Venezuela: The proposal of a group of intellectuals to lift the sanctions against Chavismo wins supporters among the opposition | International

A mural of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
A mural of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.JIMMY VILLALTA / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO (Europa Press)

A few days ago, an influential group of economists, academics, human rights activists, businessmen and journalists linked to the moderate opposition in Venezuela sent an open letter to the President of the United States, Joe Biden, asking him to modify the current policy of international sanctions in against the regime of Nicolás Maduro.

The initiative takes an important distance from what, until now, has been one of the constitutive elements of the Venezuelan opposition in its confrontation with Maduro, and which expresses itself politically in the leadership of Juan Guaidó, today hurt and questioned after a exhausting and fruitless pulse of three years. Affirming that “economic sanctions and maximum pressure policies did not achieve their objectives”, the signatories propose to urgently reactivate the political dialogue to achieve economic improvements and institutional stability. Although it has generated much criticism, the proposal is beginning to gain support among the Venezuelan opposition.

The promoters of the letter affirm that “although economic sanctions are not the root of the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, they have seriously exacerbated conditions for the average Venezuelan. The vast majority of the people live in poverty, with food insecurity and exposed to severe health deficiencies. Electricity, sanitation and water quality are in a state of profound deterioration. The negotiations must place humanitarian issues at the center and advance their solution with the urgency they deserve”. The pronouncement makes a particular emphasis so that the rapprochement allows the nation to reactivate its oil production in order to recover the ground lost in these years.

Although the statement has been heavily criticized and contested in the daily debate on social networks, the content of this proposal seems to gain space in the field of democratic dissidence, in a hurry to produce improvements in the economic environment, recover wages and employment and find a minimum point of coincidence with the governing body that makes it possible to solve urgent problems.

“Behind this initiative there are interests promoting an agenda that is much more dangerous,” said Freddy Guevara, critic of the document and close collaborator of Juan Guaidó. “There are people who do not care that we resign ourselves to living in a dictatorship in exchange for an economic opening,” he added.

“Sanctions proposed as an end in themselves and not as a mechanism to obtain some change are doomed to failure,” says Maryhen Jiménez, a political analyst at the University of Oxford and The Wilson Center. In her opinion, the approach of the letter is an invitation to unlock the status quo.

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Jiménez states that the multiple interpretations that the open letter to the Biden Administration has had indicate that not everything was clear in the letter and that there are still aspects to be elucidated in this new route. “Authoritarian regimes always condition democracy,” says the political scientist. “But the current stalemate comes at a high cost to the opposition. As more time passes, society will adapt to these adjustment mechanisms that are being experienced. Now the one who has money can, and the one who doesn’t, is left out. As the prospects for political change recede, the instinct of survival takes over. The opposition has a duty to reconnect the ideal of welfare with the cause of democracy.”

Michael Penfold, academic and political scientist, has written on Twitter that “at this point any political change in Venezuela, to be effective, requires an institutional and electoral route that is negotiated with international support.” Penfold, one of the promoters of this pronouncement, argues that “making sanctions more flexible means that just as they are relaxed, they can be closed. If sanctions are not used as incentives but as permanent punishment (they are never removed) they only produce more of the same, and with more regime cohesion and an increasingly weakened opposition.”

“We are in a dictatorship,” says Marino Alvarado, director of the NGO Provea, one of the most active in the country in the field of human rights and one of those that has most openly confronted Nicolás Maduro. “Therefore, the negotiation should not be carried out to reinforce the dictatorship but rather so that we rescue democracy. In addition, crimes against humanity have been committed since the Maduro government. Those responsible must not enjoy impunity. The negotiation must not turn its back on the victims and their demands for justice.”

In the midst of the swarm of criticism, the breakdown of some points of view has made it possible for some exchanges to take place between opposition activists of the opposite sign. Recently, the financial services company Barclays issued an analysis evaluating the Venezuelan crisis, in which it states that it is unlikely that the Biden administration will accept to relax its position on Venezuela in the short term, except perhaps in the oil sector, having before it the complex political panorama that he must face in the legislative elections of his country.

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