On the heels of the hard-line anti-Maduro Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, countries favoring a negotiated solution, including Uruguay, Mexico, and Bolivia, met in Montevideo on Thursday. The final declaration, however, compromises Venezuela’s sovereignty, according to Bolivia. We discuss the outcome with Miguel Tinker Salas and Greg Wilpert
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
An important meeting on Venezuela concluded in Montevideo, Uruguay today. Representatives from Uruguay, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador gathered and formed what is now being called the International Contact Group on Venezuela. EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini presented the final declaration. Here’s what she said.
FEDERICA MOGHERINI: The group aims to forge a common international approach to support a peaceful, political, democratic, and Venezuelan-owned resolution to the crisis, excluding the use of force through free, transparent, and credible presidential elections, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. To that end, the Group, through the co-chairs of the meeting–that is, the two of us–will proceed with the necessary contact with relevant Venezuelan actors, as well as with regional and international partners, with the aim of first establish the necessary guarantees for a credible electoral process within the earliest timeframe possible. And second, enable the urgent delivery of assistance in accordance with international humanitarian principles.
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To implement these goals, the International Contact Group will send a technical mission to the country. The group will reconvene at ministerial level by the beginning of March to take stock of progress, and in between we will have a senior officials meeting in the next couple of weeks.
SHARMINI PERIES: However, it is important to note that this declaration was not signed by Mexico and Bolivia. According to Bolivia’s foreign minister, his government did not agree with the Contact Group’s call for early elections. He said this could only be an end result of such negotiations. Just prior to the International Contact Group meeting, Mexico and Paraguay came to a different agreement on Venezuela which came to be known as the Montevideo mechanism. This agreement focuses on four steps of the negotiation strategy for overcoming the crisis in Venezuela. Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry said that it has information that the White House has been discussing plans for a military intervention in Venezuela.
Now joining me to discuss all of these developments is Miguel Tinker Salas and Gregory Wilpert. Miguel is Professor of History at Pomona College in California, and he’s the author of the book Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know. And Greg is the managing editor here at The Real News Network, and his book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power. Thank you so much for joining us here, both Greg and Miguel.
GREG WILPERT: My pleasure.
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Thank You.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Miguel, let me go to you first. The Lima Group, which consists of 12 very conservative governments of Latin America plus Canada, has discounted the possibility of negotiations, and is calling for the Maduro government to step down immediately. And of course, this means recognizing Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela. How do you see the chances of this international Contact Group, then, compared to, say, the Lima Group? Let’s compare the weight to the two bodies.
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Well the weight of the two is obviously you have on the one side the conservative governments of Latin America, who first tried to sanction Venezuela in the Organization of American States, and unable to do that because they met resistance from the Caribbean nations and Central American nations. Then opted to form this Lima Group, where they had consensus, and where they sought, essentially, regime change in Venezuela. This, again, is the result of a conservative upsurge in many South American countries that provided the context for that. What we have in this Contact Group is a much broader set of countries. But again, the idea that if you start from the premise that right that the elections are the starting point, you really haven’t reached a level of negotiation to discuss what is the understanding of that process.
Because what if you had elections tomorrow, and the Chavistas win? Is the opposition going to accept that? Or vice versa, if you have elections tomorrow and the opposition wins, would the Chavistas have faith in the political system? The larger question is how do we reach a level of consensus through negotiations that help reach a level where maybe elections are an outcome at the end of a process, not at the beginning of a process.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Miguel, let’s stay with you for a minute longer, here. Now, the blocs of countries that are taking different sides in this conflict, it’s becoming now more of a geopolitical conflict. So what do you see as being the long-term consequences of this conflict now evolving?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Well, the long-term consequences, if it’s consummated the way it has been laid out, is that a group of nations can, through their actions and in coordination with an opposition, dictate who is a president of a country. So that’s a very slippery slope. Where do we–what’s the criteria? Where do we begin? Where does it end? Because if you want to talk about a crisis, we can start looking at country after country, whether it’s Honduras, whether it’s Guatemala, where there are human rights crises, where there are illegitimate governments, where there is corruption. So where do we–where do we end? Should we start looking at Saudi Arabia? Should we start looking at other countries, as well?
