The Trump administration deserves full credit for attempting to alleviate Venezuela’s political stalemate. He has united most of the EU’s member states behind his endorsement of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who was declared the winner of Venezuela’s January election. Maduro did not legitimately win that vote.
The current President has confirmed that he has been talking to the White House, after two reports in the US media claimed Diosdado Cabello, one of Venezuela’s most powerful and feared men and head of the Constituent Assembly, had been engaged in secret communications with Trump’s officials. It is unlikely that he is going to budge on his position that he must be recognised as a candidate in an upcoming election, although Trump wants the opposite. Furthermore, given that he refused to acknowledge his defeat earlier in the year, he will not conduct the next vote fairly.
However, these reports have been dismissed by critics. Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, said he is convinced these talks between the Venezuelan and US governments never happened and that they were only an attempt to derattle the Maduro regime. Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, contradicted Sabatini’s claims. Cabello himself mocked the ‘imagined’ talks to his 2.3 million Twitter followers. There is no reason for the opposition to support Cabello in talks with the US. Ramsey said he is viewed as the ‘central hub of corruption’ in the regime and is a keen Maduro supporter. This would anger opponents and dismantle any efforts to oust the current President, which the US is keen to do. This lack of transparency casts a shadow over the entire process and makes a fair election improbable as it is unclear how much progress has been made.
Maduro holds all the cards. This is why America must agree to allow him to become a candidate in a fresh election to enable a presidential vote to happen alongside a temporary lifting of US sanctions. This is an excellent carrot-and-stick approach.US National Security Adviser John Bolton is pressing for a round of fresh sanctions and has warned other countries about the consequences of violating these measures. Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has warned that the US cannot keep behaving like it governs the rest of the world. But given the severe undernourishment that many Venezuelans are facing, if the US can accept a temporary suspension in sanctions to allow a fresh election with Maduro as a candidate, this is a price worth paying to enable citizens to remove the current President freely and fairly.
Opposition politicians are travelling to Washington this week to resolve this crisis. Whilst not having Maduro as a candidate is a sensible suggestion in principle, it comes with obstacles. Firstly, state institutions that have produced favourable electoral outcomes for the current President would need substantial reform, and his Socialist Party controls the Constituent Assembly that can implement these modifications. Therefore, the current President will not modify Venezuela’s electoral law to enable the opposition to win and he has inadequate time to transform the process within one year.
To enable the Venezuelan people to liberate themselves from Venezuela’s acting President, a compromise is necessary. The next election must be conducted fairly and it must be monitored by the International Election Accreditation Body. And once another vote happens, Maduro must be defeated properly. It is Venezuela’s only hope, but given that the government is not open to reform, if another vote is called, it is likely to end up with the same outcome as before – a socialist victory. What will happen after that?