In Washington there is a discussion of method and format regarding the strategy on Venezuela, and not a paradigm shift in relations (Photo: CrisisGroup)
Mision Verdad: Un Think Tank Rearma la “Hoja de Ruta” de Estados Unidos contra Venezuela
The days of teacher protests these weeks take place in a climate where, along with the inflationary pressure of the beginning of this 2023, they seem to be linked to a type of mobilization that has been gradually expressing itself, at the national level, with unions and other actors ” visible” of “civil society”, against the background of the advances and tensions around the government-opposition dialogue process in Mexico.
In the midst of this, the definitive collapse of the “Guaidó project”, the reckoning of Voluntad Popular with the G3 and the loss of initiative of the opposition in general, seem to force a correction of the approach to Venezuela. This time, the attempted amendment does not come from the traditional decision-making circles of the White House or the State Department, but rather from well-engaged intellectual apparatuses in the corridors of power in Washington such as the influential Wilson Center.
OFFICIAL CRYSTALLIZATION OF THE STRATEGY?
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, commonly referred to as the Wilson Center, published in December 2022 its report ” Venezuela in 2023 and Beyond: Charting a Different Course .”
Produced by the Working Group for Venezuela within the Program for Latin America, the report is signed by the American academic Abraham F. Loewenthal as a result, according to what he states, of “virtual group discussions, interviews with the group as a whole or individual members carried out carried out with Venezuelan actors and experts, a number of previous papers , and the extensive exchange of perspectives between us” (pp.3-4), referring to the list of names accompanying the document.
Co-signed by 19 signatories (including its author), the report consists of 28 pages and 17 sections outlining what, strictly speaking, is the vision of the Washington DC-based think tank on establishing a strategy and path of actions to follow for the resolution of the “Venezuelan conflict”.
The Wilson Center is funded by the US Congress and is an integral member of the complex educational system and network of government study centers named in honor of former US President Woodrow Wilson.
This think-tank also receives extensive funding from Fortune 500 corporations. Its list of donors is made up of individuals (the godmother of the R2P doctrine, Anne Marie Slaughter), institutions of the Executive Branch (the State Department), embassies (such as that of Qatar), to business empires such as Amazon, Chevron, PepsiCo, Northop Grumman, ExxonMobil or JP Morgan Chase, according to their 2021 sponsorship registry .
The data itself already tells us conclusively what is the scheme of interests around the alleged “resolution” of the “Venezuelan conflict.” But something could give the entity even more political value and operational weight. In the absence of a delineated or specific policy in official terms of the United States with respect to Venezuela, this document seems to come closer, more than anything else, to that: an official document on the possible steps actually conceived and existing by Washington with respect to Venezuela.
Another element to highlight, which establishes another signifier in relation to the language around the report itself and what it says itself, is the type of main author. Abraham Loewenthal is a political-academic animal deeply embedded in the think tank -academic establishment and political-corporations system .
His profuse resume includes practically all the “weight” universities within the system (Harvard, Oxford, Brown, Princeton), as well as the network of think tanks and think tanks (CFR, Brookings Institution, Inter-American Dialogue). . He is also a member of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy, the NED. He specializes, among other fields, in globalization, governance, Latin America and, with particular emphasis, in transitions from authoritarian governments to democracy .
In this way, as the main speaker (but not the only one), the political language and its signal system is clearly established. And, indirectly, the document can achieve a rank of official status that other working papers would hardly do.
- Bonus fact: Antony Blinken is also a member of the Wilson Center.
The essential premise of the work is that there is no other way to get out of the “dead end” of the Venezuelan question other than through a negotiation process, one through which agreements are made that affect “the interests of both the government Venezuelan and the democratic opposition” (p.4), noting that these are not magic formulas that will resolve the “deep resentments among Venezuelans” or that guarantee an immediate economic recovery (p.5).
On the other hand, the working paper indicates that the new objective of the opposition is no longer to seek accelerated regime change but rather, under the tutelage of the United States, it presents itself as an opposition that seeks to address and resolve “humanitarian emergencies,” the human rights, “reconstruction of the economy” and, especially, an aspired framework of governability and consensus towards elections (presidential, regional and municipal, in 2024 and 2025) that are “fair” and “internationally monitored”, as as the Wilson document states. The think tank refers exclusively to the Unitary Platform as “the opposition.”
To that extent, Loewenthal et al assert that any escalation of “coercive measures” is not only not justified, but rather “would intensify hostilities” (p. 11). Likewise, from the United States, they point out the need to create bipartisan support that definitely moves away from maximum pressure to, instead, “encourage negotiations, build coexistence, protect human rights, facilitate effective democratic governance, and promote economic recovery.” (p.15).
Already at this point, if we also add the definitive implosion of the “Guaidó strategy”, the United States seems to formalize, in terms of forms, the end of the operational logic that marked the years of direct confrontation of the Trump administration.
It can be affirmed that it is an indirect recognition of a succession of failures that force the recognition of the Bolivarian Government, and President Nicolás Maduro, as undeniable actors and impossible to avoid. However, up to here the more or less friendly premises or “humanization” of the adversary could be identified. But despite the mitigations, it can be detected that the semantic field of the regime change logic remains.
