The Time Is Now for Transition in Venezuela

All pressure must come to bear on socialist regime
April 19, 2020 Updated: April 19, 2020

Commentary

The time has come for the United States to help Venezuela halt Nicolás Maduro’s tyranny and his criminal network. The pandemic outbreak and low oil prices provide an opportunity to force the usurper out and let Venezuelans choose a new president.

On March 31, the U.S. State Department released a roadmap to lifting sanctions on the Venezuelan government. First, the Maduro regime transfers power to the National Assembly. Second, the duly elected legislators can pick an interim executive authority, called the Council of State, which convenes fair and free elections. The plan ends with the restoration of the rule of law and the separation of powers after over 20 years of socialism.

Neither Maduro nor the opposition leader Juan Guaidó can be part of the Council of State, an acceptable compromise. However, the regime must allow the return of National Assembly members under persecution or exile and release all political prisoners. The Russian and Cuban intelligence officers propping up the regime must also return to their countries.

The starting point requires the cooperation of both the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition. Guaidó, for his part, has told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he would support the plan. Not surprisingly, Maduro’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza has rejected it.

But the fight is not over.

Unlike previous plans, the good news is that major regional players stand behind this White House effort. Colombia and Brazil have voiced their support and vowed to assist during Venezuela’s transition. Another backer is Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS). A renowned pro-democracy Latin American leader, he has called on other nations to follow his lead.

In the best-case scenario, an international coalition could pressure Maduro and his supporters to accept the deal. If that’s not enough, the United States has other tools at its disposal.

On April 10, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams warned Maduro the United States would take action regardless. The difference is the White House is willing to be more aggressive in the case of non-cooperation.

The Chavista regime has already gotten a taste of what could follow. On March 26, the U.S. Justice Department indicted Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, a top ruling-party leader, on drug-trafficking charges. Now there’s a price on their heads: up to $15 million for information leading to their capture and conviction.

From Plan to Action

A key element of any successful transition is gaining the support of the National Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB). The White House proposal lifts sanctions on FANB officers, appoints one as an adviser to the Council of State, and keeps the military high command during the transition—except for one man.

Vladimir Padrino López, Venezuela’s defense minister and general-in-chief, too, stands accused by the Justice Department of “narco-terrorism.” In 2016, Maduro put Padrino in charge of the distribution of food, medicine, and social programs, turning him into one of the regime’s most powerful figures. Unsurprisingly, Padrino and his family have grown rich: They now own several real-estate companies in Venezuela and the United States worth millions of dollars.

Losing the support of the Venezuelan armed forces is one of the only ways Maduro will accept going along with the White House plan. A military coalition between Colombia, Brazil, and the United States can muster enough power to persuade the FANB.

The fact that the opposition controls 108 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly lends more credence to the rest of the plan. The lawmakers would appoint new authorities to the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Court of Justice to serve during the transition. They will also pass legislation creating the Council of State and elect four of its members.

The third factor is the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, a common feature of transitional Latin American governments over the last four decades. However, several commissions have not delivered on their promises due to weak institutions and cronyism.

The new regime in Venezuela should make sure the commission is independent and has the tools to fulfill its mandate. The commission will be in charge of identifying rights violations during the Chavista regime and prosecuting perpetrators. Amnesty International has recommended such commissions also examine the judicial system and propose reforms.

A New Opportunity to Bargain

Venezuela, mired in a health crisis for years due to shortages of supplies and staff, is not prepared to handle the CCP virus emergency. On April 11, Venezuelan physicians made known there are only 84 intensive-care beds with respirators available in the entire country, contradicting the government’s claim of 25,000 beds.

This is not the only regime lie civil-society groups and the opposition have debunked. True to its habit of hiding information, the regime appears to be manipulating the number of CCP virus patients and deaths.

As of April 14, the regime reported 193 infections and nine deaths. However, doctors from the Andes University, in Mérida, identified 378 suspicious cases in that city alone. Migrants lacking jobs and income abroad are returning to Venezuela, increasing the risk of an outbreak.

The regime has also claimed Venezuela is testing 25,000 people daily for the CCP virus, more than the 20,000 the United Kingdom is trying to achieve. José Manuel Olivares, a member of the National Assembly, dismissed the regime and countered that Venezuela has the world’s lowest testing rate.

Despite his unabashed optimism, Maduro has decided to extend the national lockdown until May. If the dictatorship is hiding the real numbers and is unable to control the pandemic, the truth will eventually come out. The regime will hardly be able to tackle another crisis under current international isolation, and the lifting of U.S. sanctions will become more attractive.

Isolation means stopping financial transactions to Venezuela if the regime does not accept the transition. The dictatorship has been a parasite on the back of citizens’ remittances and other inflows for too long. With oil prices at historic lows of around $30 per barrel, decimating government revenues and social programs the regime has relied on for public support, something has to give.

Venezuelans should pressure the regime and set a transitional government in motion. Maduro must understand this is his last chance to avoid a path leading to intervention. A U.S. military coalition with Colombia and Brazil should be ready to act if Maduro does not leave office.

Paz Gómez contributed to this article.

Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Econ Americas. He is also the roving editor of Gold Newsletter and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.