Chile’s foreign minister Roberto Ampuero said via Twitter that the protests during this “democratic spring” are “inspiring.” After years of thunderous rumble, the current storm could sweep in a new political climate into Venezuela. While welcome, this development also creates delicate situations that requires the cooperation unlikely fellow travelers.
The current momentum picked up because of instant US recognition of Juan Guaidó as interim president. Regional actors like the Lima Group plus individual governments followed suit, with the EU and individual member states also supporting Guaidó. Authoritarian governments like China and Russia still bet on Maduro.
But because no one is innocent, the mess in Venezuela is deep without a clear path out – that’s its global politics. On the ‘democratic’ side lingers a US president who tweets his support to Guaidó right after he assumed the interim presidency. Yet Trump couldn’t find South America – let alone Venezuela – on a map; he’s got no clue what’s going on.
The Trump whisperer seems to be vice-president Mike Pence. Usually quiet, Pence has spoken about Venezuela as about no other issue. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports about “the secret plan…[that] was preconceived and tightly coordinated” during a meeting with Guaidó. The interim president asked an evangelical fundamentalist to support democratic revival. That fundamentalist is an accomplice in one of the most cruel (baby cages) and corrupt administration in US history – and that means something in a country where the highest court legalized the buying of representatives. Moreover, Trump’s disdain for a free press and the rule of law are well reported, not least through his Twitter feed. To believe anything resembling freedom or democracy could come from this administration is surreal. But the White House has power, so Guaidó is maybe a pragmatist.
But Guaidó’s links to Leopoldo López, a descendant of the oligarchy Chávismo was a response to don’t warrant a benefit of the doubt. With deep ties to CEDICE, a think tank linked to the Atlas Network, an umbrella organization that promotes laissez-faire capitalism and tries to escape local government, López has used US funds to destabilize first Chávez’s and then Maduro’s government. Any country would prosecute any citizen who tried such maneuvers, but López remains a major figure and picked Guaidó as his frontman. Frankly, Venezuela’s current ruling class should be paranoid.
Support for Maduro kills the local left
At this point the left comes in. Left-wing global affairs have singled out the US as main enemy because it is the most powerful capitalist state and therefore must be the most evil. Henceforth, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ became the left’s foreign policy doctrine. Those who follow ‘anti-imperialist’ narratives therefore ignore, for example, Venezuela’s intervention in its neighbors’ affairs. The refugees it produces flee hunger and ruling-class repression and overwhelm neighbors’ capacities.
If Maduro were an apt leader, he would share his empanadas with the population. Maduro supporters also forget that Chávez fueled US imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 1998 until the financial crisis of 2008, Venezuela supplied consistently well over 1 million barrels of oil per day to the US.
Most severely, supporting Maduro is a knife in the back of the opposition, including the left. One reason for Venezuela’s deadlock is that ‘the opposition’ courted in corporate media represents only a small part. Chávistas, disillusioned with Maduro, or left anti-Chávistas, don’t exist in the media desert but have enough force to tip the balance. They don’t want a takeover of figures backed by US billionaires.
In that scenario of failed leadership and murky interests, a sensitive task falls to the Lima Group, often depicted as an arm of US imperialism. Venezuela’s foreign minister even claimed Chile’s Sebastián Piñera sold out to Washington. But for supposedly getting orders from Washington, Lima Group-members, especially Chile, do an awful lot of business with its arch-rival, China.
Zooming in, it becomes plain that the problem isn’t necessarily socialism. The Lima Group has no problem with Bolivia, but with Venezuelan refugees fleeing hunger. This refugee flow has forced Chile and others to spend substantial resources on bureaucratic restructuring, labor regulations, and security they would otherwise have spent elsewhere.
To help progress in Venezuela, Chile must acknowledge that elections aren’t an end. A president emerging from the depths of US think tankerism would not enjoy much legitimacy and defuse the threat of civil war. Thus, the Lima Group must echo the left and push more insistently a ‘regional solution’ that keeps US-based private interests out. That should include public rebuttals of Pence’s comments even.
Chickens coming home
Second, Lima Group countries, above all Chile, need to reckon with their economistic foreign policy. The Chilean politics-business nexus has elevated China for years, not only as a partner but as a friend. Decision-makers still blissfully ignore Chinese human rights violations, like concentration camps and slavery in factories like Foxconn.
This authoritarianism boomerangs via Venezuela. Chinese capital sustained a corrupt elite in power, which denied the US influence and opened access to oil. And nobody is calling it out. Chile’s trade with China nurtures Beijing’s interest and ability to gain a foothold in the region and without Santiago’s economistic policies, Maduro could not have found such a strong backer. China’s support for authoritarianism should creep decision-makers out. They need to grow a pair and criticize China.
Thus, Chile must evaluate how much it wants to pay for getting into bed with authoritarians – and who will pay up.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).