Only Venezuela can solve its problems – meddling by outsiders isn’t the solution

The whole world waded in after Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president, but the global tug-of-war is dangerous and unhelpful

All crises are global, all solutions are local – and Venezuela is the latest case in point. No sooner had the young pretender, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president last month, ostensibly supplanting the corrupt old revolutionary, Nicolás Maduro, than the world piled in. The Trump administration insisted all countries must “pick a side” and back the “forces of freedom”. Russia denounced a US-backed “coup”. China, Latin American neighbours, Britain and the EU all scrambled for position, in accordance with their particular interests and prejudices.

In the past week, this international tug-of-war over Venezuela’s future has grown increasingly dangerous – and unhelpful – as protesters and security forces face off on the streets and the political impasse deepens.
John Bolton, the US national security adviser, is threatening “serious consequences” (meaning military intervention) should Guaidó be harmed or opposition supporters attacked. Maduro warns that the US could face a second Vietnam.

Bolton, along with Mike Pence, the US vice-president, and Marco Rubio, a rightwing Republican senator from Florida, are the prime movers in Washington’s latest regime-change adventure. An Iraq war hawk and leading neoconservative, Bolton has an ideological axe to grind. His updated “axis of evil”, now Iraq and North Korea have supposedly been sorted, comprises Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela (but he is still gunning for Iran).

Rubio speaks for rightwing Cuban-Americans who abhor the Caracas-Havana alliance and hold sway in southern Florida, a key 2020 election battleground. As for Trump, he is on record since 2017 as favouring a “military option” in Venezuela. For him, this sudden ramping up is a welcome distraction from his Mexico border wall defeat.

Whatever Bolton says, Trump will not necessarily escalate. He has a record of backing off when the going gets tough – witness his Syria troop withdrawal plan. Foreign interventions are not Trump’s thing. And the fierce opposition of his sinister chum, Vladimir Putin, will give him pause. Moscow is offering to mediate, which, if it happened, would dent US prestige in its own “backyard”. For Putin, Venezuela is Washington’s Ukraine. He would dearly like to turn the tables and mete out a reciprocal humiliation.

Maduro says Trump covets Venezuela’s oil – and given last week’s US bid to siphon off the state oil company’s revenues in the name of democracy, that sounds plausible – but so, too, does Russia, whose extensive Venezuelan interests also include arms sales.

China’s sole concern is commercial stability, not regime legitimacy. A parallel is Zimbabwe in 2017, where Beijing, its investments at stake, straddled the fence until Robert Mugabe fell off.

Guaidó’s big splash has caused widening ripples that relate only obliquely to Venezuelans’ suffering. Britain normally follows the sensible practice of recognising states, not particular governments. So the decision by Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, to recognise Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, when he has neither control of the state nor an alternative government in place, looks rash.

Hunt’s decision can be explained by Brexit Britain’s pathetic hope to stay in Trump’s good books. Likewise the EU, which set up a novel mechanism last week to circumvent US sanctions on Iran, would rather support regime change at arm’s length in Venezuela than risk further provoking Trump closer to home. Europe, with its high-minded views on democracy and human rights, thus finds itself in bed with some low-life partners, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

For the European left, including Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, the “Bolivarian socialist revolution” led by Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, and its close ties to Castro-era Cuba, remains a totemic cause célèbre. The apparent attempt to overturn it by a Yanqui-picked, middle-class political neophyte has produced a viscerally negative reaction, with little thought for the revolution’s failings.

Likewise, Guaidó’s usurpation of Maduro “the usurper” has been hailed as a new dawn on the neoliberal, interventionist American right, buoyed last week by the return of Elliott Abrams, a notorious 1980s cold warrior and self-described “counter-revolutionary”, as Trump’s Venezuela envoy. This meddling is further confusing a confused situation.

Yet all last week’s international manoeuvring and geopolitical jockeying have not changed the four basic alternatives facing Venezuelans, namely: stick with Maduro and hope things somehow improve; risk an indigenous military takeover of indefinite duration; negotiate an agreed, democratic transition leading to free elections, as advocated by Guaidó; or face possible civil war and foreign intervention.

The choice seems obvious, but that does not mean it will happen. One thing is certain. Any lasting solution, if and when it comes, will be local – as history shows. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson grandly declared: “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.” Needless to say, he didn’t, nor was it his business to try. Yet more than a century later, the lesson must be re-learned: imposing solutions from outside does not work.


Simon Tisdall

The GuardianTramp

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