Dialogue with Venezuela better than intervention

18 February 2019

Dialogue with Venezuela better than intervention

The Netherlands must have nothing to do with regime change in Venezuela, argues Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, SP senator and professor of global political economy and geopolitics at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Developments follow one after another in quick tempo in in Vene­zuela while the social, economic and political crisis in the country deepens. The government in Caracas is refusing to admit a convoy carrying American aid. The UN has correctly warned against the misuse of humanitarian aid as a political instrument. This goes also for the Americans, who in this manner are ratcheting up the pressure ever further. President Trump warned recently that military invasion is an option available to him.

According to the UN Charter a cornerstone of international law is the fact that threatening violence against a sovereign state is forbidden. Instead of immediately putting clear distance between itself and this threat, the government of the Netherlands early last week simply followed the Washington line, as did a number of other EU member states, in recognising the self-appointed president Juan Guaidó. Interfering in domestic affairs is, according to the same UN Charter, a transgression of international law. Presenting the government – until then the recognised and effective authority in the country – with an ultimatum, and on the expiry of this ultimatum recognising the leader of the opposition as the head of state, is hardly keeping to the fundamental principle of non-intervention.

No-one denies that Venezuela has descended into an economic and social abyss, or that President Maduro and his government bear a major responsibility for this. As well as the hopeless economic situation, human rights in the Latin American country have been subject to widespread abuse. To condemn Maduro’s policies and human rights infringements falls, however, a long way short of supporting a US policy of intervention.

No difference under Obama

This policy predates Trump. In 2015 Obama issued a presidential decree in which Venezuela is described as an 'exceptional threat to national security', on the basis of which sanctions were imposed. Under Trump these sanctions have been further accentuated, with regime change as their ever clearer eventual goal. Provoked by Maduro's economic mismanagement, shortages of food and medicine have only been exacerbated by the sanctions and have further stifled the economy.

In what way Venezuela's tiny military forces formed a threat to the world's only military superpower has never become clear. One might suspect that under both presidents this has been nothing to do with national security, but is aimed rather at securing America's economic and power politics interests. Ever since the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the US has seen Latin America as its back yard, in which it likes to be able to interfere.

Later the Monroe Doctrine was declared to be applicable to a large slice of the rest of the world, as in Iraq. Although US hegemony is rapidly crumbling, and Trump in addition has no further interest in the leadership that goes with it, the old reflexes are obviously still present in the case of Venezuela, under the command of security adviser John Bolton and Trump's envoy Elliott Abrams, both of whom were previously hawks in the Bush administration. This has, certainly in the case of Trump, very little to do with democracy and much more with the fact that Venezuela is the country with the world's biggest oil stocks.

The Americans' false motives do not of course lead us to the conclusion that Maduro therefore deserves our support, but they do remind us of the dangers which accompany US interventionism, dangers which in history, from Chile to Iraq, have often enough proved real.

Military support

Foreign Minister Stef Blok has said that military intervention does not as things stand seem the obvious way forward. That's not the same as categorically ruling out an invasion, although recognising Guiadó following the expiry of an ultimatum certainly brings military intervention closer.

Because what if the man who is now, for the Netherlands, the legal president of Venezuela, were to request military assistance? This would then legitimise an invasion on the grounds that the request has come from the recognised power, even if the actual power, also according to the Netherlands, remains with Maduro? And would the Netherlands possibly support this?

This would not only make a mockery of international law, but would above all mean that things for the Venezuelans, who oppose military intervention by a large majority, would go from bad to worse. This would threaten a civil war in the deeply polarised country.

No conditions

Better than going along with a dangerous interventionism would be to proceed from the international law which the Netherlands always claims to see as being of paramount importance and on that basis deploy all the means available under international diplomacy. In contrast to the EU initiative of the International Contact Group, of which the Netherlands is part, this diplomacy must be directed at a dialogue among all parties, a dialogue without preconditions, as has previously been proposed by Mexico and Uruguay.

By setting an ultimatum and recognising Guiadó, the Netherlands has missed the chance to contribute to such mediation, and a peaceful solution for Venezuela has moved still further out of sight.

This article by Bastiaan van Appeldoorn was first published, in the original Dutch, in the national daily newspaper Trouw on 13th February.

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