Venezuela: Talks of War and Peace as Patience Wears Out
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
To fix the problem in Venezuela, a degree of force will likely be required, said Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), during a recent speech in Washington, DC. This highly provocative statement was further backed by a recent letter from Venezuela’s interim government to US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). But while some individuals push for war, Norway is attempting to mediate between President Juan Guaidó’s interim government and the de facto Nicolás Maduro regime.
While there continues to be a movement among policymakers in Caracas, Washington, and even Oslo, the Venezuelan church has made several provocative statements in recent weeks, demonstrating that even its patience is running out.
During his May 8 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Secretary Almagro asked, “When must we act in Venezuela?” The OAS leader concluded that the situation in Venezuela cannot continue and that the use of force to bring out some kind of change in the South American country is a necessary evil. The leader highlighted how negotiations, attempts at mediation, and deadlines have been fruitless—case in point, the European Union’s 90-day deadline for Maduro to call for elections was fully ignored.
Almagro went on to state that “we need to act as drivers of this crisis in order to prevent, or limit, violence in the near future. And for that we definitely need a kind of action, [which] means the use of force. In order to keep peace in Venezuela, it will be necessary, at a certain point, to use force. If you don’t use it, you will have a situation like you have now,” meaning repressive tactics against unarmed citizens and a massive exodus.
This was not the only time Almagro mentioned the use of force during his speech, as he also stated that “we need to be able to deploy people [meaning troops] in order to prevent violence at a certain moment. And if we never do that we will never be able to stop the violence in Venezuela. I’m sorry, but I don’t see any other way.” He concluded that in order to defeat Colombian guerrillas and other cartels that currently operate in Venezuela, allegedly at the behest of the Maduro regime, “you will need operations in order to achieve” that goal. Throughout his remarks, Almagro did not use the word “military,” but the message is unmistakable.
A SOUTHCOM- Guaidó meeting?
The speech comes at an interesting time, as Carlos Vecchio, the Venezuelan interim government’s ambassador to the US, has sent a letter to US Southern Command, requesting a meeting. “We welcome strategic and operational planning so that we may fulfill our constitutional obligation to the Venezuelan people in order to alleviate their suffering and restore our democracy,” wrote Vecchio. It seems that both the interim government and the OAS are stepping up their rhetoric in support of a US-led intervention.
At the time of this writing, it is unclear if this potential meeting will occur, though Admiral Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, did tweet back on May 9 that “when invited Juan Guaido and the legitimate government of Venezuela, I look forward to discussing how we can support the future role of those @ArmadaFANB leaders who make the right decision, put the Venezuela people first & restore constitutional order. We stand ready!”
Almagro’s discussion on international intervention was part of a larger argument about the responsibility to protect (R2P), namely the moral reasons why the international community should intervene in Venezuela in order to protect the population from greater suffering at the hands of the Maduro regime. “I think that from the international community’s [perspective]… it is clear that we have a responsibility to protect the Venezuelan people,” the OAS leader proclaimed, “and the Venezuelan people have the right to be protected.” He also cited failures to protect innocent civilians in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo in recent decades as reasons why the international community cannot fail Venezuelans this time.
Peace out of Oslo?
While attempts at mediation and negotiations have largely proven fruitless so far, a nonviolent solution will always be preferable. Hence, the government of Norway has hosted representatives from both governments in Venezuela for a series of “preliminary talks.” Oslo has made a name for itself as an impartial mediator for conflicts around the world, and we will have to wait and see if the Scandinavian nation can be successful when it comes to the Venezuelan crisis.
Moreover, in spite of the aforementioned rhetoric, Latin American governments have shown no interest in actually wanting to participate in a multinational coalition of sorts to invade Venezuela, particularly when the US remains ambivalent over what course of action to take.
The Church: “The government has ruined Venezuela”
I have previously commented for Providence that while the Episcopal Church of Venezuelan (Conferencia Episcopal de Venezuela, or CEV) continues to help Venezuelan citizens in need, many members of the Venezuelan clergy, including the CEV itself, openly critique the Maduro regime.
For example, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino gave an interview to a French newspaper this past April in which he bluntly stated that “the government has ruined Venezuela with its totalitarian politics and economic policies, with a Marxist orientation, which has ruined the agriculture and industries.” The cleric also highlighted how the late President Hugo Chavez threatened various bishops while he was in power (1999–2013), and how Urosa himself was physically attacked on three occasions, in 2007 and twice in 2017. Meanwhile, the CEV has uploaded a video on May 14 which shows a mix of repressive tactics by Maduro’s forces and scenes of hunger and despair among Venezuelan citizens—the video is available on its YouTube channel.
The Venezuelan government has not reacted kindly to recent criticism from the Venezuelan church. For example, Bishop Mario Moronta was prevented from entering the Santa Ana Prison to carry out the traditional washing of feet, an Easter tradition. However, Maduro’s minister for prison services, Iris Varela, reportedly labeled Bishop Moronta as a “hypocrite” and argued that he would create a political “show” if had been allowed to enter the prison. Bishop Moronta has criticized the Maduro regime in the past, hence this is a sort of retaliation.
Figuring out whether some sort of US-led military intervention in Venezuela will occur remains unclear, as the OAS secretary general calls for actions of “force” and Norway attempts to mediate between the two governments in Caracas. Meanwhile, the members of the Venezuelan church, who try every day to help Venezuelan citizens in need around the South American country, have increased their anti-Maduro stance, such as through Cardinal Savino’s recent interview and the new upload to CEV’s YouTube channel.
Patience is a virtue, but after what has happened in Venezuela in recent years and what continues to happen, patience is one more luxury that many Venezuelans cannot afford anymore.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
Photo Credit: Vice President Mike Pence and Colombian President Ivan Duque shake hands with Venezuelan President Juan Guaido on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at the Foreign Ministry in Bogota, Colombia. Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen.