Venezuela- options for an escalating crisis

Venezuela- options for an escalating crisis

The conflict in Venezuela is escalating and it looks like a coming showdown between the Maduro and the Guaido goverment. While the USA, the EU, Brasil, Columbia and Paraguay openly support the opposition, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Cuba are openly supporting Maduro. Trump recognized Guiado as de facto president and declared that „all options are on the table“ including an US military intervention while Russia declared that it would conteract such an US intervention. While some observers think that an US intervention was very unlikely, because Trump is not interested in democracy and human rights, prefers authotarian regimes and dictators, critized the „globalists“ Bush jr. and Hillary Clinton for their wars against Iraq and Lybia and his voters dislike US interventions in the world, that Trump had enough to do to manage the shut down and the border against Mexico and prepares for a conflict with Iran and China and doesn´t want  a third conflict and Venezuela isn´t a major rival in the National Security Strategy (NSS) of his administration as China, Russia, Iran and Northkorea are, others make the point that Trump because of his mercantalist geoeconomic approach to world politics could be interested in oil-rich Venezuela and bordering oilrich Guyana and intervene to replace Russian and Chinese controll of the oilindustries in these countries by US capital and US oil giants to whom he has a very close relation. Trump could see Venezuela as part of his oil policy and as important as Iran, Saudiarabia and Russia. During his election campaign Trump also said that US oil giants should be the beneficary of the Iraq war and get their fair share of Iraq´s oil assets. Therefore more geopolitical thinking militaries and elites could conform with Trump´s more geoeconomic view of the world.

Dr. Evan Ellis, Latinamerica expert of the US Army War College wrote and sent me the article „The Struggle for Control of Occupied Venezuela“ at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and proposes a peaceful solution of the conflict. However his proposals include a foreign military intervention and the deployment of „peacekeepers“. Evan Ellis is a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He is Latin America research professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.

„Leveraging the democratic legitimacy of Guaidó and the National Assembly to bring about a democratic transition in Venezuela will require a carefully orchestrated series of steps, and close collaboration between them, the United States, and other members of the international community. If Guaidó, the National Assembly, and the international community do not rise to the challenge, the opportunity will vanish. Yet if Guaidó and the National Assembly actively embrace their role as the legitimate government of Venezuela, and the international community does not respond, the episode could end in Guaidó’s imprisonment or killing, the dissolution of the National Assembly, and a postponed, far more violent collapse of the country months or years down the road.

First, with the help of respected multilateral entities such as the Organization of American States (OAS), and possibly funding by Venezuelan expatriates, Venezuela’s National Assembly must construct a significant and capable legal apparatus. Such a body must be able to make its case as the legitimate representative of the Venezuelan state to the international community. In the process, it must be able to legally defend itself in international tribunals against the counterclaims of the de facto Venezuelan state, and develop and exert credible legal positions on issues from contracts of the Venezuelan oil company PdVSA to debt, to international agreements such as the border dispute with Guyana, to the treatment of Venezuelan migrants abroad, to cooperation with international entities on criminal matters involving Venezuelan citizens.

Given the unconstitutional expansion of Venezuela’s Supreme Court in 2015, the National Assembly will also need to establish an independent, legally valid interim judiciary, capable of making rulings on political and constitutional disputes arising out of actions taken by the (now de facto) Chavista government. It will also need to appoint representatives of the legitimate Venezuelan government to other countries in the region, and to international bodies such as the OAS and the UN. It must further create an interim prosecutorial organization capable of gathering evidence against those officials of the de facto government and others engaging in criminal acts (although enforcement may have to wait until the legitimate government reestablishes control over Venezuelan territory).

