Juan Guaido is capable of leading Venezuela, but if Maduro does not give up easily, his strengths may disappear in the coming months, explains Globsec analyst Kinga Brudzinska. According to her, military intervention will not help to calm the situation, but we should not be afraid of the emergence of a new “cold” conflict.

The economic crisis in Venezuela started in 2014…Why is the situation in Venezuela escalating today? 

The situation in Venezuela changed after the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013, who was in power for 14 years. He was a very charismatic leader and he was loved by many. In addition, the economy performed well during the time. This was due to, among other factors, high oil prices, which account for 90 percent of Venezuela’s exports.  As such, President Chavez had money for the implementation of his policies. This also helps to explain why people loved him and followed his ideology. Moreover, it was associated with economic benefits which helped many people escape a poverty.

Was the country democratic back then?

Certainly, it was not, but at least the elections were held and people voted for President Chávez. Everything changed when he died. His successor, whom he chose and trained, failed to meet the expectations of the people. At the same time country’s economic situation worsened and was hit by crisis. What is more today, the human rights and freedom of people in Venezuela were violated and the regime controlled the whole political and economic system.

What triggered the current turbulence in the country?

I think many people are disappointed with the incumbent President. What is more, Venezuela faces a humanitarian crisis (according to the UN), lack of food, drugs and electricity in the country. In the past, political leaders from the opposition such as Leopoldo López, Henrique Capriles Radonski and Maria Corina Machad tried to bring change to the country. However, they failed because they were not able to unite, they could not agree on many things. Leopoldo López was the last leader before Juan Guaido, who was trying to unite people but the government put him under house arrest. Today, he and his family found asylum as refugees at the Spanish Embassy in Caracas.

So how did it happen that suddenly Juan Guaido became the leader?

Before he became an opposition leader, Guaido was not well known. But when the last elections were declared by the opposition as not free and fair, he – as the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, declared himself as Venezuela’s President. In fact, it all started 4 years ago when the opposition won the parliamentary elections for the first time in a very long time. President Nicolas Maduro did not like it and began to create parallel institutions. In addition to the National Assembly, the Constituent Assembly was created, an institution that was not recognized by the opposition. In this context, Juan Guaido as the president of a freely elected National Assembly, is regarded by many as Venezuela’s last bastion of democracy.

What are the reasons why Venezuela is where it is now and why the country was not prepared for the looming economic crisis?

It’s not easy to say. Venezuela is one of the last socialist countries. The last developments in Cuba, such as a death of Fidel Castro, and the fact that his brother Raúl Castro was in power, had a huge impact on the situation in Venezuela and on their bilateral relations. When President Chávez died and the economic situation got worse, Venezuela could no longer support financially the island. On the other side, President Maduro blames the United States and the West for all misfortunes. For example, after the major blackouts in March, he blamed the US for attacking the power structure.

Do you think the society in Venezuela is now more divided than in the past?

I think that today, it’s more about whether people stay in the country or leave it. Even the   supporters of Hugo Chavez have their doubts about the current state of play. Now they wish for some changes due mainly due to economic reasons and stability. There is also a big part of society that calls for the restoration of democratic institutions. There are many political prisoners and President Maduro holds power but is not willing to give up easily.  Even some of those who supported him in the past, today rebel against him as they have nothing to eat or there is no running water in their houses. I would say, it is more about the humanitarian aspects and survival more than about the political division in the country.

According to some, if there was no Juan Guaido, the opposition in Venezuela would not have another leader who would call for a change.

No, Venezuela has already had many opposition leaders, but they have not been successful in getting international support. Juan Guaido has good timing. His advantage was that he received support from the United States, which was followed later by fifty other countries. The countries which recognized Juan Guaido as a president would like to see some changes and help Venezuelan society.

But is he the right person to lead a country? There are rumors that he may not be a good leader and he should not have left Venezuela.

It is very difficult to say who is the true leader. I think Juan Guaido, similar to opposition leaders in the past, has all leadership skills. However, if there is no good alignment of stars, he won’t make change. When we look at the previous opposition leaders, in theory they had everything that was needed (ex. political experience, good education) but they did not succeed. I do not think Guaido should be discredited.

