Washington, D.C.—In recent days, credible reports have emerged which suggest that in late 2019 representatives of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó met with several private security contractors who offered to carry out covert armed activities inside Venezuelan territory. The Associated Press and Washington Post have confirmed that these opposition representatives signed a contract with one firm, SilverCorp USA, which recently carried out a botched incursion that resulted in eight deaths and the arrest of at least 10 individuals, including two U.S. citizens.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), alongside civil society partners in Venezuela and the region, has consistently opposed any proposals that rely on the use of force. It is clear that Venezuela urgently needs a peaceful, democratic solution to its crisis which restores the rule of law and Venezuelans’ right to elect their own leaders. But the United States and international community must be clear in rejecting direct or indirect support for violent means of attempting such a solution.
By maintaining that “all options are on the table,” including a military option, the Trump administration bears partial responsibility for these reckless actions by sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. In floating the prospect of a possible military intervention, and through continual, inaccurate statements suggesting the Venezuelan military is about to turn on Maduro, the U.S. government has tacitly discouraged the Venezuelan opposition from prioritizing negotiations in favor of a theory of change that relies on creating an improbable rupture between the armed forces and the Maduro government. These miscalculations have only deepened in recent weeks, with the Trump administration placing a multi-million dollar bounty on Maduro’s head and exaggerating the nature of counterdrug operations in the Caribbean as part of a U.S. pressure strategy.
On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the VERDAD Act, which establishes that “it is the policy of the United States to support diplomatic engagement in order to advance a negotiated and peaceful solution to Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis,” and makes clear that “direct, credible negotiations […] represent the best opportunity to reach a solution to the Venezuelan crisis.” The passage of this bill was an important demonstration of bipartisan support for a peaceful, negotiated solution. Now the Trump administration must show that it remains committed to such a solution and reject counterproductive, magical thinking by hardliners. It should make clear to the opposition that a negotiated agreement is their only way forward, and engage in vigorous diplomacy with international stakeholders to gain support for a negotiated solution.