Finally, the National Assembly must establish a constitutionally legitimate military command authority. Such an entity must, however, take care not to be perceived as a force designed to “re-take” the country, or as an agent of foreign militaries, but simply, as the constitutionally legitimate embodiment of the armed forces that members of the militias of the de facto government may choose to swear allegiance to as the crisis of legitimacy of the de facto government deepens. Following a raid on January 21 by dissenting military units against a National Guard outpost in the Greater Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza, Guaidó courageously invited the Venezuelan military to join the assembly in defending the constitutional order. While Guaidó is technically avoiding calls for insurrection, he, and the rest of Venezuela’s legitimate government must be clear that they are playing with fire, provoking a cornered group of criminal usurpers who, for the moment, have the monopoly of force in the country. No one in Venezuela or the United States should be surprised if the de facto government imprisons or kills Guaido for his efforts. It would be the height of irresponsibility for Venezuelans struggling to restore democracy in their country, and politicians in Washington not to have a well-considered response when that happens.

Vice-President Mike Pence January 21 declaration that the United States stands with the Venezuelan people was a positive and principled act, yet having now said it, the United States must also be prepared to back up those words.

At the same time, if the United States and the international community do not believe that the United States can reasonably prevent the de facto government and armed actors currently allegiant to it from harming the legitimate de jure government on Venezuelan territory, the United States must be prepared to host the members of the de jure government in a safe site from which that government can manage the legal affairs and external relations of the country until physical control over its territory can be restored.

With respect to upcoming struggles in the region’s institutions, the United States must fully embrace the legal legitimacy of the interim government and use its own influence to promote the acceptance of its designated representatives, versus those of the de facto government, by countries of the region, organizations such as the OAS, the UN, and its associated organs such as the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Interpol, the Financial Action Task Force (GAFI), and multilateral entities such as the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB).

The United States should also strongly back the right of the legitimate government to contract and work with governments and international relief agencies to bring much needed food, medicine, and other emergency supplies into the country, as soon as the conditions have been created on the ground so that those relief agencies feel that they can operate there. The United States should further coordinate with its international partners to pressure the forces occupying Venezuelan territory not to obstruct humanitarian aid brought into the country by the legitimate government.

The United States, in partnership with the OAS, should also adopt strong positions against the legality and propriety of attempts by the de facto government to commit the resources of Venezuela to foreign actors such as Cuba, Russia, and China. Doing so will be particularly urgent if the de facto government invites such foreign powers to deploy police, military, intelligence, or other state actors on Venezuelan soil.

While the actions outlined in this work may seem like a charade in light of the physical control of Venezuela’s territory and resources by the de facto government, the formal position of the United States and other governments has an often-overlooked importance in international courts, in decisions regarding the validity and honoring of contracts and the control of bank accounts in the name of the Venezuelan state. Effectively, the formal positions of governments matter, insofar as that, if the contracts that companies and foreign governments (e.g., Russia and China) sign with the de facto government do not have validity in international courts, they will have a much stronger incentive to work with the legitimate Venezuelan government toward a solution, which protects their long-term legal and strategic interests in the country. Obliging them to work with the legitimate government of Venezuela, in turn, will accelerate the process by which the resources of the de facto government evaporate, and the de facto government is obliged to seek a solution.

With respect to military action, if the armed forces do fracture and the country degenerates into chaos, the broad international recognition of the de jure government, and working relations with it, creates a vehicle for that government to legitimately invite in international peacekeepers, or a coalition of foreign forces, to help it to restore order.

The course of action argued by this work is risky, and its results are far from guaranteed. Nonetheless, it is arguably the only option that proceeds from a basis in respect for national sovereignty, democratic practices, and the rule of law. For others across the region flaunting international commitments and the rights of their peoples under their own democratic frameworks, such as the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua the lesson is clear; democracy, human rights, and constitutional commitments matter, and the region can be respectful of sovereignty and slow to intervention yet still use its collective legal and diplomatic authority to bring justice to those who transgress the rights of and commitments to their own people.“

Evan Ellis is a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He is Latin America research professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. The views expressed herein are strictly his own. The author recognizes important inputs from Moises Rendon, Russ Dallen, and the legal scholarship of Jose Ignacio Hernandez.

