The Uneven Trajectory of Guaidó’s Diplomacy

The representatives of the caretaker president are critical to build and sustain the pressure on Maduro. But several complications muddle the always troubled waters of the ancient trade of international relations.

Photo: Diario Las Americas, retrieved.

At a glance, there are three main goals Juan Guaidó’s diplomacy has been aiming to reach: keeping alliances with governments who have granted him international recognition; keeping international pressure on Maduro and his regime; and seeking tangible solutions for the many issues faced by the Venezuelan diaspora, including government’s responses to migration flows from Venezuela. 

On these three goals, Guaidó’s diplomacy has been more or less consistent, with some degree of success. Perhaps one major accomplishment is the acceptance of expired Venezuelan passports by some countries or passports extended by the interim government’s officials, a measure that positively affects Venezuelans’ daily lives and plans. 

The missteps

However, there have also been a number of faux pas, some of them quite serious by diplomatic standards and customs. The forcible occupation of the Venezuelan Embassy in Costa Rica by Guaidó’s envoy, María Faría, and the subsequent reaction by the Costa Rican government rejecting her actions (for they violated the 60-day period given by San José to Maduro’s representatives to leave the country), is just an example (for which Faría later apologized). Or take the statement by Guaidó’s representative to Czechia, Tamara Suju, indicating that UNHCHR Michelle Bachelet should have never accepted to visit Caracas, unless all political prisoners were released, something Guaidó himself didn’t ask as a condition, at least publicly. 

Another matter is the way these envoys define themselves. Some of them insist on using the term “ambassador,” even if such a title (not easy to obtain for professional diplomats through serving abroad) has not been admitted by the host nation. For example, Otto Gebauer called himself ambassador to Berlin, although the German government didn’t consider him so. This is also the case for Orlando Viera Blanco, who would have to renounce his status of permanent resident in Canada to become an ambassador to Ottawa.

At the core of this seems to be a lack of a clearly formulated foreign policy providing general guidelines around which Guaidó’s envoys’ actions and discourse should be uniformly articulated.

Some other mistakes have occurred in the hyper-sensitive arena of public opinion. When Guaidó’s envoy to Spain, Antonio Ecarri Bolívar, paid a visit to the national football team, la vinotinto, before a match, coach Rafael Dudamel said he was quitting, accusing Ecarri Bolívar of “politicizing” the visit (Dudamel, an employee of the chavista National Football Federation, kept his post). The aforementioned representative to Canada, Orlando Viera Blanco, a lawyer and activist who lives between Montreal and Miami, has been scorned for his articles and social media activity, which is hard to see as synced with the tone and sobriety of a diplomat. 

At the core of this seems to be a lack of a clearly formulated foreign policy providing general guidelines around which Guaidó’s envoys’ actions and discourse should be uniformly articulated, taking into account that a government like his is unprecedented. This would clarify the envoys’ duties and responsibilities, common official positions on several issues, and a minimum direction on how to conduct business given their unique position as envoy’s of an interim government with no real access to the state’s power and administrative structures. And with no Foreign Minister in front of such effort, contradictions and missteps are to be expected. 

The other end of the problem

Guaidó faces a practical difficulty associated with the exceptional nature of his interim government: appointing ambassadors. Being legitimate in as much as it has been recognized by an important number of countries is not enough, as the state’s apparatus is still occupied by Maduro’s representatives. Therefore, for countries like Germany, giving ambassadorial treatment to Guaidó’s envoy is problematic since, for all practical matters, Maduro is still the head of state and his representatives are the ones entitled to diplomatic protection and prerogatives in accordance with international treaties, mostly the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Guaidó’s diplomacy also lacks what’s needed for the job at this most delicate juncture: trained diplomats.

That explains why representatives from Guaidó’s interim government are considered his personal representatives or special envoys, instead of ambassadors. However, Latin American countries have opted to grant ambassadorial status to envoys even if this might complicate certain matters and imply risks for the safety of their own representatives in Venezuela. In some cases, Guaidó’s representatives filled posts left vacant by the withdrawal of heads of missions by Maduro. Such is the case of Colombia, where then-ambassador Iván Rincón Urdaneta had resigned in July 2018, and Brazil, after it declared the Venezuelan chargé d’affaires as persona non grata in December 2017 in reciprocity for Maduro’s expulsion of the Brazilian ambassador. 

Guaidó’s diplomacy also lacks what’s needed for the job at this most delicate juncture: trained diplomats. Most envoys have little to no experience in diplomacy or politics. It’s necessary to understand that these appointments are mainly political, given the exceptionality surrounding all things involving the interim government, and that they have a somewhat transitional nature while a fully formal and functioning government is formed. But such appointments seem to respond more to political alliances than to experience and skills in politics or diplomacy, something urgently needed to lead the difficult task of representing a non-functioning but recognized government. Out of Julio Borges y Carlos Vecchio, both with ample political acumen, appointees with direct diplomatic experience are former Foreign Minister Humberto Calderón Berti (Colombia), Gustavo Tarre Briceño (OAS) and María Alejandra Aristiguieta (UN Geneva). After years of being neglected and marginalized by Chávez and Maduro, career diplomats from the Venezuelan foreign service with years of experience and sound knowledge of international relations and codes, have been ignored by Guaidó and his team. 

It appears that a predominant criterion for selection of special envoys has been a combination of political loyalty and place of residence, meaning that appointees were already living in the country where they were appointed, some under the status of exiles. That is the case with Guarequena Gutiérrez in Chile and Orlando Viera Blanco in Canada. 

In all, Guaidó’s diplomacy has been assertive and coordinated at times but sketchy and clumsy at others, creating confusion among supporters of the interim government and its international allies. 

Managing expectations, appointing a Foreign minister, and formulating and implementing a coherent foreign policy agenda, with a few clear goals and directions for ambassadors and personal envoys, might be a good idea.