It’s as if one boxer punches the other and then suggests starting the conversation. The defeated boxer nodded his black and blue head knowing that the referee was missing and that the bell would never sound. Venezuela’s opposition has never been so weak against socialist Nicolás Maduro since he inherited power from the late left-wing populist Hugo Chavez in 2013. However, delegates from both camps will meet next Friday, with the experienced Norway as mediator.
The talks will continue until Sunday, with another round scheduled two weeks later. Despite the unequal starting positions, Michael Penfold, Professor of Political Economy at the IESA Management Course in Caracas, sees the negotiations as an opportunity. One of the latest events for a poor country in northern South America: Venezuela needs these negotiations. If this fails, we will become even more isolated. Then the rest of the world will stop completely.
This world is currently connected for some time, says Penfold. US President Joe Biden is siding with the European Union, as both Western powers have signaled a willingness to ease sanctions in exchange for steps toward restoring democracy in Venezuela. It’s a day and night difference with Biden’s predecessor, Trump, who threatened military intervention and instead piled on sanctions upon sanctions.
The question is when the operation can be considered successful. The opposition, a diverse crew that finds each other only to dislike Maduro, is hoping for a road map toward “fair and transparent elections” monitored by the international community. Maduro hopes to entice the United States to lift the embargo so that Venezuela does not depend on a handful of ideological allies for trade. The socialist regime that governs the world’s richest oil country imports gasoline from Iran.
It seems unlikely that Maduro would allow his opponents even an inch of space. Two and a half years ago, self-proclaimed “legitimate president” Juan Guaido managed to organize a massive popular protest. But the Speaker of Parliament miscalculated the army, which did not respond to his call. Since then, the opposition has lost every move against the president. Skillfully, Maduro divided his opponents, pushing them one by one to the sidelines.
Last fall, opposition leaders called with one hand to participate in parliamentary elections and to put their own puppets with the other hand in the main opposition parties. The opposition front broke, and Guaido called for a boycott, but former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles considered joining and appears to be negotiating with the regime over the release of political prisoners. In the end, most opposition parties stayed home. Parliament – their last stronghold, which they surprisingly captured in 2015 – was once again in Maduro’s hands.
It appears the loot is already there for the president, says Professor Penfold, but there is still more to be gained in Mexico. “Sanctions are not the most important, the regime has learned to live with sanctions. Maduro seeks recognition of his government. He hopes to further divide the opposition through these negotiations. It is two steps for Maduro’s “fair and transparent” re-election in 2024: a fragmented opposition that participates nonetheless, preparing the bed for the president .
The question remains: why do Maduro’s opponents allow themselves to be put under this bandwagon. Penfold says it’s the only remaining goat’s way back into the political arena. The hardline opposition also accepts that negotiations are inevitable. What was desired turned out to be impossible. Politicians like Capriles were already ready to negotiate, according to political scientist Guaidó joining in to regain his leadership role.
Andres Antilano, a sociologist and criminologist at the Central University of Venezuela, said 28 million Venezuelans have become poorer and hungry year after year under Maduro’s rule, effectively losing all faith in the government and the opposition. Venezuelans see their politicians as drunks squabbling over an empty bottle. The biggest gain for “Mexico,” says Antellano, could be in practical matters: a little more economic space for the population, a little more money for basic needs, and the start of a vaccination campaign.
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