My reaction to this article were some FAQs:

Dear Evan,

thank you for your CSIS article“The Struggle for Control of Occupied Venezuela“. Your proposal that the new goverment under Guaido should establish a parallel legislative, executive, judicary and military body and bring in the international courts to controll the bank accounts of Maduro and his econonic entities as well as formal recognition of the new goverment are interesting. You see it as the only option to restore democracy in Venezuela by legal means. However you also say that it is a very risky option, as it could catalyze a showdown between the Maduro and Guaido goverment. It is interesting to see that the military openly showed up before television and declared its support for Maduro, however the military general stated that they don´t want a civil war and demand a peaceful solution.Your article omits to ask detailed questions (FAQs) when it proposes the establishment of a military body for the Guaido goverment: 1) Where should the rank and files for such a military body come from? 2) What would be the reaction of the military? 3) Under which circumstances could the military split into factions? 4) How to manage Maduro´s paramilitary forces? Should the Guaido goverment set up its own paramilitary forces? Where can they get weapons?

As solution you also propose international peace troops or observers.And:

„With respect to military action, if the armed forces do fracture and the country degenerates into chaos, the broad international recognition of the de jure government, and working relations with it, creates a vehicle for that government to legitimately invite in international peacekeepers, or a coalition of foreign forces, to help it to restore order.

The course of action argued by this work is risky, and its results are far from guaranteed. Nonetheless, it is arguably the only option that proceeds from a basis in respect for national sovereignty, democratic practices, and the rule of law.“

Which countries would send peacekeepers? It won´t be UN peacekeepers as China and Russia would veto such efforts in the UN Security Council. A coalition of the willing? Peacekeepers under the OAS and maybe under the leadership of rightwinged Bonsanaro-Brasil against the „socialism of the 21st century“? Under US-leadership? You should specify this idea in a more detailed manner. How would Russia react? Russia openly declared that it would counter a US intervention. Will the Russians deploy nuclear strategic bombers in Venezuala as they already did before? Will we see a new Cuba crisis? How serious is taking Russia the Venezualian conflict as an international show case for its global geopolitical ambitions and the new multipolar security order as it seems likely that Russia and the USA could come into a new arms race because of the violation of the INFtreaty? It is interesting to see that the USA, the EU and Germany support Guiedo while Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are supporting Maduro.

Other options, scenarios and related FAQs: How would the USA react if a civil war with bloodshed and a wave of refugees broke out in Venezula? USmilitary intervention (maybe with Columbia and Brasil forces involved)? Or would the USA support the armed insurgency of the Venezualian opposition with the supply of arms, intelligence and logistic as it did with the Contras in Nicaragua? Would Columbia and Brasil become operational bases for a Venezualian opposition guerilla? How would the FARC and the ELN react in that case? What reactions and effects would have such a military scenario in Latinamerica, Brasil, Columbia and Guayana? Or could the USA support some sort of Venezulanian pro-Western Pinochet and avoid an intervention? Would the Venezualian military split and fight each other or one military faction fight with the opposition and call for foreign intervention or UN peacekeepers? Would Russia and China in that case prefer a UN peacekeeping mission instead of a prolonged civil war or would Russia and China in the event of an US intervention even see the chance to get the USA involved in a new hybrid war and to weaken its engagement in Europe and Asia by a Venezulanian quagmire? Would the military replace Maduro by another member of the Socialist Party? However, wouldn´t the opposition demand general elections? Or could Venezuela face a military coup which replaces Maduro and calls for a national dialogue? Could the opposition get support by the military or parts of the military if it guarantees the military an amnesty and maybe parts of its privilieged position and doesn´t bring corruption cases or crimes to the national or international courts? However, the important question is if the Venezulanian opposition is prepared and determined to fight the Maduro regime to its very end or gives in. Would they in the worst case take up the arms or not just prefer to leave the country?

