Frank O. Mora is director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University.
There seems to be no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crisis facing Venezuela. The political impasse is deepening polarization and confrontation, particularly since January when Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, each took an oath of office as president of Venezuela. Meanwhile, the economic and humanitarian crisis has reached critical levels with the collapse of the food supply and infrastructure, putting the cost of food and other basic services, such as health care, out of the reach of an overwhelming number of Venezuelans. Four million Venezuelans refugees are now living in neighboring countries, frontline states that are not able to absorb such large numbers. This crisis has the potential to destabilize the region.
What are the plausible scenarios and what policy options are available to address the goals of restoring democracy and providing humanitarian assistance? In a new Contingency Planning Memo Update, I delve into these questions and offer the United States and its regional partners recommendations for hastening change, as well as ideas for preparing for the “day after” stabilization phase.
Of all the potential scenarios, the most likely is a prolonged period of stasis and deterioration where the political situation in Venezuela remains at an impasse and the socioeconomic situation deteriorates further. Other scenarios in descending order include: military/palace coup; democratic transition via popular coup; and state collapse and anarchy. Regardless of the scenario, the United States and its partners, in order to hasten change, should complement existing sanctions with clear incentives to members of the Maduro regime willing to accept a peaceful political transition (e.g. lifting individual sanctions, immunity, and the opportunity to participate in politics). In addition, it must show an attractive future to regime elements by developing and implementing a post-Maduro plan for stabilization and reconstruction that includes an international donors conference that offers a compelling package of humanitarian and development assistance. This would have the added benefit of deepening fissures within the regime. Policy options that include the use of military force, led by the United States, are likely to be counterproductive to U.S. interests and regional stability.
One factor not discussed much regarding stabilization and reconstruction is security. Venezuela is among the most violent countries in the world. Today, Caracas is the third most violent city in the world. In addition to a number of nonstate armed groups and criminal gangs that roam major cities without resistance from government forces, it is believed that nearly half of Venezuela has become a haven for Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary groups, who are engaged in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. In the period of stabilization and reconstruction, systemic violence and insecurity will impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance, preparations for new elections, and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. Planning and coordinating with regional partners and Venezuela’s democratic coalition needs to begin now, to provide both humanitarian relief and security assistance in the immediate phase of the transition. The United Nations should get more involved in Venezuela, particularly in the planning and implementation of a stabilization plan. In the area of security, the UN should sanction an international stabilization force, in support of existing state security institutions, that has the authority and capacity to enforce a secure and stable environment in order to establish democratic governance and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.
To learn more about how the Venezuela crisis threatens the interests and stability of the United States and Venezuela’s neighbors—and for more recommendations—read the full Contingency Planning Memo Update. To stay up to date on the crisis in Venezuela, visit CPA’s Global Conflict Tracker.