A change in leadership at the White House should factor in the expectations of the regime’s allies in the geopolitical chess game on Venezuela while directly engaging with Maduro.

By Ingrid Jiménez 

The November 3 U.S. elections of kept the country and the world on the edge for several days. Joe Biden won the election, and it is very difficult for this victory to be reversed with legal action. President Trump, with his trademark inflammatory rhetoric, has made accusations of fraud against Democrats without producing evidence, and a complex transition of power is in sight.

Despite the close election, Biden will begin with a clear mandate, being the most voted president so far. In accordance with his campaign proposals, Biden will seek to rescue confidence in the leadership of the United States, both at home and with its historic allies, focusing on strengthening democracy, from which it is inferred that the new president will return to multilateralism.

With respect to Latin America, his most concrete offer is to get closer to Central America, through the development of a four-year, multi-sector strategy aimed at improving security and encouraging private investment.

Undoubtedly, a change of leadership in the White House will have consequences for Venezuela, but it is also necessary to recognize that the country’s crisis was not a central issue for either of the candidates, except in Florida in view of the importance of the Hispanic electorate.

The Democrats’ victory begs at least two questions: If Biden has been so critical of Trump, will there be any changes in his foreign policy towards Venezuela?; and secondly: What will be the Venezuelan government’s position towards the new U.S. administration?

With respect to the first question, upon review of the central campaign issues, it is clear that Biden will privilege diplomatic mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts. For our country, this could translate into reviving the negotiation initiative between the regime and the opposition. The rapprochement to historical allies that Biden proposes could lead to an understanding with the European Union (EU), which was impossible during the Trump administration, due to its unilateral actions aimed at removing Maduro from power, by resorting to the threat of using force and increasing sanctions that burden the country.

Conversely, the EU proposal has focused on aiming individual sanctions at regime officials, finding ways to increase humanitarian aid, and most importantly, achieving conditions conducive to free elections.

If a consensus can be established around a single negotiating proposal, it will be a great success for Biden’s foreign policy, as well as an opportunity to reposition the country’s leadership in the region. The New York Times recently reported that, following discussions with his advisors, there is not much faith in regarding Guaidó as interim president any longer, and therefore direct negotiations with the regime would be sought.

The withdrawal of U.S. support for Guaidó may mean the final blow to the interim government, swamped in the lack of political strategy, the hopeless immediacy of its actions, its total incapability for self-rectification, and the deep divisions within the opposition.

To encourage a negotiation in Venezuela, we should bear in mind that a process of this nature should include not only the U.S., the EU, and the Lima Group, but also two fundamental emerging actors such as Russia and China. Both powers have become an essential economic and diplomatic support to withstand the sanctions imposed by the United States.

In addition to its influence in Venezuela, in just a decade, China has become a major investor and creditor in such countries as Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Chile. Therefore, it is logical that it intends to play a more relevant political role in the region. The relationship with Russia, which intensified with acquisitions of weapons and military cooperation during Chávez’s government, currently covers a wide array of areas such as oil, petrochemicals, iron, and steel.

Undoubtedly, a negotiation process will be welcomed by most Latin American countries, especially the Andean nations, which have been overwhelmed by the massive migration of Venezuelans fleeing on foot the country’s political and economic crisis. Notwithstanding, the region is not homogenous either because, despite the fact that almost all the leftist governments have distanced themselves from Maduro, Cuba continues to be a fundamental ally of the regime. For this reason, the success of a negotiation is inextricably linked to an eventual policy of détente towards Cuba on Biden’s part. 

The second question addresses the position of the Venezuelan regime towards the new government. Maduro has repeatedly stated that he is open to engage in a dialogue with the next president, as long as it is under respectful terms. It is very likely that, as has happened on other occasions, Maduro will seek an initial approach aimed at easing the sanctions; but it would be practically impossible for the United States to decide to lift them without obtaining anything in return.

History throughout these 21 years of Chavista hegemony shows that negotiations have only helped the regime buy time when it finds itself under pressure from within and abroad. Furthermore, the truth is that, at this moment, the government is much more stable and cohesive than in early 2019.

The sanctions brought Venezuela even closer to Russia and China, but also to Iran and Turkey, so any negotiation process to be undertaken entails understanding this complex geopolitical chessboard and the national interests of these stakeholders, which stretch far beyond the expansion of their financial and commercial relations in South America.

In less than a month, parliamentary elections, rejected by the international community, will be held in Venezuela. An initial gesture of rapprochement by Maduro would be suspending the contest; but this does not seem to be possible as the conquest of the National Assembly [Legislative – unicameral], the only branch of government controlled of the opposition, is precisely a non-negotiable objective for Maduro and his international allies.

The dire reality is that Venezuela is crippled by a humanitarian crisis intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires short-term action by the international community, and the Joe Biden government could well lead this initiative. 

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