, and are on the brink of starvation. A week ago, opposition leaders Juan Guaidó—who was also defeated by Nicolás Maduro in the latest presidential elections—and Leopoldo López, took the capital’s streets. Their uprising was qualified as a failed coup d’état against Maduro.
As I see it, there are three possible lines of action in Venezuela’s future: a coup d’etat by Juan Guaidó, risking American intervention; waiting Maduro out, risking a bigger crisis; or opting for Mexico’s suggestion to engage in international dialogue.
1. An American-funded coup
Juan Guaido’s appearance was unexpected, almost as if someone knew exactly what he had to do and when he had to do it. He shook Venezuela as a rising figure against President Maduro; he managed to conceal power until being recognized as the legitimate ruler of the country by over 40 nations. Some argue that he is the new American puppet in Latin America whose possibility of a successful coup can only happen with the help of the United States’ most powerful leaders.
Vice President Mike Pence has expressed his support—and for that matter, the U.S.’s support—for Guaidó. Other American leaders joined him, including John Bolton. Bolton has tweeted a number of times that “Maduro must go” whatever it takes, while he worries not only about a socialist dictatorship but the intervention of Russia or Cuba. But wait, wait, wait… the U.S is against foreign intervention in Venezuela but is willing to intervene? Accompanying Bolton’s declarations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that the United States is likely to intervene if Guaidó is not recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela. I am unable to believe that any of the declarations may by either President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, Mr. Bolton or Vice President Pence, come without a perverse interest behind them.
Anyhow, let’s imagine that the Guaidó coup succeeds, that Maduro is deprived of power, and the U.S has the largest oil producer in the continent as its ally or friend. On one hand, the era of Chavismo could come to an end and a new democracy would be established. On the other, Guaidó and Venezuela would be indebted with the U.S, not only economically—let’s not forget the bonds owned by Goldman Sachs and BlackRock—but also politically. Some believe that if opposition leaders blindly take American support, Venezuela could host a brand-new Cold War. I believe the former to be unlikely, yet in an era of post-truth, unapologetic leaders, and tweet wars, anything can happen. Guaidó’s Operación Libertad, may not necessarily translate into freedom, for it seems like the U.S will act under the Monroe Doctrine.
2. Waiting out the tyrant of Caracas
In the midst of new protests and businessmen organizing a concert to collect funds and humanitarian aid for Venezuelans, another movement arose: Hands Off Venezuela. Artists and intellectuals called upon the people behind Venezuela Aid Live and urged leaving Venezuela alone, stating that the country could not know democracy or a peaceful transition with other actors intervening. Right now, a peaceful transition seems impossible, especially after the opposition’s uprisings and the fact that the power of Chavismo is underestimated.
Misery will continue as long as Maduro or any members of his entourage stay in power. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2020. These may be (an unlikely) opportunity for the opposition to unite politically and take Maduro from the inside. It is unlikely, but perhaps possible. Waiting is an option the Venezuelans have, but it is not the best nor the one that involves the least distress. Let’s say that in two to five years Maduro does leave power and a democracy is created, this will probably be due to foreign interventionism— either Russian support for socialists or U.S support for the opposition. Or perhaps it will be due to a well-organized coup, involving former Chavistas and the military. Waiting for the tyrant to depart is a choice but not really one that anybody wants.
3. Can we really talk peace?
With the number of shortages and the lack of productive conversations between the government and the opposition, countries like Mexico, Spain, and Bolivia have urged for dialogue to happen. All the attempts have failed so far; President Maduro has stated that he is not interested in negotiating with or having conversations with opposition leaders. After the last election, many did not recognize Maduro’s government; instead, they pledged solidarity and recognition to Guaidó as president of Venezuela. The fact that 40 countries have chosen to recognize the opposition as legitimate has made dialogue and negotiations even more unlikely to happen. I argue that this happens because Maduro will not agree to any conversation in a nation that does not fully recognize him as president of Venezuela. Similarly, Guaidó will not negotiate on biased grounds. Mexico has offered to host such dialogue; however, after President’s López Obrador invited Maduro to attend his swearing-in, Mexico doesn’t look like the most neutral alternative.
Let’s imagine that dialogue is achievable and both leaders meet. The outcomes of such negotiations will certainly not result in Maduro leaving power or elections happening any time soon. Nonetheless, the outcomes of such negotiations may allow humanitarian aid to enter the country and reach the hands of the needy—or perhaps end the violence, torture, and imprisonment of the regime’s opposition. We can place our hopes in diplomatic solution-making, but in the current conditions of Venezuela, negotiations are unlikely to succeed.
I do not have an answer to what should be done in Venezuela, especially because I have not suffered what they have. I cannot judge those who support Guaidó and would rather have an intervention or those who prefer staying in Venezuela and praying for negotiations and peace. I know several Latin American brothers and sisters who have fled their country. They are unable to return to their homeland and visit their loved ones. Some were born in the era of Chavismo and have not known anything new, until now.
Venezuela’s future remains uncertain. I bet most of us would trade anything for freedom, democracy, and peace, even when the costs are high. Sadly, the choice is not ours, nor theirs; it remains with the powerful. We can only choose to stand against any and all suffering and violence.
Verónica Lira is an honors graduate with a B.A. in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey, who is currently focusing on gender studies and developing student programs against gender violence. She can be reached on Twitter @vero_alo