On February 18, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted “Next Stop Caracas: Venezuela’s Uncertain Path Forward,” a public discussion with Miguel Pizarro, a Venezuelan National Assembly member and Commissioner of the Guaidó government for the United Nations, Laura Chinchilla, former president of Costa Rica and co-chair of the Dialogue, and Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Dialogue. Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, moderated the discussion.
Shifter began the event with an introduction of the panelists and turned to Camilleri, who spoke about the new Venezuela Working Group report “The Long Road: Supporting Venezuelans through an Uncertain Future,” that was launched this week. Camilleri summarized the four themes of the framework for future action in the report: sticks and carrots, new voices and sustained conversations, Oslo reconsidered, and Venezuelans first. The framework is meant to guide the international community to advance a political transition in Venezuela.
Shifter turned to Pizarro and asked how he thought Guiadó would leverage the momentum from his international tour back in Venezuela, and how he viewed the unity of the opposition. Pizarro stressed that the international show of support is crucial, especially for those resisting inside the country. By seeing Guaidó at Davos, and then welcomed by leaders such as Macron, Merkel, and Trudeau, it boosts morale and incentive to protest in Venezuela, thus building domestic pressure. Without a greater sense of urgency and international pressure on Maduro, there will not be a negotiated transition. Vital to a negotiated transition is calling for free and fair elections. Pizarro stated that a few conditions must be met in order to have elections, including a newly elected Electoral Council (CNE) and reforms to the justice system, and he referenced Guaidó’s election by various opposition parties this year as evidence that the opposition is not fractured. Lastly, he argued that ideology is not the issue in Venezuela given that he identifies with the center-left wing and is part of a coalition against Maduro that encompasses the entire spectrum.
During the conversation, Chinchilla also stressed the need for certain conditions to be met in order to have a democratic transition, such as support from the international front against Maduro, strategic sectoral and targeted sanctions, incentives for political and military leaders to leave the regime, and allowing other players like Russia and Cuba into negotiations. While recognition of Guiadó is very important, Chinchilla noted that international support needed to go beyond this and take the same unified position to leverage pressure on Maduro. She further reiterated that the Venezuela crisis is the hemispheric issue of our time, and that increased organized crime on Venezuela’s border contributes to destabilization in the region. It is imperative that the international community pledge more resources and funds to solving them.
Camilleri focused his commentary on how US politics will continue to shape the situation in Venezuela, including the recent implementation of sanctions against Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. He noted that a future dialogue process must include Russia given how fundamental their trade has been to PDVSA and the Maduro regime. The new sanctions are a logical extension of the US pressure effort on Venezuela. From a policy perspective, the Trump administration will likely act the same this year towards Venezuela as it always has, doubling down on a maximum pressure strategy. Camilleri added that, should a democrat be elected in November, there would not be a large shift in policy towards Venezuela, seeing as the candidates all agree on prioritizing the humanitarian crisis and allowing free and fair elections.
During the Q&A the audience asked questions regarding “black swans” in Venezuela, the role of Colombian President Iván Duque, what incentives there are for the military to hold democratic elections, and what the opposition strategy is in light of internal pressure against those still in Venezuela.
WATCH THE FULL RECORDING OF THE EVENT HERE: