On February 3, 2021, WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde participated in a Q&A published by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor along with Abe Lowenthal, Vanessa Neumann, Marc Becker, Jennifer McCoy, Gustavo Roosen, and Diego Arria. Below is David’s response. The full Q&A can be found here.
Question: The European Union on Jan. 25 called for political talks in order for Venezuela to hold “credible, inclusive and transparent local, legislative and presidential elections.” The statement came less than two months after Venezuela’s Dec. 6 legislative elections, which have been widely denounced as fraudulent and which the main Venezuelan opposition parties boycotted. What is the likelihood of such dialogue happening this year in Venezuela? Would talks between President Nicolás Maduro’s government and the opposition lead to a productive outcome? What actions should international actors, such as the European Union and the Biden administration in the United States, as well as Maduro allies such as Russia and Iran, be taking now to help stabilize Venezuela?
Answer: “With the opposition marginalized within Venezuela and its position weakening internationally, the Maduro government is consolidating its control over Venezuelan society. This does not sound like a promising context for negotiation, and indeed face-to-face negotiations between the opposition and the regime seem unlikely. However, there is an opportunity for the United States to engage the Maduro government directly and negotiate sanctions for democratic openings. Sanctions relief could be offered in exchange for a credible electoral council, opposition parties’ leadership restored, electoral disqualifications lifted and real international observation (not accompaniment). Such an agreement on regional elections could build momentum for further openings and electoral solutions to the crisis. The Biden administration obviously has its plate full, and Venezuela is not among its top priorities. However, it and the European Union should engage immediately regarding the possibilities for a new, balanced and credible electoral council, as the selection process has already started. They should also engage a broader swath of democratic opposition, including civil society networks that are expanding to include entrepreneurial associations, organized labor and organized religion. The United States and the European Union should also renew efforts to engage Russia, China and Cuba, each of which have strategic interests but are not committed to perpetuating the status quo. Setting aside the pressure-collapse theory of change to work for broad, inclusive agreements that recognize the interests of all stakeholders could change the game and eventually lead to a breakthrough.”