A broad diplomatic front is needed to address Venezuela’s crisis
The recognition by the UK and several other EU countries of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president is a welcome step in the diplomatic effort to increase pressure on the regime of Nicolás Maduro. France, Germany and Spain joined in following through on a promise late last month to recognise Mr Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, as interim leader if the government in Caracas failed by Sunday to announce fresh elections.
With Venezuela suffering what Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, has described as the “most devastating humanitarian crisis our hemisphere has experienced”, most of the EU has now given its backing to Mr Guaidó. European states have joined the co-ordinated approach by the US, Canada and the majority of Latin American countries after Mr Maduro was inaugurated for a second six-year term. It is vital that efforts aimed at finding a solution to Venezuela’s crisis cover as broad a diplomatic front as possible.
About 2m Venezuelans of an official population of 32m are estimated by the UN to be living in exile, while those at home in what was once Latin America’s wealthiest country are faced with chronic shortages of food, water and medicine.
In a region with a long history of US intervention, it is important that pressure on the Maduro regime is not perceived as simply another example of imperialism, or that the crisis is reduced to a great power struggle between the US and Russia, both of which have big interests in oil, Venezuela’s chief and virtually only export.
The role of Canada and the bulk of Latin American countries is central to countering knee-jerk assumptions that the US alone is orchestrating moves to oust Mr Maduro.
While President Donald Trump has refused to rule out US military intervention, so far the overall approach to the crisis has involved a reasonable balance of carrot and stick.
Washington’s recent move to impose sanctions on PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, has slashed the organisation’s revenues. Some of these revenues are shared out by the Maduro government with leading military figures to keep the armed forces on side.
Such sanctions are a blunt instrument, however. The consequent damage to the national economy will hurt long-suffering ordinary Venezuelans even more.
The opposition’s latest move to organise mass shipments of humanitarian aid is therefore significant. So far, the Maduro government has refused such aid. The quantities that will cross Venezuela’s borders and be distributed inside the country remain unclear. The opposition has been discussing the plan with the US, Canada and Venezuela’s Latin American neighbours, Brazil and Colombia, for some time. The aim is to provide relief to Venezuelans and force the military to define its position.
Some of the army top brass are wavering in their support for Mr Maduro. They now face a choice between breaking ranks with the president and agreeing to help distribute the aid, or refusing to do so and raising the chances of outside military intervention.
That makes a broad international front in the diplomatic effort to encourage Mr Maduro to give up power all the more important. The “contact group” of European foreign ministers, including the UK’s Jeremy Hunt, are due to meet four Latin American countries in Uruguay this week. They should keep firmly to the objective of enabling Venezuelans to determine their future through free and credible elections.