So again, where do we–where does this process end? I think the issue that way Mexico has laid it out is a respect for national sovereignty, a respect for self-determination, and an effort to look to find peaceful solutions to crisis. And I think that’s the fundamental tenet that has to be followed.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, off the top I mentioned that Russia is announcing–at least its foreign ministry is announcing–that the White House is actively considering plans for military intervention in Venezuela. Greg, I’m going to go to you on this. President Trump himself in the State of the Union address addressed the issue of Venezuela, and in the past he said military option is on the table. They will consider everything. Given the players involved in this process, especially Elliott Abrams and John Bolton, and now Pompeo and Pence, and some of the people from the former Bush administration who attempted the coup against President Chavez, all back in the scene trying to attempt to do this all over again. Greg, your reaction to what the Russian foreign ministry is saying. Do you think this is credible information?
GREG WILPERT: Well, we definitely have a lot of reports about how President Trump has been exploring the possibility of military action against Venezuela. As a matter of fact, there was–and I think it was in the Wall Street Journal–a pretty detailed analysis of how Trump has been asking the Pentagon to develop these plans. And he was meeting resistance from then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who is basically saying this is crazy, and didn’t want to proceed with that. In the meantime, though, with Rex Tillerson gone and with Mike Pompeo there, and as you mentioned, Elliott Abrams and John Bolton, all of these super hawks, I think the danger of actual military action has gotten much bigger. And it would–but if it were to happen would probably still happen against the resistance of the Pentagon itself, which is kind of crazy.
So I think part of it, though, since this is probably not resolved within the U.S. yet, part of it is actually also an effort to scare the Maduro government and to scare the Venezuelan military into switching sides, in order to push–in other words, they’d like to see these kinds of reports. So I’m not surprised, perhaps, that the Russian military, you know, made this statement, because it actually, could actually feed into the possibility of a coup in Venezuela. Because if the Venezuelan military gets scared enough they might actually, or at least a portion of them, might actually end up switching sides. Which is exactly what they’re seeking to do.–that is, the U.S. government is seeking to do. And that could lead to a coup attempt. But it could also, like I said, it could be just a bluff to get them to to switch sides. But I think one has to take it very, very seriously, because we know that these people are diehard hawks who obviously did not hesitate to invade a country such as Iraq back in 2003.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Miguel, let me go back to you here. Many people are offering a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Venezuela, and these bodies have formed, as we’ve already talked about; the Lima Group and this Contact Group meeting in Montevideo, and of course Mexico and Uruguay. But now Pope Francis has gotten in an offer to mediate as well, if he could have two people to mediate with. Now, Juan Guaido says the Pope is welcome as far as, you know, coming to Venezuela is concerned. But he hasn’t offered a commitment to negotiate. Explain the situation where Juan Guaido might be coming from, and when the [Pope] is calling you to the table, how could he resist?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: The strategy adopted by the opposition in Venezuela is that they do not want to negotiate. This is a hardened group of opposition led by Voluntad Popular, who have said they don’t see a reason or a need to negotiate. The only thing they want to negotiate is Maduro’s ouster. It was always very clear, because the way they have organized their movement, Guaido could today say very clearly, Mr. President Trump, please take the military option off the table. Mr. Bolton, quit talking about conceding our oil to U.S. companies. Mr. Pompeo, quit trying to increase pressure on the international and make Venezuela part of a new Cold War for Latin America. And at the same time, Mr. Elliott Abrams, we don’t what your bloody hands on Venezuela.
But he hasn’t done that. And he doesn’t–in fact, they’ve done the opposite. They’ve met with Elliott Abrams. They have met with people in the State Department previously, in buildup to this. So it’s very clear that they do not want to negotiate a strategy at all. And it’s also clear, though, that they had overestimated their position. Many in the opposition are wondering what happened, how come Maduro hasn’t been replaced? How come there hasn’t been a coup? This is a typical part of their overestimating of their position and underestimating of the opposition they face in the country, that they face among the popular sectors, and the opposition they say would face within the military.
