The international conference convened by the government of Colombian President Gustavo Pedro to discuss the crisis in Venezuela had an ambitious goal: reactivating dialogue between the government and the opposition, defining an election schedule and lifting economic sanctions against the neighboring country.
Representatives from 20 countries met last Tuesday (25) in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, to discuss Pedro’s proposals. It was the first time the US and EU, the creators of the sanctions, participated in a multilateral meeting to discuss the end of the blockade. Nevertheless, the results of the summit were modest.
Hours after the meeting ended, Colombian President Alvaro Leiva said members had reached “common positions” on the need to define an election schedule and lift sanctions. However, there is no joint declaration signed by the participants or joint announcements to guide the next meeting, which is yet to be held.
Asked the inspectors Brazil indeed Caracas and Washington say there is a complicated standoff and immediate sanctions relief is unlikely. For Steve Ellner, an American political scientist and author of several books on Venezuelan politics, the United States and its opponents do not want to give up.
“Whether the concessions are acceptable to the opposition and acceptable to Washington is all about the concessions. The claim that Pedro is making and that claim is very clear. [o presidente venezuelano] “Nicolás Maduro is pushing for all sanctions to be lifted, and that’s unlikely to happen, at least in the short term,” he says.
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The Americans insist they are ready to revise their sanctions policy as Venezuela sets an electoral timetable for the next presidential election, which it calls “fair rules and democratic conditions”. Since 2013, Washington has questioned Venezuela’s electoral system, going so far as to disapprove the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro, who won the 2018 presidential election.
After the conference, the United States issued a statement that Bogota Ambassador Jonathan Finer clarified during the meeting as “a vision of a gradual American approach, including concrete steps […] US sanctions leading to free and fair elections will be met with relief”.
The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Joseph Borrell, was even more emphatic in saying that sanctions were not ready to be lifted immediately. “This window of opportunity will close unless an agreement on the 2024 elections is reached in the coming weeks,” he said after attending the conference.
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Caracas, in turn, is demanding that sanctions be lifted before any electoral action and, above all, that the last deal signed at the negotiating table in Mexico be fulfilled by the opposition. In November last year, the opposition agreed to release more than US$3 billion that belonged to the Venezuelan government and was blocked abroad. The government has suspended negotiations in Mexico due to non-compliance with the agreement.
“Historically, the opposition has been the destroyer of dialogue efforts,” says José Luis Granados. to Brazil indeedThe Mexican journalist, who specializes in international law and human rights, recalls previous failed negotiating tables and says Venezuelan opposition has become too close to and dependent on the United States to have little political autonomy.
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In the last negotiation of 2018, an agreement was prepared, the document was already ready, the same agreement that they are discussing today, with all the conditions that the opposition parties are demanding: the electoral path, changes in the National Electoral Council, etc. On the day of signing the agreement, the opposition got up from the table and said that it will not participate, why? ?Because, at that time, Washington already had another strategy: interim, recognition of Juan Guaidó and this whole movement failed,” he says.
Biden has another strategy
Despite continuing hostile actions against Venezuela, Joe Biden’s administration adopted a different strategy than that used by Donald Trump. The White House supported coup attempts organized by former Vice President Juan Quito, whom Washington recognized as the country’s “interim president” along with the former Republican leader.
“Trump’s Venezuela Policy Has Been a Disaster,” argues Steve Ellner. According to the researcher, Biden knew that he had to change his diplomatic approach to the South American country, and that included participating in dialogue about sanctions.
“It’s not surprising that the Biden administration is interested in negotiating and reaching some agreement, because he knows he has to do something, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to give in to the administration’s demands. Remove Maduro and all the sanctions,” he says.
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In 2022, the White House twice sent a delegation to Caracas to discuss directly with the Maduro government, as the United States and Europe suffer from a fuel supply crisis caused by the war and blockade, mainly related to the oil industry. In Ukraine.
Late last year, Washington allowed energy giant Chevron to resume operations in Venezuelan territory, even as the company maintained a series of financial constraints on payments to Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA.
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José Luis Granados argues that since no sanctions have been legally lifted, the actions taken by the United States cannot be considered relief from the embargo. “To say there was sanctions relief is a lie, they issued very specific licenses to allow oil exploration and export. These licenses were designed to deny the government direct resources that were not sanctions relief,” he says.
Election 2023 or 2024?
With the impasse between Caracas and Washington over whether to suspend sanctions before or after the elections, the definition of a date for holding elections has become an essential issue in the Venezuelan political debate.
Constitutionally, the country must go to the polls in 2024, but members of the government and President Nicolás Maduro are already considering the prospect of this year. The opposition, for its part, has already set October 22 as the date for primary elections seeking to elect a single candidate to face Chavismo.
However, Venezuela’s right-wing sector has been largely depleted of possible campaign conditions by the failure of Guaidó’s “interim” strategy and scandals involving his political team.
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Elner argues that “revelations of corruption within this parallel government have not only been condemned by Chavismo, but also by key opposition figures. Guaidó and his team have been completely discredited.”
However, its insurgent strategy has not worked in recent years, so Granados believes the opposition will be the first to make ground in this dispute, as it must resort to the electoral route to project a possible victory over Chavismo.
“They already have a long history of trying to break the constitutional order, but now they have to give in and accept that, one way or the other, the elections will happen and they will have to participate. Now, if that means the lifting of sanctions before the elections, I’m very happy with that. I doubt it,” he says.
Editing: Thales Schmidt
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