This week the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a piece Abe Lowenthal and I wrote as a scholarly input to the current negotiation processes being carried out on multiple fronts (for example by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs). In it we address the inevitable, but factually incorrect claims that Venezuela is a unique case with features never seen before. And we use the lessons learned from past democratic transitions in places such as Chile, Poland, South Africa and Brazil to put forward a series of recommendations.

This is the full, 4,000 word version of the shorter piece we published in the New York Times last month. Special thanks to Cindy Arnson for sage advice on the paper and for seeing it to publication. (Spanish version here, Portuguese version here.)

Here is the blurb from The Wilson Center

On April 30, 2019, the Venezuelan democratic opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, attempted to mount a decisive challenge to Venezuela’s authoritarian government, led by Nicolás Maduro. But the called-for uprising did not attract support from a critical mass of senior Venezuelan military leaders, and the effort did not trigger Maduro’s overthrow. Venezuela thus remains mired in a catastrophic impasse: a free-falling economy, rampant inflation, devastated productive capacity, substantial violence, intense polarization, widespread suffering, and massive emigration.

Against this backdrop, since May, the government of Norway has arranged two meetings of representatives from the Maduro and Guaidó camps, with a third round to take place this week in Barbados.   

Is a negotiated democratic transition possible in Venezuela?

In this new Latin American Program policy brief, Abraham F. Lowenthal and David Smilde, recognized experts on democratic transitions and on Venezuela, argue that conflicts that appeared to be irreconcilable have sometimes been resolved in other countries that were once controlled by authoritarian regimes, and these experiences are relevant to Venezuela’s plight.  They argue that, “when it becomes apparent that a change of regime on mutually acceptable terms is the only alternative to a painful stalemate, effective local leadership, with strong international support, can sometimes forge agreements that work.”

Lowenthal and Smilde offer insights about the ways that transitions have worked in the past, with reference to specific aspects of the Venezuelan case.  They offer concrete recommendations for Venezuelans and for the international community in working toward a negotiated transition aimed at a stable and peaceful Venezuela, with a recovering economy and a healthy petroleum industry.  They call on the international community to engage in skillful diplomacy and made commitments to help the parties move toward a settlement.