And that’s part and parcel of thinking of change in Venezuela as some sort of aberration; that somehow Chavez was an aberration, or even worse, part of an international conspiracy, and refusing to understand the conditions within the country itself.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Greg, let me go to you, here. Many countries have offered aid to Venezuela. Colombia has said they’ll put $40 million on the on the table, and Canada has committed $53 million. The U.S. has offered $20 million. Now, they’re also putting pressure on Maduro with this aid. They’re saying the aid is waiting at the border; food supplies, medical supplies, and so on. And Maduro is saying no to this aid. He’s saying that Venezuela has resources, has money that is being tied up by these various financial sanctions that have been placed on Venezuela. So do you think that is a legitimate response on the part of Maduro, given that so many people are in need, dire need, of some of this aid, from what we see in some of the footage in the barrios portrayed by some of the international media, and of course the opposition in Venezuela?
GREG WILPERT: Well, one thing I think one has to keep in mind, there is no such thing as mass starvation going on in Venezuela at the moment. There’s no famine, or anything like that. However, having said that, what is particularly needed is medicines, I think. That is because that’s much more difficult to come by, usually has to be imported. And so that’s definitely a huge need in Venezuela. And so, I mean, if I were Maduro I would say let’s take the medical aid, and I don’t know about the food aid, but I can understand his position. As a matter of fact, the various governments have approached NGOs in Colombia and in other countries, including, you know, the Red Cross, asking them to distribute food aid to Venezuela, and they’ve denied to do so because they said this is really a an effort to politicize the conflict through humanitarian aid, and that they basically would not–as long as it had the political dimension, they would not participate in it.
And in that sense, Maduro is, in a certain sense, on the side of these organizations, saying the same thing; that you guys are trying to get regime change by imposing massive sanctions that are costing us billions and billions of dollars, and then offering a trickle of humanitarian aid to make yourselves look good. We’re not going to play this game. And that’s essentially also what the international aid groups are saying, as well, to the countries that are offering this aid. So I don’t think that Maduro is that wrong, except, of course, if you can save the lives, then it’s the responsibility of any president to actually do so. And that, I think, in the Venezuelan case would especially apply to the case of medical aid.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Miguel, let me have you answer that same question. Would you urge Maduro to accept this aid?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: I think–I agree with what Greg has said. I mean, there is a crying need for medicine in the country that is not produced in the country, and people require access to it. So the government, if it doesn’t accept that, then it has to find some way to provide it, given even all the sanctions that they face, and that’s a simple reality. I do think that the effort on the humanitarian is to be able to create part of this narrative of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, to weaponize food, which is what the Red Cross has said they do not want to participate in. And that is a process by which you weaponize food and humanitarian aid in order to to claim the basis for a humanitarian intervention in Venezuela. And I think that’s the underlying assumption that we’re hearing from those who resist the aid into the country. But I do think that medicine is an important issue, and you need to save lives. And that should be done.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Miguel, speaking of medicine, I was speaking with Mark Weisbrot yesterday. And he said before the financial sanctions were imposed on Venezuela–financial warfare, he called it–the Venezuelan government was purchasing something like $2 million in medicines for hospitals and clinics and so forth. Now it is unable to do so because of this financial warfare, and the sanctions, and the freezing of Venezuelan assets, and so forth. Isn’t there a humanitarian obligation on the part of the international community that should release at least that amount to the Venezuelan government in order to provide medicines to its people? Some allowance has to be made available so that people aren’t denied basic medicines.
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Undoubtedly. And if you–I went to the State Department webpage a few days ago and looked at the history of the sanctions that they advertise. One of the things that was clear was that they said they had not imposed sanctions on oil precisely to avoid increasing the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Now they’re doing the opposite. Now they are betting and hoping for that increased suffering, and that that suffering itself will lead people to rebel against the government. So it’s obvious that they are clear on what that strategy is. And it’s unfortunate, because the persons who pay for sanctions are not the political elites, not the economic elites of the country. It’s always the poorest sector of the population. And they’ve already borne the brunt of many of these issues. And again, the idea that sanctions, particularly around medicine or funds available for medicine, simply increases their pain and suffering.
SHARMINI PERIES: I thank you both for joining us, and we will promise to continue to have these conversations on Venezuela, and make sure that we actually provide the kind of analysis that is needed in moments like this. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News Network.