It can be clearly seen in two elements: the first is the characterization of “the crisis” and the government, and secondly, the final objective of the negotiations.
In the first element, it is a stagnation whose sole responsibility has been the Chavista governments, where the role of a “robust civil society” that participates in the process at different levels and the supervision of the “international community” is urgent in order to “reinstitutionalize” (p.6) the disorder of a government and an “entrenched” power group (p.11), which still to this day, according to the report, closes media outlets, commits environmental crimes, violates human rights, etc. .
In the second, the working paper fails to completely hide that the fundamental objective is a “political transition” (p.5) with a “transfer of power” (p.2), and “reconstruction” (p.14 ) political and national, then in the search to overcome a “traumatic period that has done a lot of damage to Venezuela, destabilized the region and damaged millions of compatriots” (p.20), according to the usual canons of the catechism liberal, codified in the ideological framework of the Democratic Party.
Thus, in the first, the report not only recommends, but also sees fit that as long as the process of dialogue and negotiation continues, the “sanctions” are not lifted from the main political actors of Chavismo and that, if progress is not made, they can be quickly “reinstituted” ( snap back ) at the time of any intransigence, but not before recommending through the international actors around the dialogue an apparent relaxation as an “incentive”.
In both cases, already at this point, it can be affirmed that the report abandons what could be “new” to reproduce the usual commonplaces, since what is apparently strategic once again becomes simply a series of open pressure tactical resources.
Anyone more or less familiar with conflict resolution methods understands that an essential premise is that no one “wins”, and this is decidedly not the case: at least as an aspiration there is a clear desire for one of the parties to be victorious. .
It is, then, a discussion of method and format, and not a paradigm shift in relationships.
Beneath the apparent humanitarian concerns and societal well-being, the central political objective, regime change, operates, manifestly using its central lever: elections. For this, it will be necessary to counterpoint part of the content with other elements visible and verbalized from other instances.
THE “ROAD MAP” WITHOUT CONCILIATORY PACKAGING
The change in approach and form in the United States-Venezuela relationship and, within that, the elements of form that have effectively been modified, could be said to precede the Wilson Center report to a certain extent, which, despite being more eloquent, descriptive, and intellectually Finished as it may be, it cannot be assumed as the alpha and omega of the “plan” of the supervised opposition.
The notion of the elections, first of all, the presidential ones of 2024 and, at least in principle, the regional ones of 2025 as the turning point and the overton window to, now yes, achieve regime change can also be seen in other places of enunciation in matters of opinion and also in policies of institutions of the United States system with greater continuity or not subject to contingencies, which could affect the executive branch at times.
On September 15, 2022, Marcela Escobari, USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, offered testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Venezuelan “case.”
After establishing the same usual picture about the “Venezuelan crisis” where migration, “authoritarianism”, little freedom of the press, corruption, ineptitude and repression stands out without surprise, the official closes with the way in which USAID will bet on the “democratic transition” in Venezuela.
It is worth saying that the portrait (and the sources) of both Escobari and the Wilson report are essentially the same, with the same level of data to establish the discourse and justify the actions to be taken. However, it is not the only thing in which they agree, apart from the fact that Escobari’s intemperate and apocalyptic style marks a considerable distance from Loewenthal’s in the document reviewed up to here.
In this sense, Escobari affirms that there are three areas from which USAID seeks to operate towards the “democratic transition” in Venezuela, also having as its center the electoral days of 2024 and 2025. Following the same and exact path, where the improvement of electoral conditions is a governing principle, USAID makes it clear, first, that it will support the opposition.
According to Escobari, the “subnational” (sic) elections, that is, the regional ones of 2021, demonstrated that according to this logic it is possible to use the vote resource despite not being free, according to her, to demonstrate that objectives can be achieved by electoral means.
He also amusingly claims that the opposition won a landslide victory with the January 2022 elections in Barinas, but that is just an ornament.
What does matter about his statement is certifying that for the United States and the Biden administration, the double electoral defeat in Barinas is the definitive and clear demonstration of the model to follow. This, in terms of opinion, has been more or less a constant that can be found, for example, at the level of opinion from the US brokerage media.
This is the central point, which must be complemented with the other two that also establishes bridges with the Wilson document. Support for “independent media” and “democratic civil society” as the way to keep branding and denounce the government, and, in the same direction, the same with “human rights defenders who document the repression.”
The Wilson Center, for its part, recommends, varying the focus a little, the importance that in principle the government and the Unitary Platform “design and agree on the processes that document systematic violations of human rights, the suppression of democratic freedoms and grotesque corruption”, something that, as they recommend, should be done in consultation “with both Venezuelan and international activists and human rights defenders”, as well as the victims, laying the groundwork for an alleged reparatory justice (p.17).
For USAID, which since 2018, the year in which the floodgates were opened through the UN to different modalities of “humanitarian aid” as a mechanism primarily for political decompression, by September 2022 had announced having allocated 367 million dollars in “additional humanitarian assistance.” In the same sense, the NED declares, according to its last rendering of accounts (2021, in February they will publish the one of 2022) to have publicly allocated under its standards the bulky figure of 4 million 324 thousand 293 dollars, since it is an increase of approximately one million dollars from the previous year .
