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End the Failed Venezuela Regime Change Policy

David Smilde has written a very good article on the state of the Venezuelan opposition. Here he comments on how the Trump administration’s support has complicated things for Guaido:

However, it would be almost impossible for Guaido to unify his coalition around a clear message to take into the elections. A number of opposition legislators have already defected to Maduro’s side, reducing the overall size of Guaido’s coalition. The defections also proportionally increased the importance of the coalition’s radical wing, whose members reject the notion of participating in elections or negotiating with the government because they believe it reduces the willingness of foreign powers to intervene militarily to depose Maduro. While this is a gross misreading of their international backers, which have no interest in a military venture, the idea holds a grip on a significant part of Guaido’s coalition as well as opposition supporters—especially those who are abroad and most vocal on social media.

This magical thinking has been fueled by Guaido’s closeness to the Trump administration, which has frequently suggested that it has a “military option” with respect to Venezuela. This effectively reduces the Venezuelan opposition’s willingness to play the type of politics that democratic transitions usually require. What’s more, Guaido’s close ties to the Trump administration are likely what made him unable to get a meeting with Spain’s Sanchez, who is in a tense coalition with the leftist Podemos party.

Guaido is caught in a bind of being at once both too close to the Trump administration, which encourages the opposition to expect more help than the U.S. is likely to give them, and not close enough because of the president’s lack of interest in the regime change policy that he launched a year ago. There have been two occasions when Trump might have met Guaido during the latter’s international trip, and both times Trump snubbed him. The second snub happened over the weekend when Guaido was in Miami. Assuming Guaido returns to Venezuela after defying the ban on traveling outside the country, he won’t have much to show for his time abroad.

U.S. involvement has made it more difficult for the opposition to make any progress because of our government’s own maximalist goals, and ever since the administration committed itself to seeking regime change it has been locked in to a failed policy based on wishful thinking. U.S. support encourages the opposition to be inflexible and unrealistic, and it gives them the false expectation of an American deus ex machina to resolve things in their favor. Trump seems to have grown bored with Venezuela, but the Venezuela hawks in and around the administration keep the U.S. saddled with a misguided regime change policy that our government should never have started. The administration seems to think that time is on their side, but the longer that this effort drags on the weaker Guaido’s position becomes.

The opposition still has its presence in the National Assembly, but that won’t last for much longer:

To make matters worse, an agreement that was forged in November between pro-government and opposition lawmakers to select a new National Electoral Council that will oversee legislative elections later this year now seems dead, as the pro-government side no longer recognizes Guaido as president of the National Assembly. In all likelihood, the Supreme Court will also select the new National Electoral Council, which will almost certainly tilt the electoral playing field heavily in favor of pro-Maduro candidates.

This is a problem for Guaido, as his claim to the interim presidency depends on his position as president of the National Assembly. The current legislators’ five-year terms will expire at the beginning of 2021, so opposition members must decide between participating in elections that are all but guaranteed to be unfair or boycotting them. By participating in the ballot, they could get out their message while loudly voicing their complaints against Maduro’s authoritarianism. As President Evo Morales’ recent ouster in Bolivia showed, unfair elections can sometimes trigger protests and discontent that fracture the regime and facilitate a transition. If they do not participate, they will lose the one institutional space they still hold.

The regime change policy has failed, and it was always likely to fail. The U.S. ought to give up on the goal of regime change and end the economic war that is adding to the misery of the Venezuelan people. The longer that the U.S. waits to do this, the more pointless harm this policy will cause.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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