The Irish Times view on Venezuela’s crisis: a regime on the ropes
A workable resolution to the crisis can only be achieved by regional actors and, in particular, by Venezuelans themselves
Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela on Saturday. Photograph: Adriana Loureiro/Reuters
European powers have further imperilled Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela by declaring support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, but while international pressure on the Chavista movement is welcome, a workable resolution to the crisis can only be achieved by regional actors and, in particular, by Venezuelans themselves.
France, Germany, Spain and the UK were among a slew of EU states that formally rowed in behind the 35-year-old Guaidó on Monday – stepping up their diplomatic offensive following Maduro’s failure to heed their earlier calls for fresh elections. Joint EU action has been stymied by internal divisions – Italy and Greece have rejected the decision to recognise Guaidó, while Ireland has also held back, offering the rather Jesuitical rationale that it recognises states, not governments – but it’s clear that the steady diplomatic isolation of Maduro is reaching critical mass.
A majority of Latin American governments are now calling for his departure, while in Venezuela itself, protests against the Chavismo regime, which has run the country with increasing ruthlessness and incompetence for two decades, are gathering momentum. It was striking that large opposition rallies at the weekend faced little pushback from the security forces, whose stance could be decisive as the standoff continues.
Western states are convinced that Maduro’s election victory last year was fraudulent, but they must tread cautiously. Donald Trump’s outspoken support for Guaidó, and his casual threat of military action, did the opposition no favours, allowing Maduro to accuse his opponents of selling their souls to “the imperialist devil” and of hastening a “gringo intervention” in Venezuela. European leaders have been careful to stress the importance of elections, emphasising that it’s for the people of Venezuela to choose their own future.
That’s important. A combination of diplomatic pressure and targeted sanctions – such as the decision of the Bank of England to block Maduro’s government from accessing $1.2 billion worth of gold – should be the extent of western involvement for now. Venezuela’s neighbours should take responsibility for convening talks aimed at a peaceful end to the impasse.
Those efforts will be complicated, however, by the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Some two million Venezuelans are estimated by the UN to be living in exile, and those who remain face chronic shortages of food, water and medicine. Maduro has so far blocked offers of foreign aid, but the opposition’s latest plan to organise mass shipments of aid could test the resolve of the army to stand by the regime. Does it block vital supplies getting to some of the country’s most vulnerable people or does it finally break with a regime that has brought what was once Latin America’s richest country to its knees?