I personally think that Trump won´t intervene directly with boots on the ground, at best seletcive military strikes. Some sort of Yugoslawian scenario where the oppsoition is confrontimng Milosevic/Maduro while the NATO/USA makes some military strikes. A naval blocade of Venezuela could be another option, but would Russia and China accept that their ships were subjects of such a blocade? Would they want to break through the blocade, but would they have the navy to execute this or would they threaten the USA with nuclear weapons and a new Cuba crisis? Wouldn´t China see this as a possible test for TX Hammes´Offshore Controll against China? And wouldn´t the Venezulanian people suffer from such a naval blocade and condem Yankee imperialism? But Trump´s  priority is Iran and China. Venezuela is´t even mentioned in the NSS. Brasil´s and Columbia´military couldn´t do the job, even with air support by the US airforce.

Trump´s priority is the coming conflict with Iran during the general election 2020. Military action with boots on the ground in Venezuela would be an imperial overstretch. I´m also in discussion with Alexander Rahr, EU advieser of Gazprom who thinks that a new Cuban crisis could originate from that conflict and that Germany and the EU should act as an mediator and not side with the Venezualian opposition and the USA. I answered him that I don´t believe in a new Cuban crisis. Firstly Trump won´t intervene as his main purpose is a confrontation with Iran. Secondly Russia is reacting different in his near abroad as Syria and Ukraine where it has military bases on the Crimea, Tartus und Laktatia and is confronted by NATO. Venezuela is far away, Russia would have problems to intervene directly. And before such scenarios occur it could be likely that the Venezulanian military replaces Maduro by a willing puppet or a technocrat. Secondly I don´t belive in a German or EU mediator role as both the USA and Russia wouldn´t accept it and the question is what should be the political goal of such a mediator and would the Latinamericans support that. I think the Vatican and the Pope have much more the capacity to play a mediator role in Catholic Latinamerica as they already managed the peace treaty in Columbia and the reestablishing of diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba. Mexico and Uruguay already said that they wanted to become mediators.

The legitimation for an humanitarian intervention for democracy, human rights and rule of law in Venezuela  is flawed. Trump doesn´t care about this and we all know it. Many people also question the Us legitimation of previous US wars and interventions wich were called humanitarian interventions.  If the USA intervenes in Venezuela it is clear that it is only about oil and the geopolitical position. Value-based Germany which hosts George Soros and parts of the EU are not in a line with Trump and Steve Bannon who has his new base camp in  Salvini-Italy and Orban-Hungary. But Germany and Europe support the Venezulanian opposition for reasons the Trump- USA does not. At best, it´s a symbolic reminder for the valuebased transatlantic relations which are not of interest for your commander in chief. Maybe it´s realpolitics at a minimum standard that Germany and the EU supports the USA in Venezuela as it needs US support for NATO and against Russia.Secondly, the establishment of a regime-change-goverment in Venezuela which calls for an foreign/US intervention sounds very much the same as the coup by Communist forces in Afghanistan and the call for an Sovjet intervention.

However, the USA and Trump are stirring up the Venezulanian opposition, talk about intervention and „all options on the table“. But this could become a vicious cycle: The USA want to topple Maduro, reduce the influence of China and Russia, promote the opposition–but what happens if they won´t and if this would produce a new Hungary 1956. The USA also supported the Hungarian opposition and later on the Czeck opposition against the Sovjetunion and didn´t intervene directly as they feared a ThirdWorld War. But the message for this people was: The USA betrayed them and it took a long time, decades for them to recover. It was also during the Suez war that the Sovjetunion sought revenge in Hungary 1956 . Therefore it could also be possible if China or Russia were defeated in Venezuela they could take revenge in Ukraine or the Pacific or Taiwanand if the USA stiirs up a democratic movement and let it fall, that it will be seen as a hypocritical und unreliable lier.

According to news of RFE/RL the Russinas are sending security company contractors and mercanaries.I don´t know if this is true as RFE/RL is a CIA sponsored media organ.Even if it was true,it would be an indicator that Russia is not interested in a direct confrontation with the USA, but more in a hybrid war and an counterinsurgency operation–maybe if not with the Venezulanian military, then with Maduro´s paramilitary. Some sort of death squads against the opposition and a trump card for an low conflict insurgency which could destablise any democratic goverment. Russia didn´t deploy its nuclear capable strategic bombers till now or showed any real direct provocative act against the USA.

