Shadow foreign policy


Over at Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, I discuss the opposition’s new diplomatic offensive. The value added:

These trips are part of a new phase for the Venezuelan opposition. For the first time, they are embarking on a serious diplomatic offensive. The opposition believes that international pressure is the only thing the government will respond to, since dissenting Venezuelans clearly don’t count. Some experts believe that international pressure sometimes served as an influence on President Hugo Chávez. For example, during the 2000s, there was a widely held view in U.S. foreign policy circles that Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a moderating factor in Venezuela, someone to whom Chávez listened.

More recently, after ignoring requests for an audit of this year’s election, the Maduro government originally changed its mind under pressure from South American governments represented by the umbrella group UNASUR (though it has since gone back on its word). The opposition thinks the only thing the Venezuelan rulers seem to fear is international pressure, particularly from Latin American governments, and they hope their lobbying will prompt the Maduro government into thoroughly auditing the election.

As the battle over Venezuela moves to the international arena, one is left wondering what other options the opposition is left with. As much as foreign opinion may count, the fight to topple a president many view as illegitimate is going to require oppositionists hitting the streets of their own country in protest.

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  1. Nobody is toppling anyone, what world are you people living in? you already know you lost, Capriles knows he lost, they are going for the municipal elections now full force.

  2. Juan,

    With all due respect, to your insight into the personalities and internal dealings of Chavismo, I find your take on the Opposition’s diplomatic offensive to be a bit naïve. Chavismo will not be swayed by “international pressure”. The only way this government will give up power is when the Venezuelan people, en masse, turn them out. My interpretation of the Opposition’s diplomatic initiative is that it is designed to grease the wheels for a speedy recognition by foreign governments of their new government once they claim power and demonstrate that they can maintain it.

      • Not if they can convince enough countries of the massive fraud, and therefore, the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime.

        • Roy – “convince enough countries of the massive fraud” after a 100% audit is about to be completed with 0.02% deviation. What world are you living in? of course – the world of the coup mongers.

          • an audit performed by the very people guilty of the fraud? Do you seriously think that if there was fraud, the CNE would ever admit it? Nobody is silly enough to think this audit is worth a damn. It’s just another Dog & Pony Show like the elections themselves. You my friend are the one living in an odd world, where to oppose fraud is to be a coup monger.

    • I would say that this foreign diplomatic offensive is the very best thing the opposition can do. The regime can hardly stiffle them outside of Venezuela. Furthermore, if Venezuela seems illegitemate to the foreign public, it will be difficult to secure funding abroad – funding the regime desperately needs, despite high oil prices.

      This will result in additional short-term pain for ordinary Venezuelans, but since it needs 10+ million people out on the streets protesting against the regime to stand a chance, this is better for the country in the medium to long term.

    • I agree with Roy here and I am puzzled about what Juan really is aiming at. I don’t think he wants the marines to land in Venezuela. He knows the Brazilian army won’t do that either. Does he expect Brazil to say “OK, we don’t want to have such an enormous trade surplus with Venezuela, we will reduce it to just 4 times more exports than imports from there instead of the current 5 x 1”?

      The work abroad is necessary but the real work will always be in convincing the hearts and souls that live not so much in Parapara but in Carora, Punto Fijo, Maturín, etc (all cities with over 100 thousand people).

      We need to send people like Ocariz or Velázquez or Falcón to those cities to talk to people, we need to keep distributing content-rich flyers. And don’t treat Venezuelans like idiots or children. They are just uninformed.

      • Yep. The campaign for the hinterlands cannot be ignored.

        And, like you, I don’t see what Juan is seeing as the “end game” scenario. For me, I see the Opposition working towards a peaceful “People Power” revolution, such as took place in Georgia, Ukraine, and other post-Soviet countries. There are no precedents for this in Latin America. In LatAm, the usual model is a military coup, followed by eventual return to civilian government. The Opposition is (IMHO) in the process of breaking new ground here.

        If anyone else is seeing a different “end game”, I would certainly like to hear it. As you say, no one is going to send outside military to force a change. This can only be accomplished by the Venezuelan people themselves.

        • Well, I cringe when I hear or read Ukraine.
          Ukraine’s “revolution” was too modelled and openly supported by the US and Germany (in the sense that there were even NGOs from those countries distributing flyers and food among the people in the tents in Kiev). Another thing is that that movement was too centred on Kiev.
          And remember: if you take the cities of more than 99999 inhabitants and less than 1 million in Venezuela you get much more than the majority.
          I spent a lot of time in bus terminals going across Venezuela. Flyers there: qué dinero se ha usado en comprar armas rusas? cuántas escuelas habrían podido construirse con eso empleando a trabajadores venezolanos?
          Quién se beneficia realmente con CADIVI? Qué alternativas hay? Por qué eso debe interesar a María Pérez de Calabozo?
          That’s our priority. And our better way of reaching those people is with the old flyers, not just twitter. That’ how we will convince Gumercinda Gutiérrez, even if es, her niece María Pacheco does have a pre-paid mobile where she does look at twitter…in her own way.