What could establish the question of to what extent, in reality, these presumed dividends are actually being destined to assist people in extreme precariousness, in poverty or despair (which has a lot to do with the also well-known picture of economic depression product of the “sanctions”) and how much, in reality, is being allocated to the “strengthening” of that “democratic civil society”, “human rights defenders” or “independent media”.
And here we come, at this moment of comparative analysis, to what is perhaps one of the essential premises of the Wilson document, which we will quote in extenso :
“Part of this effort [to build conditions to negotiate and move towards the ‘transition’] should be in public diplomacy: not to open confidential conversations to the public eye, but to provide periodic reports that build trust in the negotiators [of the Unitary Platform and the Bolivarian Government] and its work. The democratic opposition should not lose sight of the likely usefulness of organizing street demonstrations, not to overthrow the government, but to increase the leverage of the opposition. Combining pressure and concessions, in different ways in different times, it is sometimes a valuable strategy for negotiations” (p.19).
This affirmation, naturally, forces us to contrast the events more or less by accumulation that have been manifesting from the unions and other instances of organization by sector of Venezuelan society in recent days, offering a depth of field to said movements and actions.
Actions that, yes, are based on concrete and tangible elements of reality, such as the value of the salary and consequently the economic difficulties, in an international framework where many possible steps have been announced in terms of progress from the dialogue, among them the release of a significant number of sequestered funds that should be allocated, in a coordinated manner, to alleviate difficulties in education, health and service infrastructure.
Already at this point, the preliminary conclusion can be established that it is not the humanitarian situation that mobilizes all this, but political calculations based on a tactical logic of smart power that combines real concessions with pressure mechanisms within the framework of the pre-existing context. electoral, at a time when the conventional partisan instances are frankly in crisis and reorganization, incapable of directly building an agenda and a political climate.
The creation of a non-organic political climate demands a period of maturation, and the dispersion due to internal disputes and other current implosion factors does not seem to facilitate unity of command, the construction of agreements or the harmonization in the execution of an agenda. specific, as it was possible to carve, for example, throughout 2016 with the first half of 2017 with a climax that reached the insurrectionary.
The situation analyzes of some opposition firms themselves admit in broader terms a general climate of demobilization, something that according to the political scientist Ricardo Sucre Heredia, for example, permeates the entire national scene, even if it is expressed in different ways and Chavismo demonstrates other more mobilized or mobilizing elements.
Sucre Heredia is based on the latest opinion studies by Delphos and Datanálisis carried out at the end of last year. With all the biases to consider in this kind of study, however, he admits to passages like these, taken from his latest report on January 16 :
“Another result is that the willingness to protest against the government and for public services decreased. In the first, from 41% to 21% between July and November 2022, and in the second, it went from 55% to 37% respectively, which “It would explain why the protests over the services went off the news. They don’t make much noise anymore. In general, people don’t want to go out and protest.”
In the light of this sample, both from the analysis and from what is presented in it based on the Delphos study, the question can be raised as to where the drivers of heating the street are in recent days.
Since the middle of last year, with the reactions and protests of the “Onapre instructions”, there has been evidence of a unionization of the conflicts. Structures that, for the most part, have historically been controlled by parties or elements of the opposition, today, at least in theory, outside the partisan structures of the dispersed opposition.
The year 2014 began with a scenario that resonates in this particular aspect: the parties, in general terms, in frank withdrawal after the electoral defeat of the municipal elections at the end of 2013, but that by the railing well-known anti-political actors, along with structures prepared and trained for the occasion, such as the “student movement”, managed to establish the recognized agenda of violence and conflict.
Regardless of the fact that the discourse itself around the “what to do” of the opposition and of the United States at this moment in general lines focuses on the negotiations for the electoral appointment, the union demonstrations (today teachers), at least in principle and in their organizational nucleus, they seem to have a degree of organization and method that goes beyond the framework of spontaneous actions.
In some regions of the country, where they seemed to have a greater mobilizing effect, these action programs were programmed for actions throughout the week, in several municipalities, with different degrees of intensity and scope, and in search of the constitution of conflict committees, on this occasion “in all educational institutions”, seeking to accumulate strength and channel discontent with broader-based perspectives.
At these three levels studied, that of the think tank , that of the US state organization and that which is reflected in an incipient and still somewhat disintegrated way in the street, they seem to be sketching between the doctrinal floor and direct action, the political floor or for gearing mechanisms of pressure, or, perhaps, with non-manifest objectives and purposes, but not ruled out in terms of conflict, all, the three analyzed, with the “higher” purpose of change of government and, more broadly, of regime historical and sociopolitical.
“No route is risk-free within such conflicting circumstances. Even so, the risks of fully exploring a path towards democratic governance, respectful coexistence and the economic recovery of Venezuela should be taken by all relevant actors, after so many years of polarization, repression and deprivation. The time for a total effort to negotiate solutions to the multiple crises in Venezuela is now. That is our central message” (p.23), concludes the Wilson Center document.
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