By Ingrid Jiménez

Further away from a democratic transition than in 2019 after the proclamation of Guaidó, it is time for pragmatism on the part of a fragmented opposition facing the regime in the framework of multilateral initiatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed an uncomfortable fact for the international community. The institutions on which the world order was built after World War II have run out of answers to the complexity of current problems, which go far beyond fighting the pandemic or unequal access to vaccines.

The isolationist policy by the United States during Donald Trump’s presidential term, and his permanent questioning of multilateralism and globalization, have undoubtedly contributed to its weakening. 

Furthermore, China’s growing power and influence in recent years pose one of the greatest challenges to the Western political and economic model. Asian economic power is so great that it is expanding far beyond its natural area of influence, positioning itself as a key trading partner for Europe and Latin America.

Despite the changes in the international system, Venezuela-born international expert Moisés Naím believes that the world needs a more efficient and inclusive multilateralism. This is evident in the different, not always coordinated, responses that the international community has attempted for the Venezuelan crisis.

Today, Venezuela is further away from achieving a democratic transition than it was two years ago, when Congressman Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president. In 2019, informal mechanisms to encourage negotiations between the government and the opposition increased. Among these is the International Contact Group (ICG) on Venezuela, composed of France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Uruguay (Dominican Republic and Chile joined later). The objective of this group is to coordinate efforts to seek a peaceful and democratic solution to the Venezuelan crisis, with a strong emphasis on electoral procedures.

The most recent conference of the ICG took place in early 2021. In the official declaration issued following its ministerial meeting, it reaffirmed the call for a political negotiation in the country that would allow for “credible, inclusive and transparent” elections. The first step to achieve this would be the appointment of an independent and balanced National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral).

One of the highlights of the declaration is the call for the democratic forces “to come together as part of a wider, concerted effort for further dialogue”.  

The European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, also joined this call for unity among the opposition. In this regard, he remarked: “The opposition needs to strengthen its unity; it would be very useful to them”. 

It is evident that the fragmentation of the democratic actors, in at least three factions, and the disappearance of internal articulation mechanisms undermine facilitating any kind of agreement. As if this were not enough, the government managed to co-opt a section of the opposition, which participated in the parliamentary elections of December 6 and has a small representation in the newly inaugurated pro-government National Assembly. 

The ICG declaration highlights other issues, such as the concern for the worsening of the humanitarian situation in the country and the increase of obstacles to the activity of humanitarian aid workers. It also blows the whistle on the repression and attacks against civil society organizations, human rights defense groups, and the media, launched recently as part of the actions performed by the government once it took over the Legislative.

Since its inception, the ICG has advocated for a solution to the crisis built by Venezuelans themselves. However, as expected, the Maduro government has rejected its actions from the beginning. Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has described its initiatives as gross interference in the country’s internal affairs.

The fact is that Maduro is advancing towards his consolidation, without any real incentives to start a negotiation process. The democratic actors are in disarray and, as long as this situation persists, they do not pose a threat to the continuity and stability of the regime.

We must be realistic. A democratic transition, as envisioned two years ago, is not a likely scenario. What seems possible is the coordination of policies and actions to reach a limited and concrete compromise regarding the state (provincial) and municipal elections slated for 2021 and 2022 in Venezuela. 

It is time for multilateralism to become active in order to reach modest agreements that may open opportunities for the democratization of the country in the medium term.

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