Thursday, May 28, 2020

Why Dialogue in Venezuela Isn't Working

David Smilde & Geoff Ramsey, "International Peacemaking in Venezuela’s Intractable Conflict. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies," (109): 157–179.

Can international peacemaking efforts succeed in an intractable conflict such as the one in Venezuela? In this paper we put forward a conceptualization of peacemaking processes that underlines their ability to creatively change the terms of a conflict. Then we look at the four dialogue and negotiation processes that have occurred during the government of Nicolás Maduro. Our review shows that while it is clear that the Maduro government uses dialogue processes as a delay tactic through which it can divide and demobilize the opposition, clear progress has been made in the mediators’ ability to generate concrete articulation and discussion of the conflicting parties’ demands. However, international allies on each side of the conflict are affecting the calculations of the two sides, working against an agreement. 
First off, I love the fact that the Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog is noted as the source of much of the empirical content. That's actually one of the great things about blogs. And as a result the article is a useful summary of all the mediation efforts. It would be a good reading in a U.S.-Latin American relations class.

It is common to hear that dialogue is useless in Venezuela, mostly because the Maduro government acts in bad faith and uses the process to its own advantage, gaining time as a result. Smilde and Ramsey say we have to dig deeper, examining the context of each round of talks and the specific role of the mediator. I think the most important takeaway, and indeed it matches conventional wisdom, is that the U.S. messes up mediation by badmouthing it and refusing to let it on sanctions, while Russia and China mess it up by giving the regime feasible alternatives to compromise. Maduro has just waited it out and he's still in power. When the Trump administration declares dialogue to be pointless, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We're left with a situation where dialogue cannot realistically work without major shifts in the views of the U.S., Russia, and China. Well, and now maybe add Iran to that list. The U.S. context can only change if Joe Biden wins, and even that wouldn't have an effect for months. Neither Russia nor China is opposed to dialogue per se, but each wants to protect its investments and each also views Venezuela within the prism of rivalry with the U.S. Being an irritant and projecting power into the Western Hemisphere serves their interests.

Were you hoping for a happy ending? I hope not.


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