  3. Not being privy to why the Capriles team does things I can only surmise that:
    1. they are setting up a network of connections with outside political forces (not always the government) which can come in handy at some latter time and which can act as a counterweight to governments which out of lazyness or convenience tend to favour the status quo vis a vis Venezuela . The contacts themselve draws international public attention towards the governments illegitimacy which puts Maduros regime in the defensive..
    2.- they are keeping their own people mobilized and attentive as to an effort that is highly visible which helps keep the oppositions own spirits alive and phocused , ready for use as other domestic struggles begin being fought .
    3.- They force the regime to come out with gifts and assistance which imply spending money and resources they no longer have in securing the continued loyalty of other countries ,(which hurts their finances).
    4.- As the spotlight of the struggle moves to the domestic front , they can ease their efforts on the international side and concentrate on what has to be done internally.

  4. In theory I can see reasons for trying to obtain International pressure and as long as it is not a substitute for domestic action I see no harm.But, plans can break down. We cannot plan the future, especially when it involves what others may or may not do to support us.Since it is presumptuous to plan and count on those plans, the wise man steers.Steering the here and now, and encouraging the people to be involved in their own destiny inside of Venezuela.

  5. That so called international pressure has not helped after 12 years or so and really does not mean much except for a few who get some nice diners and a check here and their.

    The battle is in the streets and y’all would lose that, the grassroots and rank and file militants is always where the action is because they have saved the revolution so many times. Even as the endogenous right of the PSUV, reformists and others in the bureaucracy consolidate their power and try to derail the revolution more so (when president Chavez was alive he was a brake against them even though many times they when against him also) expect it to heat up on all fronts which is not good for your groupings, they are stunned and angry now and I would expect a bigger shift very soon.

  6. It seems odd that some people take for granted the notion that the Venezuelan government doesn’t respond to pressure on the same week Timothy Tracy was freed for reasons that are obvious.

    • I was just thinking that same thing. I have said it and will say it again. There is no silver bullet. We have to do many things at the same time and do them all right for a long time.

    • Of course they will, Juan, but the North Korean way: Jaua can get a picture with a Vietnam veteran and get his family see Disney and a US citizen is freed, Maduro can get more US rice an some prisoners in Venezuela have the right to get food delivered. That’s good but it is not a game changer, I think.

      You won’t be betting on an embargo, I assume. So: the most we can get through that, for the moment, is to alleviate the pains of some people. It won’t change the forces at play. As Roy says, it will be good once we do change the faces of who’s the boss in Venezuela.

      • Kepler,

        You know a lot about history, way more than I do. My understanding is that the Soviet Union collapsed by a combinations of things, and one of the ingredients was international pressure. So did Pinochet. I really don’t know the details. I am sure you know a lot more.

        It is not about ONLY international pressure. It is about chipping away from many fronts at the same time.

        No country will stop trading with Venezuela. But pressure can come in many forms.

        • Rodrigo,
          I think Roy was referring to the Orange Revolution.
          On one side I agree with Roy on the basic principles that international pressure is needed and that we need it for the long term, when things turn really critical.
          On the other side, I just wanted to comment on the fact that Ukraine’s revolution was short-lived (we are referring to post-USSR) and now Ukraine has an increasingly authoritarian regime. We should be careful with what we can take over from such effort and what not.

          The Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 did not last long and did not lead on a long term to more freedom. They are back with the president they had before that revolution. That is contrary to what the Czechs or the Poles managed to do earlier, in 1988-1989. The reasons are manifold…Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it was much closer to the Russian world, it never had pluralism, ethnicity and identity issues are different from those of the former satellite states of Czechoslovakia and Poland and so on. There were quarrels among the ones who took power.

          And then there was the identity thing: one very important difference between the people looking for openness in Ukraine and those who got it in the Czech Republic was and IS that the groups looking for a change in Ukraine are seen as way too close to US/UK/EU interests, at a point of been seen as “compradores”. The Czechs had a strong, very home-grown intellectual movement (that was back in 1989). The Ukrainians in 2004-2005 had a group of leaders who were more often than not seen talking to the BBC than to people in Ukraine’s East, travelling around West Europe for support instead of listening to people outside Kiev.

          Arturo Úslar Pietri identified the problem we Venezuelans have with identity. In spite of all those Venezuelan flags, the Venezuelan identity is a very weak one. Incredibly enough this still lingers in the mind of many. It is not surprise when you hear still people referring to others as “Indios” in a pejorative way or, clearly in a racist way, as monos…and others talking about “esos hijos de Europeos de …”.

          As soon as a major electoral battle takes place in Venezuela, most of our oppo seems to go to Miami/NY to spend their vacations. Boligarchs probably do the same but at least they try to spread their vacations or they somehow know battles can follow one after the other. Like the Putinists in Russia, they have always used the nationalist card.

          I think we also have a problem when some of our opposition leaders are seen to be more at ease with speaking and writing in English than in their own language. It might be understandable if people decided to live in an English country but it is less so for people living in Caracas and with political ambitions for Venezuela.

          Capriles and his team have advanced a lot. The opposition was always a mixed bunch but it is much more so. And yet we should never forget this. And our oppo leaders need to be abroad and they can very well talk to the foreign media. But at the same time they should show they feel even more at ease with explaining economics or listening to the problems of the average person in Maturín and Carora.

