WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
2 Jan 2019 | Press Release

How the U.S. Government Can Advance a Negotiated, Nonviolent Solution to Venezuela’s Crisis

New Report Describes How Pairing Pressure with Engagement is Key to Establishing the Conditions for Meaningful Negotiations

Washington, DC—As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro prepares to claim a new term on January 10 based on a deeply flawed election, policymakers in the United States are weighing how to best respond to the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis. While the situation is dire, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has published a new policy memo that explains how the U.S. government can help to achieve progress on  the only viable path forward: a negotiated solution. In “Focused Pressure and Smart Engagement,” WOLA Assistant Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey and Senior Fellow David Smilde lay out concrete actions the United States could take to help create the conditions needed for credible negotiations that are needed between the government and opposition in order to restore Venezuela’s democratic institutions.

“Responses to the situation in Venezuela must be based not on wishful thinking nor on abstract deductions, but on a solid grasp of the political landscape. A negotiated solution is the only way to resolve the crisis. The longer this tragedy draws out, the more suffering it causes the people of Venezuela. Rather than fueling unrealistic expectations around a disastrous and counterproductive ‘military option,’ the United States needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said Geoff Ramsey.

While the United States is not the optimal actor to take the lead in resolving Venezuela’s crisis, it can offer political support and resources to a group of governments that are better positioned to make diplomatic progress. Efforts to organize such a “contact group” are currently being led by European Union (EU) governments.

Pressure in foreign relations, as in hydraulics, is useless—even harmful—unless it is channeled into productive ends. Putting pressure on Venezuela’s government is important, but in order to be effective this pressure needs to be accompanied with diplomatic engagement in support of a meaningful negotiated solution. Sanctions, for instance, need to be joined with concrete conditions under which they can be lifted, and these conditions need to be clearly communicated,” said David Smilde.

In their memo, Ramsey and Smilde offer a series of concrete policy recommendations for the U.S. government. These include:

  • The Secretary of State, working through the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, should offer political support and resources for European Union and regional efforts to create a “contact group” that can facilitate communication between stakeholders in Venezuela’s government and opposition—with the aim of eventually establishing conditions for credible negotiations.
  • The U.S. government should be clear in communicating that the Maduro government does not possess a democratic mandate as of January 10, 2019. But it should maintain its embassy in Caracas and continue diplomatic relations.
  • The U.S. government should support the Boston Group and other formal and informal channels to ensure ongoing communication with actors in Venezuela’s government.
  • The U.S. Mission to the United Nations should use its voice and vote to elevate the political and humanitarian response to Venezuela’s crisis within the priorities of the United Nations.
  • The Departments of State and Treasury should work jointly with other countries that are imposing sanctions on the Maduro government (the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, and Panama) to develop a clear and coherent set of conditions under which existing sanctions—whether sectoral or against individual actors—can be eased or lifted.
  • The President should incentivize negotiations between Venezuela’s government and the elected National Assembly by issuing an Executive Order that explicitly reaffirms that Venezuela’s elected National Assembly may authorize the purchase of debt, notwithstanding existing or future U.S. sanctions.
  • The U.S. government should plan and carry out a comprehensive and transparent communications strategy aimed at the Venezuelan public, international financial institutions, and international humanitarian organizations that clarifies the scope of and exceptions to the U.S. financial sanctions imposed in August 2017.
  • The U.S. government should refrain from threatening military action and thereby further deepening fissures in the Venezuelan opposition.
  • The U.S. government should refrain from imposing any sanction or action that could exacerbate the country’s humanitarian emergency.Focused Pressure and Smart Engagement for Venezuela Ramsey Smilde WOLA