(Republished from The New York Times)
The tense standoff in Venezuela between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó has morphed into something far larger than a contest for power between a failed leader still supported by parts of the army and die-hard leftists, and a young legislator propelled to the front by popular demonstrations. In part because of the Trump administration’s all-in support for regime change, the crisis has become a dangerous global power struggle. That’s the last thing Venezuelans need.
There is no question that President Maduro must go, the sooner the better. Heir to the socialist rule of Hugo Chávez, he has led his oil-rich country into utter ruin. Its currency is useless, basic foods and medicines have disappeared and more than three million people have fled, fomenting refugee crises in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
The only solution is an interim government under Mr. Guaidó who as the head of the National Assembly has a legitimate claim to the presidency under the Venezuelan Constitution. It would lead to new presidential elections and a flood of emergency aid.
Pope Francis said Tuesday that he was willing to help mediate an end to the conflict if both sides agreed. He said he had received a plea from Mr. Maduro to help start a new dialogue.
“There needs to be the will of both parts,” Francis said. He suggested beginning with small concessions from both sides, working toward a more formal negotiation.
In hopes of a peaceful resolution, many democratic governments have thrown their support behind Mr. Guaidó. Twelve Latin American countries, the Organization of American States, Canada and more than a dozen members of the European Union have so far crowded into Mr. Guaidó’s corner alongside the United States, recognizing him as the interim president. Mr. Maduro’s primary backers are Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and Turkey.
These are not entirely alliances of the like-minded. As in any geopolitical struggle, disparate interests are at play, and many include a suspicion or fear of President Trump’s motives and potential means. For the hard-core conservatives in the Trump administration, Mr. Maduro is the failed standard-bearer of the scourge of socialism in Latin America and the beachhead for Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence. Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to rule out a military option.
The prospect of a proxy war that could spill over Venezuela’s borders horrifies most Latin American leaders, as well as Canada and the Europeans. The Lima Group, which brings together Canada and a number of Latin American countries with the aim of finding a nonviolent solution to the Venezuelan crisis, held an emergency meeting in Ottawa on Monday at which it unequivocally rejected any foreign military intervention.
“This is a process led by the people of Venezuela in their very brave quest to return their country themselves to democracy in accordance with their own constitution,” declared the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, in a statement echoed by most Latin American and European supporters of Mr. Guaidó.
In Mr. Maduro’s camp, the motives are also mixed. China has huge loans out to Venezuela but has kept a low profile in the struggle, perhaps in the hope of cultivating a relationship with Mr. Guaidó, should he prevail. Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long embraced Mr. Maduro as a comrade against Western, and especially American, hegemony. Russia has been his strongest supporter, channeling billions in aid and arms to Mr. Maduro, and has been most vocal in warning the United States to stay clear.
It is very much in American and Western interests to free Venezuela from such unholy alliances through negotiations between supporters of Mr. Guaidó and Mr. Maduro. But the goal must be to do so in order to give the long-suffering Venezuelans a chance to freely choose their government and start the arduous task of rebuilding their economy, not to score a victory in an ideological struggle.
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