Trump Administration’s Rejection of Pope’s Mediation Offer Sends Ugly Signal

February 7, 2019

Trump's efforts to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela reached new heights when it halted a Senate resolution supporting self-proclaimed president Guaidó because it also included a line against the use of US military force in Venezuela. We discuss the ramifications with CEPR's Mark Weisbrot

Trump's efforts to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela reached new heights when it halted a Senate resolution supporting self-proclaimed president Guaidó because it also included a line against the use of US military force in Venezuela. We discuss the ramifications with CEPR's Mark Weisbrot



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

A bipartisan Senate resolution supporting President Trumps policy to recognize the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Juan Guiado, fell through on Wednesday because the Republicans did not want to include a line that would prohibit the U.S. from taking military action in Venezuela. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez were the co-authors of the resolution. Senator Menendez wanted to include a line in the resolution reaffirming the War Powers Act, stating that the resolution should not be constructed as authorization for the use of military force in Venezuela. Senator Rubio refused and withdrew the resolution altogether.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has now offered and expressed his support for the idea of the Vatican mediating between the government of President Maduro and the opposition in Venezuela. Now originally, the opposition had rejected all negotiation offers from Maduro. Recently though, there has been some reports that Juan Guiado might accept Pope Francis’ offer. Joining me now to discuss all of this today is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the Codirector of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and he joins us from Washington, DC. Mark, good to have you with us.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for inviting me, Sharmini

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Let’s start with the Senate resolution on Venezuela. What do you think this means, that the resolution has now failed, and the assertion of the War Powers Act, which basically says that only Congress can declare war on another country?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes. Well, this resolution was going to say that the sense of the Senate resolution that they recognize they agree with the recognition. Of Guido as the president of Venezuela. But Rubio, who is really the point man, he’s kind of leading this whole effort in the administration, has been for quite a long time, he didn’t want to have language, which is just standard language, which restated the actual law of the United States. There was nothing in the resolution that should be construed as supporting military intervention.

So mainly, the significance is it shows how extreme this group, Rubio, Bolton, Trump and Elliott Abrams, how extreme they are and how they really want to keep this option, as they say, “on the table,” even though even threatening it like they do is a violation of the UN Charter. So I think that’s important. But the sanctions are also important. So there’s pushback in Congress against the military. I don’t think most of Congress would want–the vast majority of Congress wouldn’t support military action at this point. But I think we shouldn’t get too distracted by that because that’s not the most likely possibility. The most likely possibility is what’s actually happening.

There’s very severe sanctions on the country that are killing people. And that’s been happening, as I’ve said before on this show, since August of 2017, there’s been this financial embargo, which has decimated the oil industry and severely restricted the imports that pay for medicines and food. And so, this is continuing. And then, of course, in the last week or so it’s been increased to something that’s more like a trade embargo, where you Venezuela won’t be able to sell its oil to the United States or in other countries who are allied with the U.S. So they’re trying very hard. But I have to emphasize that the U.S. government, the Trump administration, is really bent on overthrowing this government. They don’t want a negotiated solution.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. Many efforts are underway to negotiate and come to a resolution in Venezuela, a peaceful resolution. Pope Francis has offered to mediate, so have the governments of Mexico and Uruguay, which are organizing a meeting in Montevideo today as we speak. So give us a rundown on who’s who and whether Juan Guiado will accept these negotiation offers by the Vatican and Mexico and Uruguay.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, the Pope’s offer to mediate was very important, because that’s something that’s not so easily avoidable. So far, the administration has not made any response and that’s very telling. And it’s too bad we don’t have more inquisitive journalists in some of the larger media, because they should be asking the administration, “What do you think about this offer from the Pope?” And the opposition doesn’t want to negotiate at all. And they keep saying that. And of course, Pence said that just yesterday or the day before, and Guiado himself has said, that there’s not a time for dialogue because they’re working together.

But when Guiado was asked in an interview, just today I think it was, about the Pope’s offer, he had a somewhat more ambiguous response. He said that he would welcome the Pope to come to Venezuela and he would welcome any efforts by the pope. But he didn’t say anything about agreeing to the mediation. So I’m guessing that he won’t agree to it, because Rubio doesn’t want it. This shows, again, this is how important that this extremist view that you have in this administration that really wants this extralegal, winner-take-all, mostly likely violent regime change, and doesn’t want anything that involves negotiation.

Now there is something in Uruguay today, and that’s a meeting that’s called the International Contact Group. And that includes the European Union, eight member states separately, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, and four countries from Latin America, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia. So that’s a somewhat more mixed group and there are a number of European states who don’t like the regime change effort. But that group is still–the Trump administration has the upper hand. So what they’re really resisting is the places where there’s more neutrality. So that would be Mexico and Uruguay and also the Pope.

But in order for the Pope to mediate, he’s got to get something from the opposition side, an agreement from them. And that’s where you have, again, the U.S. pressure trying to prevent any kind of real mediation. And they’re going to try and prevent a contact group from doing that. Right now they do have a very strong position in there because most of those are countries that are completely in line with the regime change operation.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Mark, parallel this Monday, Canada hosted the Lima group meeting and they passed a resolution which Chrystia Freeland, the Foreign Minister of Canada, is calling the Ottawa declaration. This group seems to have a lot of force, particularly with the Liberal government of Canada, spearheading and doing the bidding for the United States there. How effective do you think that group is and how does that group weigh against the one that’s meeting in Montevideo today?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, there’s no distance between the government of Canada and Trump. And the same is true for most of the Lima group as well, and it’s controlled by people who… Well, I should say that there is one difference. The Lima group is not in favor of the military intervention. But again, that’s not the main thing that’s going on right now. So the Lima group and the government of Canada are very much supporting the regime change operation, and they won’t be supporting negotiation in the immediate future. And I think, as time goes on–the opposition thought the coup was going to happen immediately, like a week ago, and that’s kind of what the U.S. and its allies were counting on, something that would be really quick, and it’s not turning out that way.

And so, if the government remains in place in Venezuela for a while, there will be other European countries realizing, and other countries perhaps in Latin America, that a negotiated solution is necessary. So I think that is a possible scenario going forward. And as I mentioned, there’s at least a dozen members of the house that are pushing back not only against proposed military intervention or threatened military intervention, but also against the coup itself and even the sanctions.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. We’ll leave it there for now. I thank you so much for joining us, and looking forward to your comments next week.

MARK WEISBROT: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.