Divided We Stand

 It appears negotiations between the Maduro regime and Venezuela’s opposition may restart soon in Mexico. Caracas Chronicles did a piece on where the opposition stands on the issue of sanctions relief and, as you might guess, they’re anything but united.

 Geraldo Blyde, chief negotiator of Unity Platform (including interim president, Juan Guaid’s party) says they were working on “specific actions” to incentivize the return to negotiations ( Uhh…like dropping First Lady, Cilia Flores, from the sanctions list?) Before the Biden administration’s visit to Caracas in March, even mentioning sanctions relief by the opposition was “taboo”. Now it seems anything and everything is on the table and everyone has an opinion.

 One minor opposition party (formerly Chavista) is anti-sanction while another minor opposition party calls the anti-sanction position “an insanity”. Venezuela’s only Roman Catholic cardinal is pro-sanction. Then we have “the debate” among the more prominent figures.

 On one side of “the debate” you have the 25 signatories of the letter sent to Joe Biden asking him to ease sanctions. They are led by opposition-leaning journalists, economists, and politicians openly critical of US sanctions, saying they exacerbate Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. Included in the group supporting this position are figures like the former Secretary General of the opposition’s electoral coalition and former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles as well as a prominent congressman from Capriles’ party who says, “the country needs income”.

 Even within the “skeptical of sanctions” crowd there are discrepancies. Capriles supports sanctions-lifting for economic reasons. Economist, Francisco Rodriguez, a signatory of the letter, favors an “oil for food” humanitarian program. The odds of Maduro accepting an independent program are daunting (I would say non-existent). The lifting of sanctions for economic reasons and income would be funneling revenue to the Maduro regime and “the income” would foster more corruption and repression.

 A pro-sanctions group of 68 individuals wrote a counter-letter saying the lifting of sanctions is “absolutely incomprehensible”. The leader of the pro-sanctions position is Maria Corina Machado (a personal favorite of mine), former congresswoman and leader of center-right party Vente. She bemoans the fact that Biden gave some sanctions relief to the Maduro regime just for returning to the Mexico talks citing 14 failed previous negotiation attempts with the regime. (She shouldn’t be surprised that Biden would open with a position of weakness. When he was Obama’s VP, they presided over the worst negotiation in US history, the Iran nuclear deal, in which the US, one by one, dropped all it’s demands and the Iranians got everything they wanted)

 Her pro-sanctions arguments are are those previously voiced here. The Chavistas killed PDVSA (government-owned oil company) long before sanctions by firing 18,000 oil professionals and replacing them with 40,000 Chavista loyalists. The Venezuelan people were starving long before sanctions, are today, and the Maduro  regime has never shown any inclination to ease their suffering in the future, with or without more revenue. Although she is Guaido’s most outspoken critic, she joins him in resisting sanctions relief along with Guaido’s mentor (and another personal favorite), Leopldo Lopez.Opposition congresswoman, Olivia Lozano, says “They are asking for sanctions to be lifted for a regime that has wasted or stolen more than $500 billion (we say way more than $500 billion, maybe closer to a trillion)… no income will be used for the welfare of the Venezuelan people.

 Civil society is also engulfed in “the debate”. COFAVIC, one of Venezuela’s first Human Rights groups, criticized the anti-sanctions faction. “Human Rights are not subdued to the will of minorities or majorities, they can’t be exchanged.” The coordinator of Alerta Venezuela, a coalition of 5 Human Rights groups, says “If the reasons that gave origin to the sanctions haven’t stopped, how are you going to ask for them to be lifted?” Anti-sanctions pollster,Luis Vicente Leon, says that 70% of Venezuelans oppose sanctions.

 While they maintain that research on the effects of sanctions has been mixed they didn’t cite anything specific other than Maduro calling them “an economic blockade”. Meanwhile they had a Harvard University study showing that by the time sanctions were initiated food and medicine imports were already slashed by 80% and Venezuela’s oil production was already in free-fall. There was a brief mention of a US Congress agency (unspecified) concluding that sanctions caused obstacles for humanitarian organizations. At the same time, Anova Policy Research concluded “There’s no evidence that sanctions had a negative effect on food and medicine imports…the effects of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil money inflow forced Maduro to liberalize the economy and allow imports (de facto dollarization anyone?)

 A Caracas based botanist Tweeted “You do remember that before sanctions we didn’t have any food?” (I remember the “Guarimba” of 2014, 1 year before individual sanctions and 3 years before oil sanctions, massive protests about food shortages in which the Maduro regime killed 40 protesters)

 The opposition was once almost unanimously united in support of Juan Guaido and the interim government but their (his) failure to oust Maduro has left most disillusioned…”There’s physical and emotional burnout.” Juan Guaido and most of those associated with him aren’t even part of the opposition – Maduro regime talks in Mexico (whenever they actually start).

 The main impediment to progress in negotiation on sanctions relief for the Maduro regime has been Chavismo itself, doing things like stubbornly demanding Russia replace Norway as mediator and their temper tantrum over the extradition of corrupt businessman and central figure in Maduro’s fraudulent financial schemes, Alex Saab, to the US. The Maduro regime named Alex Saab as a negotiator for the talks and walked away from the negotiations saying they wouldn’t return to the negotiating table until he was free although they now seem willing to proceed without him.

 Political scientist and consultant, Pablo  Andres Quintero sums up the situation as follows : “All the political actors think of ousting Maduro in a different way…In light of a lack of uniformity, coherence, and coordination it will be very difficult for the opposition to get rid of the Maduro government…the opposition – divided, exhausted, with no influence on the Armed Forces, and partly co-opted – has nothing to offer…The game opened a geopolitical space. It’s no longer a local issue. There are now many more interests here – like those of the US, Russia, and Turkey – that have more weight than the opposition.”

 We here at TFT contend that there really is no opposition in Venezuela at this point. They need to find someone they can unite behind if they are ever going to be able to have any chance of being a “real opposition” to the Maduro regime and 21st Century Bolivarian Socialism, which has been responsible for the most catastrophic decline of a nation in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

 Oh, and did you see that the Maduro regime finally released a statement on the Venezuelan – Iranian plane detained in Argentina? (I guess they didn’t want to divert attention from the non-stop propaganda of Nicolas Maduro’s world tour) Chavismo scolded Uruguay for denying the Boeing 747 cargo flight entry into Uruguayan airspace and “endangering the crew”. They have remained silent on Argentina’s role in this whole thing. No big surprise as Argentina’s president is a committed socialist, as is his wife and VP, Christina Fernandez de Kirshner (also former president).

 More tomorrow….

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