After several failed US-backed coup attempts, Juan Guaidó sent an envoy to Oslo to explore talks with the government. Former Chief of Staff to Nicolás Maduro, Temir Porras, joins Sharmini Peries for analysis
SHARMINI PERIES It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Opposition leader and president of the National Assembly in Venezuela, also known as the self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido, he recently reversed his stand on negotiations, and now suggests that he is willing to come to the table. Also last week, representatives of both the government and of the opposition met with the government of Norway in Oslo to discuss a possible dialogue between the two sides. However, no direct negotiations seem to have taken place as yet. Also, in a rather surprising turn, Trump’s special envoy on Venezuela Elliott Abrams recently said in a public forum at the Atlantic Council that Maduro’s political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, should be a part of any future arrangement in Venezuela. Let’s listen.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS There are no special rights for any political party. I mean, that’s the problem today. There are special rights for the PSUV. But in a free Venezuela there just has to be a competition of ideas. People have to, in free elections, which will come, people just have to make their arguments to the Venezuelan people. And there will be an election, and then there’ll be a second election, and a third election, and a fourth election. So I would say, you know, there is nothing in that sense special about the PSUV or the role of the Chavistas Their role is to act as a democratic political party and try to win votes.
SHARMINI PERIES Previously, Elliott Abrams, along with Guaido, had always insisted that the only solution is that Maduro’s government resign, step aside, and leave the country. Joining me now to discuss these latest developments in Venezuela Temir Porras. Temir is a former chief of staff to Nicolas Maduro. Then Nicolas Maduro was President Chavez’s foreign minister. He currently teaches at the university of Sciences Po in Paris. Temir, very good to have you here with us today.
TEMIR PORRAS Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES Temir, previously, Mr. Guaido had rejected negotiations with the government even when the pope had suggested that he needed two willing parties to negotiate. Then Guaido insisted that President Maduro only had one option; that was to resign immediately, that he was not interested in negotiations with the pope or otherwise. So, Temir, what has changed? Why is Guaido willing to come to the table now?
TEMIR PORRAS Well, what has changed is that the Venezuelan reality has been, you know, harder than what Guaido in his eyes thought. Let’s remember that in January, when the self-proclamation of Juan Guaido as interim president, or so-called interim president, happened, the assumption was that the evolution, if you will, the course of events in Caracas, meaning from their perspective a regime collapse, would happen within hours, days, or weeks, but not for months. So everybody in the Venezuelan opposition, and probably the United States, was assuming that the international endorsement given to Juan Guaido was going to trigger a series of events internally that were going, again, to deliver a political change, and that has not happened.
And if we, if we call to the more recent events, those of April the 30th, you know, the military uprising, coup, you know, the failed attempt of Mr. Juan Guaido and his former leader, or leader of his party, Leopoldo Lopez, calling the Venezuelan military to join them and basically generate that regime collapse that they were expecting in January, I mean, the massive failure of this attempt, the improvisation shown by main leaders of this movement, the–again, the nonexistent reaction from the military, and again, all the very, very amatureish action that both Mr. Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez led, basically it generated a crisis of credibility in the leadership of the opposition and had everybody, from the United States to the different parties of the Venezuelan opposition and in the international community wondering whether, again, this strategy was sustainable.
So I think that, again, for those of us who in Venezuela have been advocating from the beginning for a political Venezuelan sovereign negotiated resolution of the crisis. I think the, you know, the reality within the country showed that basically this is the only way forward. And finally, I think we must bear in mind that the Venezuelan opposition is extremely divided, as we have said in the past. So today there seems to be no, if you will, central command. There seems to be no coherent strategy. And those within the opposition that are close to a level that are, you know, politically moderate, seem to be tempting, you know, giving some opportunity to these talks or mediation efforts put forward by the government of Norway. And again, you know, if the other options have not worked, I think the hardliners’ authority to prevent at least initial contacts from happening has diminished.
So I think it’s encouraging. It’s a shame that we have to wait this long while the situation in Venezuela was deteriorating by the day, because again, the sanctions, economic sanctions, have been escalating. The U.S. government has been imposing sanctions in 2019 that have made the economic and social situation more dire inside Venezuela. So it’s a shame we had to wait at least four months. But at the same time, it’s encouraging that now even Mr. Guaido has opened the door for these talks. And I wish, again, that this process will move forward.
