Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Photo by Golden Brown/Shutterstock
Maduro’s expelling of the EU’s ambassador in Caracas was a response to the EU’s decision to sanction 19 Venezuelans for “undermining democracy” and alleged human rights abuse. The list included the governor of Zulia, the commander of the armed forces, the president and two other members of Venezuela’s electoral council, and two leaders of the Venezuelan opposition. Their real crime was their involvement in the December National Assembly elections which the radical opposition boycotted.
In spite of the recently announced sanctions imposed by the EU, the organization called on the Maduro government to reconsider its decision, stating “The EU profoundly regrets this decision, which will only lead to further international isolation of Venezuela.” The EU’s response was a clear display of arrogance. Any “developed” Western nation under similar circumstances would not have thought twice about reacting in tit-for-tat fashion.
Actually, Maduro had no real alternative but to retaliate by expelling the EU ambassador. Not doing so would have been a show of weakness. How would it look to those Chavistas who have been slapped with this unjust measure? How would Bernabé Gutiérrez and José Brito, the National Assembly deputies belonging to the opposition who were targeted by the EU’s measure, reacted? Maduro’s inaction would have jeopardized the relations between the Chavistas and those sectors of the opposition like Gutiérrez and Brito who are boldly facing up to the radical U.S.-supported opposition led by Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez.
But there is another reason why Maduro’s move was politically astute. Negotiations brokered by the EU and possibly Washington will likely occur sooner or later (hopefully sooner, in order to lift the deadly international sanctions). From the outset, Maduro has to publicly and explicitly make clear that regime change and rescheduling elections are not up for discussion. At this point, Venezuela’s position in the international community is stronger than in the four years of the Trump administration. There is a groundswell in favor of change, manifested in the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the electoral triumph and expansion of the “Squad” congresspeople, Trump’s humiliating defeat in November and the failure of sanctions to achieve their objectives in country after country. Venezuela’s position is further bolstered by the complete discredit of Juan Guaidó due to well-documented acts of corruption and his regime change fiascos, and the EU’s own withdrawal of diplomatic recognition of Guaidó. Caracas’ failure to state clearly what is off the table and what is on the table of negotiations will result in a well-known scenario: the failure to reach any agreements after three months of negotiations, with the U.S.-appointed negotiators acting in bad faith, followed by Biden’s announcement backed by the EU of a stiffening of policy toward Venezuela. If Maduro makes clear from the outset that rescheduling elections is not negotiable, Washington negotiators will be limited as to how they can frame the issues.
In short, there are certain measures taken against Venezuela that are clearly unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Sanctions are one of them as is insistence on regime change in one form or another. Maduro was wise to make clear where he is drawing the line and just how far he is willing to go in order to improve relations with the imperial powers.
Steve Ellner is an Associate Managing Editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives and is a retired professor of the University of the East in Venezuela. His latest edited books are Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings (2020) and Extractivism, Resource Nationalism and Resistance in Latin America (2021), both published by Rowman & Littlefield.
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