          And then we won’t have an Orange but a stronger revolution: La Revolución Patilla.

        • Rodrigo,

          The Soviet Union collapsed partly because it was economically bankrupt, but mostly because it was morally bankrupt. The people simply did not believe in the system any longer. There was no political will to keep it going. What percentage of Venezuelan’s still believe in the “The Revolution”? I would say that they are down to around 20% by now. At least the USSR was founded on some cohesive ideas (Marxism). It didn’t work, but at least there was idealist foundation that allowed it to survive its founders. Chavismo was founded on the personal charisma of Chavez. His ideology was vague, at best, and contained massive internal contradictions. Chavismo was never going to survive the death of Chavez. The only question is how and when will it collapse and what will be the condition of the state that a new set of leaders will inherit.

          • “His ideology was vague, at best, and contained massive internal contradictions. ”
            Oh, boy…is that true.
            Even if we put aside the teeny tiny details of real life contradictions -the Chávez clan living in luxury, travelling to the very heart of the “Imperio”, the foreign accounts of Boligarchs, the overprice in the billions of dollars for PDVSA contracts- and just examined the ideological stuff, the ideolorrea profusa these guys produced,
            we have to say it has been incredible.

            If Karl Marx or Vladimir Ulyanov aka Lenin had been alive and they had been able to hear what Chávez said, they would have gone all: “Oh, my-God! Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus! Holy Mary, what’s he saying? Is that what cocaine does to the brain?”

            Unfortunately, ideological consistency hasn’t been Venezuelans’ strength since colonial times. In Alexander von Humboldt’s private diary (thus, that didn’t come up in the narratives), the German scientist tells about an encounter he had with Miguel Peñalver, one of those we would later call heroes. He said how Peñalver would initially talk about having a revolution but then start to describe the need to keep down the black and make sure the whites were served by the slaves in a República de Blancos.
            Bolívar wasn’t much better.

            At least the Soviets were 1) doing a lot of things for the first time and
            2) they did care for and managed to make true a real improvement in the level of education of the average citizen.
            I consider one of Chavismo’s worst crime the cheating on educational achievements, the sheer amount of time in the lives of hundreds of millions of young people who got courses that were nothing but a farce.

          • Kepler,

            In concrete terms, the USSR actually made impressive progress during the first 20 years. They transformed what was a backward agrarian nation into an industrial powerhouse in a very short period of time. I don’t accept the morality of their ideology, but the early results were impressive.

          • Sorry, that was supposed to be “millions of people”, not hundreds…I was thinking of hundreds of thousands, but then thought it was millions and forgot to delete the “hundred”. 🙂

          • All ideologies contain contradictions because they develop and mutate in line with changing and clashing cultural patterns , sometimes rejecting ideas that were formerly not thought of as mutually inimical, i.e. Lincoln wanted to end slavery but did not believe negroes where the equal of white men. Strict hindus abhorr the accidental killing of bugs and flies and yet many of them ( the very poorest) see the infanticide of newly born girls by letting them in the wilderness as compassionate. or ( if rich) will abort unborn baby girls because they prefer male babies.Humans naturally like many contrasting things so they blind themselves to the contradictions which pursuing those likes involve . We play ‘blind mans bluff’ with ambiguity and ambivalence , we compartmentalize or cunningly rationalize our incoherent feelings depending on context, We love congruity but cant live with its demands!! Then there is also tendency for the followers of a Master to disfigure and adapt their teachings to suit their preferences and prejudices , Hayeck repeatedly said he didnt want any followers to corrupt his thoughts with exagerations and biases . Marx would turn in his grave if he knew what many of his purported admirers did with his ideas. Incongruity is inevitable in humans except that we are very adept at producing self delusions that hide those incongruities from our minds eyes . Chavez case is different because intellectually he never produced any ideas capable of being characterized as an ideology , he simply adopted a certain mongrel mish mash of very crude or ‘morally showy’ ideas which made him feel great about himself ! which gratified his gargantuan narcicistic hungers !! If anything he was a natural fascist with his love of absolute power and of thuggish despotic arrogant behaviour . Chavistas dont have a bona fide ideology , they have a rethoric which following the terminology and sentiments associated with certain doctrines make them feel themselves justified about their pursuit of total power .which is what really motivates them . .

  7. I’m afraid that the Opposition international initiative, while praiseworthy, will not result in concrete international democratic action in a pragmatic Realpolitik world. The U. S. acercamiento by the Ven. Govt. is only out of desperate need for $ financing, and is actually counterproductive for an Oppo wanting the U. S. to help pressure for a real Presidential vote audit. The Oppo itself seems resolved to all this by focusing on the faraway Dec. municipal elections, which, I fear, will be much worse for them than the Presidentials, as local factors/pervasive local Government employment/pressure will be more determinant/decisive. As said by some commenters above, the real hope for the Oppo is massive popular discontent with an ever-worsening economic situation trying to be managed by a completely incompetent/corrupt Government with vastly insufficient financial resources.


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