Geoff Ramsey calls for an overdue change to U.S. policy towards Venezuela:
After a year and a half of diminishing returns since recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president and imposing crippling oil sanctions, US strategy in Venezuela has reached a crossroads. Policymakers in Washington have two paths before them: they can either continue down the path of “maximum pressure” and saber-rattling, or they can choose a path of pragmatism, supporting more flexible negotiations towards a democratic transition.
The current path has been disastrous.
The Trump administration’s pursuit of regime change has had two foreseeable results: broad sanctions have worsened already severe economic and humanitarian crises to the detriment of tens of millions of innocent people, and Maduro and his allies have managed to retain and even strengthen their hold on power. By inserting the US into Venezuela’s political crisis and seeking to coerce Maduro into giving up power, Trump effectively bolstered Maduro’s position and gave him no incentive to compromise or negotiate. The president was encouraged to pursue this doomed course of action by exiles and ideological hard-liners, including Marco Rubio and John Bolton, and he was led to believe that it would be a quick and easy “win” that would redound to his political benefit. Having failed to get the “win,” Trump seems to have lost interest, but the awful “maximum pressure” policy continues on its destructive path. After almost two years, US policy has achieved nothing except to make it more difficult for ordinary Venezuelans to obtain food, medicine, and fuel. Ramsey warns against imposing further sanctions:
Now the White House is threatening to impose further sanctions that could limit the importation of diesel to the country, which would have devastating consequences for bulk transport, public transportation, and electricity generation.
The Trump administration has relied heavily on economic warfare in its misguided pursuit of forcing other regimes to capitulate to its maximalist demands, but the stakes for the other government are always so high that it will never be enough. Suffocating the population with sanctions does not make their leaders any more likely to yield, and insofar as the leaders can blame the sanctions for poor conditions in the country it can actually take some domestic political pressure off of them. Hard-liners push for ever-tougher sanctions because they like to think that they are squeezing the other government into submission, but they tend to weaken the government’s opponents more by forcing everyone in the society to scramble to survive. Sweeping sanctions are often a help to the government they ostensibly target, because they steal time, energy, and resources from the very people that are seeking political change.
Mac Margolis wrote recently about the split in the opposition over whether they should participate in the parliamentary elections in December, and he includes another quote from Ramsey:
That diplomacy and political spadework are something that Guaido once got and to which Capriles appears to be committed. “Capriles understands that a growing portion of Venezuela’s opposition is interested in a pragmatic outcome and a negotiated path forward, rather than an all or nothing approach or the fantasy of military intervention,” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “The literature on political transition is clear: Participating often yields better results than abstaining.”