Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Thoughts on Trump's Transition Demands for Venezuela

Here is the text of the State Department's "Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela." Some of it is highly specific, which would normally come as the result of negotiation. In this case, it is purely imposition. In that regard, it resembles the many Cuba "plans" that have been put together over the years, forgotten after the Cubans ignored them.

See David Smilde's Twitter thread on why it is likely to fail. It's about creating fissures in the regime and, as always, encouraging the military (including publicly once again). One of a number of problems are the new Manuel Noriega-styled drug indictments, which suddenly constrain what negotiations can even take place. You can't stop and say, "Oh, those drug charges were no big deal even though we harped on them for years so we're dropping them." You're locking in, and Maduro et al have visions of Panama and federal prison in their heads. That automatically reduces their interest to zero. Mike Pompeo and others might not care, assuming they're really just talking to the military anyway.

The overall strategy is to use the Coronavirus crisis to force regime change, to make life as bleak as possible so that the military will take action. If you're wondering, none of the points mention emigrants at all, and certainly not any U.S. action to help them.

Incidentally, Jorge Arreaza called it a "pseudo interventionist proposal of a tutelary government." It is indeed quite tutelary. And the U.S. doesn't have so many options after this--it has mostly emptied its policy gun. Mostly what they have left is repeated calls to the military.

1. Full return of all members of the National Assembly (AN); Supreme Court (TSJ) lifts order of contempt and restores all powers to the AN, including immunities for deputies; National Constituent Assembly (ANC) is dissolved. The U.S. lifts sanctions imposed on ANC members due to their membership in the ANC.

A carrot to members of the ANC.

2. All political prisoners are released immediately.

Pretty straightforward, though of course the government disputes what "political" exactly is.

3. All foreign security forces depart immediately unless authorized by 3/4 vote of the AN.

That's quite a supermajority. Is the Trump administration afraid too many in the opposition will want them to remain? I also have to wonder whether it assumes that U.S. troops don't count as "foreign."

4.  AN elects new National Electoral Council (CNE) and TSJ members who are acceptable to all parties or coalitions of parties representing 25% or more of AN membership. (This would give both the PSUV and the multi-party Guaidó coalition a veto over personnel for any of these posts.) Upon the selection of a new CNE and TSJ, the U.S. lifts sanctions imposed on former CNE and TSJ members due to their membership in those bodies.

A carrot for Maduro supporters, who can veto those they view as hostile. It's funny how they felt they needed to use parentheses to explain the rationale, which is not something they do anywhere else. See, see, it's a carrot!

5. AN approves “Council of State” Law, which creates a Council of State that becomes the executive branch. Each party or coalition of parties with 25% or more of AN membership selects two members of the Council of State, one of whom must be a state governor. The four members of the Council of State then select a fifth member, to be Secretary General, and who serves as Interim President until the elections and is not permitted to be a candidate for president in the elections.  Council members may not be members of the AN or TSJ. Decisions of the Council of State will be reached by majority vote. One member of the National Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) will serve as Military Adviser to the Council of State.

I guess if you are imposing rules, then you might as well tell them what laws to pass (with a high level of specificity). There's something quite Platt Amendmentish about this one. And there is a nod--albeit a formally powerless one--to the military.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the "25%" rule effectively translates into two "pro-government" and two "pro-opposition." Assuming that's correct, I wonder how they would break a tie to find the fifth member.

6. All of the powers assigned to the President by the Constitution will be vested exclusively in the Council of State. The U.S. and the EU will lift sanctions on those who claimed Presidential authorities which were imposed due to their holding their previous positions once the Council of State is functioning and those individuals renounce any further claims to hold executive positions and acknowledge the Council of State as the exclusive executive power.

Who wrote this? The wording is terrible, but the idea is that you're OK if you claimed a position as long as you renounce it now. This read like writing by committee, where you wrangle and then everyone finally says, "Fine, fine, let's move on even though it sounds bad."

7. Once the Council of State is established and foreign security forces have departed (unless approved by 3/4 vote at the AN), U.S. sanctions on the Government of Venezuela, PDVSA, and the oil sector are suspended.

I will let you determine where the fine line is between deal making and extortion.

8. Council of State appoints new cabinet. The U.S. lifts sanctions on former cabinet members due to their holding their previous positions. The U.S. also lifts sanctions on members of the FANB that are based on their position in the institution.

A key detail here is "position in the institution," which means you are still a target if the U.S. government specifically deemed you one.

9. The international community provides humanitarian, electoral, governance, development, security, and economic support, with special initial focus on medical care system, water and electricity supply. Existing social welfare programs, now to be supplemented with international support, must become equally accessible to all Venezuelan citizens. Negotiations begin with World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank for major programs of support.

This makes me think of George W. Bush's Committee for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which involved the U.S. government and private industry getting involved in every aspect of Cuban economic development in a hypothetical post-transition period. The "international community" will be overwhelmingly U.S., of course, and U.S. business will be right there. That's an underlying assumption of any deal.

10. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established with the task of investigating serious acts of violence that occurred since 1999, and reports to the nation on the responsibilities of perpetrators and the rehabilitation of victims and their families. The Commission has five members, who are selected by the Secretary General of the United Nations with the consent of the Council of State. The AN adopts amnesty law consistent with Venezuela’s international obligations, covering politically motivated crimes since 1999 except for crimes against humanity. Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru withdraw support for the International Criminal Court referral.

Hmm. This sounds a bit like Chile, though in Chile names were not named. The idea, though, is that you have a commission that comes to conclusions that cannot actually be prosecuted. There is a caveat, though, about "crimes against humanity." That seems like a fairly gaping hole to me, and would be interpreted by all senior members of the government as something they would likely be found guilty of (and they would probably believe they'd be found guilty for political reasons).

11. The Council of State sets a date for simultaneous Presidential and AN elections in 6-12 months. Any Venezuelan citizen eligible in accordance with the 1999 Constitution can compete in the election.

Another carrot, to allow any Chavista to run, probably on the assumption they would lose anyway in a free election.

12. Presidential and AN elections are held. With a consensus of international observers that elections were free and fair, remaining U.S. sanctions are lifted.

This sounds identical to Helms-Burton.

13. Bi-partisan commission within the AN is developed to create long term solutions to rehabilitating the economy and refinancing the debt.

This one seems aimed entirely at getting the Russians and Chinese out of Venezuela and shifting it back to international institutions the U.S. helps direct. Otherwise it's unnecessary--do you think such a body would not address the economy and debt immediately? The U.S. just wants it done in a way that reasserts U.S. economic hegemony.


1. The military high command (Defense Minister, Vice Defense Minister, CEOFANB Commander, and Service Chiefs) remains in place for the duration of the transitional government.

You gotta throw a bone to the military, a little incentive to push and make this whole thing happen. María Puerto-Riera summarizes that nicely in a tweet.

2. State or local authorities remain in place for the duration of the transitional period.

What happens to state and local authorities afterward is not addressed. #12 looks only at the national level.


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