Do you think the United States military intervention would help to solve the situation in Venezuela?

I don’t think this would help. If we look at US intervention in Libya, Syria or Iraq, they did not bring the expected results. So far, only the US has mentioned this possibility of resolving the conflict by military means in Venezuela. Other countries, including the European Union, even if they support Guaido, they are retreating from any form of intervention. Any intervention would be risky. Russia, who supports the incumbent regime, already has its troops on the ground in Venezuela.

But the United States has warned President Maduro that it would intervene. What does it mean?

I think President Trump’s foreign policy is unpredictable. On the one hand, he is withdrawing US troops out of Iraq and launches his “America First” agenda but at the same time he does not exclude military intervention in Venezuela. It was really unexpected that the US recognized Juan Guido so quickly. For the US, Venezuela is important for economic reasons as it used to be of the biggest oil suppliers. Also, Latin America is a very specific region. It has never experienced wars or changes of borders as we know it in Europe.

However, the situation in Venezuela forces many people to leave their homes. Should we be afraid of a migration crisis in the region?

Over three million people have already left Venezuela, which means that one person out of ten left the country, according to the most recent data. One million went to Colombia, 500,000 to Peru and 221,000 to Ecuador. When we look at the migration crisis that that EU faced in 2015, when one million people came to Europe, this number is comparable with the Venezuelans who sought refuge in much smaller Colombia. When it comes to bilateral relations, the countries were not always the closest allies, as Bogota is regarded as a US ally in the region. Regardless, Colombia has now started to look for ways how to help and prepare for the next arrivals.

Isn’t there fear that the world will be divided into two blocks? For those who support Guaido, and those who support Maduro? Are we witnessing the beginning of a new “cold” conflict?

Russia, Cuba and Turkey have already officially expressed their support for Maduro’s government. What is more, Russia and China have blocked the UN Security Council’s resolution on Venezuela. The division is visible, but I don’t think that it will translate into a new “cold” conflict in the region.

What is the EU stance on Venezuela?

The EU agreed to establish the Uruguay-led International Contact Group with Latin American countries that had not recognised Guaidó but did not want to be passive on the crisis, and that sought dialogue and a new election. The EU is also providing humanitarian assistance. However, the EU is divided on Venezuela’s stance since not all Member States recognized Juan Guaido. In the meantime, the European Parliament has adopted a non-binding resolution that recognised Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela, but that is not enough and does not give the EU a strong negotiating mandate.

Why are the Member States divided on the stance toward Venezuela?

It is because the Member States differ when it comes to their foreign policies and it is not always easy to reach a common position. For Venezuela and vice versa, the European Union is quite a distant foreign policy actor, as it was discussed during the roundtable on “What EU Foreign Policy?” organized by Globsec in the framework of DIFF GOV project. For Venezuela, its relations with the countries in the region and the United States are the most important and they will matter most in reaching any agreement in the future.

How can Slovakia be affected by its stance on Venezuela? For example, as we did not officially recognized Juan Guaido? Could any tourists traveling to Venezuela face any problems?

Today there are not many people willing to travel to Venezuela. Frankly speaking, I would not recommend anyone to go there now. Similar to Slovakia, three other Member States, specifically Greece, Italy and Cyprus, did not recognize Juan Guaido. But I wouldn’t see it as a problem. However, what is more, I am sure Maduro will remember the countries that supported him more than the ones which did not. But in general, I do not think that it will have any political consequences.

 

Interview done by Lucia Rusnáková, Journalist, Hospodárske noviny. It was originally published in Hospodárske noviny on 10 May 2019 https://hnonline.sk/svet/1937937-clenske-krajiny-nie-su-ohladom-venezuely-jednotne

 

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This interview was conducted in result of GLOSBEC DIFF GOV – „European Governance: Potential of Differentiated Cooperation“ supported by Jean Monnet Activities of the EU Programme Erasmus+.