Since Juan Guaidó declared himself Acting President on 23 January, 2019, Venezuela, which was once renowned for rich oil wealth and strong social welfare support for its citizens, has found itself being gradually dragged into unmanageable political chaos. While Acting President Guaidó, who is supported by millions of Venezuelan citizens, has been insisting on the democratization of the country and the step-down of President Nicolás Maduro, the latter continues to enjoy military support and is determined to maintain his regime at any costs. With two presidents struggling for power, the political tension in Venezuela has been escalating and turning increasingly violent. On 23 February, a deadly clash unprecedentedly broke out at the border town Santa Elena de Uairén. According to BBC News, in order to block civilians’ access to humanitarian aid, the Venezuelan army reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets, killing at least two people and injuring hundreds more. Since the Venezuelan army has begun to choose physical violence to oppress peaceful opposition, the outbreak of a full-scale civil war – which would have been an unthinkable scenario weeks ago – has become increasingly possible.
While the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela has already become a serious issue of human rights violations and civil conflict, what is even more concerning is how the international community has dealt with this crisis. Although the “Lima Group” member countries, composed of Canada and its South American partners, are working collaboratively in support of Acting President Guaidó and demanding for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, they have made very limited progress in determining how the crisis could be resolved peacefully. Furthermore, even though the U.S. has been actively pushing for an oil trade embargo and threatening to intervene militarily in Venezuela, its diplomatic efforts would only have limited impacts on resolving the crisis and may even become counterproductive. This is because of two reasons: First, China, Russia, and even most member countries of the Lima Group have firmly resisted the idea of interventions, so even if the U.S. insists on the use of force, its military involvement in Venezuela will probably be unilateral, and may end up evoking the memory of American Imperialism and rekindle anti-American sentiments among Latin American people. Second, given Venezuela’s overwhelming economic reliance on oil exports, the trade embargo and further sanctions will only worsen the economic crisis, and may lead to mass hunger.
How, then, can we end the Venezuelan Presidential Crisis? To be sure, the key solution is to develop a concrete roadmap that enables political mediation between the two presidents and a peaceful transition of power. Giving President Maduro an option to safely step down, rather than gunning for the use of force, is probably the most pragmatic approach to avoid the outbreak of civil war and to peacefully resolve the crisis. As Jeffery D. Sachs and Francisco Rodríguez also rightly point out, in order to end the continual political standoff within Venezuela, there is a need for negotiation between the Maduro Government and opposition forces to agree on a timeline for political truce and even national elections in 2020.
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