My guess is that the Venezulanian military will replace Maduro and let him fall. Guaido will press that he will be the next president and that the military obeys his orders. He already declared that the military can get an amnesty and that the normal soldiers shouldn´t obey their generals and commanders. However according to the New York Times the Trump administration already had talks with Venezulanian military about toppling Maduro, but didn´t want a coup de etat. I don´t believe we will see a new Cuban crisis. If the military tries to suppress Guaido, the USA will use the Yugoslawian scenario: Airtstrikes on military headquarters, assets and communiation  to disrupt the command chain and the core of its capablities, while supporting OTPOR/Guaido´s movement. No boots on the ground, no naval blocade which could lead to an imperial overstretch or an confrontation with Chinese and Russian ships and produce a new Cuban crisis. I think Maduro will be history within 1 month.

Bolton: 5000 US troops to Columbia.What a bluff. How ridiculous. Everybody knows that boots on the ground won´t be the US strategy if Trump was not totally cracy after the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. At best it could be special ops to support a military body of the Venezulanian opposition or for selective strikes in coordination with an aircampaign after the model of the Yugoslawian scenario. Columbia´s and Brails´military hasn´t the abitlity to fight a war against Venezuela,even with 5000 US troops –they are trained for military coups and domestic oppression of the opposition, but not for wars between Latinamerican states. However if the USA intervenes it would be a historic new phenomen as the USA never fought wars against Southern American countries.Not even during the Monroe doctrine. If Bolton really wanted to impress the other side, he should have written on his paper: Airstrikes, OTPOR and Yugoslawia.I hope that the US reaction will be more thought trough the scenario as Neocon Bolton´s tweets.

Venezuela is still exporting most of its oil to the USA. Now the Trump goverment wants to make some sort of oil embargo as it does against Iran. Not that it wants to stop the oil imports, but that it doesn´t want Maduro and his clique to be beneficaries of the payments. Therefore it is creating a differenet bank account for the Venezulanian people and the opposition goverment which could become beneficinaries of that deal. For Maduro and his clique including the military there are only two options: To suffer this oil embargo and to suppress the opposition. The other option: To redirect the oilexports to other countries and ship them in these countries. As Russia and China are mostly involved in Venezulanian oil companies, they could be of interest. But Russia is a economic weak state and oil exporting state who can´t import Venezulanian oil.It could grant Maduro shiping rights for his oil to other states which still have to be discovered. China as oil importer could be interested to buy more Venezulanian oil and to ship it. However it is unclear if the Chinese oil imports could substitute the Venezulanian oil exports to the point that they are a match to the Venezulanian oil exports to the USA. First question: Could Russia and China replace the USA as oil consumers and transport mean? Very unlikely. It would also raise the question if Russia and China were willing to ship Maduro´s oil if they didn´t fear a naval blocade by the USA and some sort of Cuban crisis. Therefore, if the USA is wise they make the oil embargo, press for an immediate replacement of the Maduro goverment, even start an Yugoslawian-style regime-change-campaign with airstrikes and OTPOR and don´t wait till Maduro is rechanneling his oil revenues by other means. However, even Maduro wants to do, it will leave the USA and the Venezulanian opposition time enough to prepare and to start action, if Maduro is not escalating the conflict by the assassination of Guiado and the brutal suppression of the opposition.

Venezuela could become the boiling point of a new cold war between the USA, Russia and China, but also the starting point of a deal between these powers if the USA retreats from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Europe and Georgia or even the Pacific. Russia and China could let the USA to be in controll of its sphere of influence in Latinamerica if it is withdrawing from other parts of the world and accepts  Russian and Chinese spheres of influence. However, this is unlikely as Trump wants to let Anerica be great again as the sole superpower as in the 50s and is perceiving China as main threat for the USA as world power. On the other side China won´t be satisfied with the Southern Chinese Sea or even the Pacific as its sphere of influence in the long run, but wants to replace the USA as No.1 as world power in a multipolar future to come.

Best wishes




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