Gone are the days when many Venezuelans spent a good part of their time discussing politics. Apathy is unquestionable and “resignation” is in the streets, a consequence of wear and tear, government policies and even the absence of results from the opposition.
But those who have closely followed U.S. foreign policy regarding Venezuela have had very marked positions since the 2020 elections where it turned out. President Joe Biden was elected.
At the time, the debate divided Venezuelans who saw Donald Trump’s reelection as critical to a solution to the crisis in Venezuela and those who saw Biden’s more conciliatory position as likely to generate greater progress.
It has been a year since Biden took office. and these positions have not changed considerably, as evidenced by the Voice of America.
From the vicinity of a market in the east of Caracas, Venezuelan Robert Maza says consulted by VOA that Biden’s policy towards Venezuela has been for his “interests” and does not see that he is doing “anything specific” to favor the South American country.
“Trump was more pure mouth, more than action. Each one pulled for his interests, not for Venezuela (…) we are practically alone,” he said.
Venecia, a Venezuelan who was buying vegetables in the market and asked to be identified only by her first name, agrees and thinks that Biden’s policy “has been very bad” and prefers Trump.
“We were in his plans. [de Trump]. There were possibilities,” he said. “With this Mr. [Biden]nothing,” he said.
In contrast, Edilberto, a Venezuelan who was waiting for public transportation and who asked to give only his name, assures he does not have much knowledge about U.S. policy towards Venezuela, but he is clear that he did not like Trump’s policy towards Venezuela or the sanctions implemented by his administration because “they are not good for anyone”.
From the politicians
José Gregorio Correa, opposition deputy of the Chavista-majority National Assembly, argues that although Biden has been a “different” president than Trump, he has not brought benefits for Venezuela.
“I think the issue of the blockade and sanctions has to stop. As long as we continue on that path, those who want to help, such as the United States, such as the European Union, that is not the way, because that path does not harm the government, it harms the citizen, the businessman, those who want to invest, who when they have to look for a spare part, must triangulate it,” he told VOA.
Correa emphasized that government officials “have their problems solved” and that it is necessary the “cessation of sanctions” which, in his opinion, have strengthened the government and caused division.
The Trump administration reinforced the economic sanctions against the government of Nicolás Maduro and its officials and one of its toughest measures was. the sanction on PDVSAthe Venezuelan state-owned oil company, in early 2019.
Rafael Veloz, deputy of the 2015 Parliament, highlights the U.S. recognition of Juan Guaidó as president in charge and the National Assembly elected in 2015 as the “only legitimate power” of Venezuela.
The deputy evaluates Biden’s management as “a political action of solidarity with the people of Venezuela who demand the recovery of democracy in peace through free and verifiable presidential and parliamentary elections.”
“In what has changed [la política hacia Venezuela] most noticeably is in the verbiage that Trump used and the verbiage that Biden uses,” Veloz said. “Trump’s was stronger than Biden’s, but that corresponds to the different personalities, because when it comes to political decision-making, the change has not been substantial,” added.
Regarding the sanctions, he affirmed that the affectation of the citizens is a “myth” and that it has been a “tendentious and deceitful publicity of the dictatorship’s agencies and their international allies”.
“The reality is that the increase of poverty, the systematic bankruptcy of the productive sector, the vertiginous fall of the GDP, inflation, etc., have their roots in corruption and in having turned the Venezuelan State into a failed and outlawed one”, he pointed out.
For María Gabriela Hernández, president of the Permanent Commission of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change of the 2015 Parliament, Biden has managed to “sustain” the work for democracy.
“Whoever the U.S. president is, as long as democratic institutions function there, the international policy will be unalterable, that is, surveillance, monitoring, prosecution, detention and justice for those who finance and execute terrorism, drug trafficking and grand corruption,” said Hernández.
President Nicolás Maduro said that “there has been no sign” of “rectification” from the Biden Administration regarding the sanctions, but that he hopes that “possibilities” of a dialogue with his administration will be “opened”.
“In relation to Venezuela everything has continued the same, the financial, monetary, oil, economic, commercial persecution,” he said in an interview in early January with the channel Telesur .
What do you think from the United States?
The Venezuela issue in Congress has united Republicans and Democrats on one point: the nation deserves free elections.
“In everything the United States does, our goal is, and should be, to make sure that there are free and fair elections in Venezuela. That the Venezuelan people can choose for themselves who their next leader will be. So that’s been our priority, to put a lot of pressure on Maduro, but really on the country as a whole, to be able to have free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people can determine the course of their own destiny,” he told the VOA Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro.
He exposed that he hopes that “that can be done peacefully” (…) it is the Venezuelan people who have to be able to say ‘this is going to be the next leader of Venezuela’ (…) ultimately, the answer is that the Venezuelan people have to choose whether Mr. (Juan) Guaidó will be the next president or whether it will be someone else.”
Neal Duun, a Republican congressman, recalled in an interview to the. VOA how much the situation worsened in two decades of socialist-leaning government.
“Just 20 years ago, that was the richest nation in all of South America (…) it had the greatest natural resources. And in the course of those 20 years they have gone down. A socialist hell that’s ruining their economy and they’ve taken away people’s freedoms and opportunities, so that’s been a real problem,” Duun said.
“I think we should engage Venezuela and try to help them (…) there’s a lot of good we could be doing for Venezuela, but it’s difficult with the government they have right now,” he said.
Regarding the renewed relationship with allied governments such as Russia and China, Duun stated, “That Russian adventurism, I mean, the Russians are not going to help Venezuela any more than they help Ukraine or Kazakhstan (…) So, I would be very nervous if I were Venezuela, very nervous about getting help from Russia or China.”
In Washington, analysts believe that with the Democratic administration, the strategy towards Venezuela has changed more in rhetoric than in concrete policies, especially with respect to the dialogue with Maduro.
“The base policy of sanctions has not changed. There is a continuity with what happened under Trump,” he told the VOA Michael Shifter, director of the think tank American Dialogue.
The difference, according to Shifter, lies in the fact that the Biden administration “seems prepared to use sanctions as a tool to reach a negotiated settlement.”
The negotiations in Mexico between members of the opposition and the government. of Maduro were suspended in October, after the pro-government delegation withdrew due to the extradition to the U.S. of the Colombian Alex Saab.
Shifter, however, believes that with mid-term elections for the U.S. Congress approaching, the Biden administration will be “cautious” about taking any action on sanctions.
“I think the administration is going to be very careful about not loosening sanctions in a way that could be seen as being soft on Maduro,” he said.
For Maureen Meyer of the human rights advocacy organization WOLA, Biden has an opportunity to “take action and make clear how they want to work to revive the dialogue,” which is shutting down as the midterm elections approach.
“Probably [el gobierno] not have much to gain by working behind the scenes in the negotiation, but [sí] much to lose, because Biden can be misunderstood,” he said.
In this past year, Meyer perceives that Biden’s Venezuela policy has been left on “autopilot” and the steps needed to get the U.S. more involved in the country’s situation have not been taken.
Cynthia Arson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center think tank, believes that the Biden administration is unlikely to lift sanctions on Venezuela as an incentive for Maduro to return to negotiations.
“That has not happened and is unlikely to happen before the 2022 elections” said the academic.
According to Arson, the underlying theme of the Biden administration is a desire for “the Maduro regime to take the first step, to show that there is real interest” in returning to dialogue.
“There is a desire not to look innocent, to see some concrete evidence that Maduro is serious this time,” he stressed.
[Con reportes adicionales de Carolina Valladares y Jaime Moreno, desde Washington]
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