SHARMINI PERIES Temir, I know that Oslo negotiations, or these preliminary discussions that are underway, was a very closely guarded process. But what do we know so far about what actually happened in Oslo?
Well, I think that we can only speculate, because, you know, the characteristics of these talks is that they need to be very private. It’s–I frankly consider it a shame that they were even made public. And it was, again, given the divisions within the Venezuelan opposition, one frustrated person from the opposition made a public statement basically leaking the fact that there contacts in Oslo. Because, again, there has been very negative rhetoric in the past coming especially from the opposition hardliners accusing anyone willing to engage in what is normal in a political crisis, that is, contacts, talks to come up with a solution, accusing them of playing the game of what they call the Maduro regime, because they have depicted negotiations as a tactic from the government of Venezuela, from the government of President Maduro, just the tactic to win time, to buy some time.
So again, I think that as long as these talks remain private, this is a good, a positive element for the negotiation to move forward. But what we know is that effectively to the [inaudible] in Oslo, that the Minister of Communications Jorge Rodriguez was there, that the Governor of Miranda, Mr. Hector Rodriguez, is supposed to have been there, too. And from the opposition side, Mr. [name inaudible] who is a former mayor of a neighborhood of Caracas. Mr. [inaudible] has been a moderate, historically, in the opposition. He’s somebody who does not hold any official position today, but that is consulted by Mr. Guaido. And again, it is one of the elements within the opposition that has advocated in the past for a reasonable political solution to the crisis. I think it’s–and the second, you know, the second element that we know is that the Norwegian government had separate meetings with the two delegations, that there was no negotiation in itself, that this is a preliminary mediation and preliminary contact even to discuss–you know, it’s a discussion of the discussion. To discuss about the agenda and the confidence building measures that need to be undertaken for effective negotiations to happen.
SHARMINI PERIES Now, Temir, about a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, between 2017 and 2018, there were negotiations in the Dominican Republic mediated by Spain’s former Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero. Now, these talks collapsed. Why did they collapse, and why would these current negotiations in Oslo have a better chance of succeeding as far as you know, since we don’t know very much about the Oslo process?
TEMIR PORRAS I think there were several reasons why the negotiations in the Dominican Republic collapsed. Probably what has changed since, or one of the elements that one could point out, is that precisely those talks were extremely public. And the mediator’s role was a very high profile one. The press, the public opinion in Venezuela, knew every time that Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero traveled to Venezuela. It was in the news. On the other hand, the discussions, the agenda, the delegations were extremely public, again, every time those contacts happened. So those contacts were under the tremendous pressure of not only Venezuelan public opinion, knowing that there is factions in the opposition, mainly, but also even within Chavismo, that are hostile to any type of contacts. So these negotiations were not protected enough, if you will. And on the other hand, they were also submitted to the pressures of the foreign governments.
You know, the government of Mr. Maduro claims that in January 2018 at the end of these negotiations, a draft agreement had been reached between the two delegations, and that was the pressure of the United States government that, on some of the factions of the opposition, that made impossible the agreement to be signed.
On the other hand, there were also tensions within the Venezuelan opposition, as you must know. Part of that negotiation was the presidential elections that were to be held within 2018 or 2019. So there was this discussion on the calendar, and the conditions for a presidential election that ended up happening in May 2018 without the participation of the main parties of the opposition, as the agreement collapsed. But what I wanted to underline was that there were also internal tensions within the opposition. Again, it’s a very divided opposition. And they had to come up with a single candidate to represent them all. So I think there were both political internal problems, and second, a too public framework that made the pressure on the delegations and on the negotiation process too high. I think, again, it is positive that now the government Norway, a specialized government that has a very extensive experience in these type of difficult situations and high tension negotiations, I think it’s positive that this time the talks, the mediation, the efforts are much more discreet and kept out of the, again, the public opinions, pressure.
SHARMINI PERIES Temir, let’s just leave it there for the moment and come back to continue our conversation.