Prospects for Venezuela

Prospects for Venezuela

Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
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Venezuela

Humanitarian Crises

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Nicolas Maduro

Frank O. Mora, director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, discusses the situation in Venezuela, including the political standoff between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guiadó, the exodus of Venezuelan migrants, and U.S. policy recommendations for stabilizing the region.

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Speaker

Frank O. Mora

Director, Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, and Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University

Presider

Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the CFR Fall 2019 Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s call is on the record and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

We’re delighted to have Frank Mora with us. Dr. Mora is director of the Kimberly Green Latin America and Caribbean Center and a professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University. Previously Dr. Mora served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the western hemisphere from 2009 to 2013. He has had several teaching positions, including at the National War College and at Rhodes College. He’s worked as a consultant to the Library of Congress, the Institute for National Security Studies, the National Democratic Institute and the State Department. And he is the author or editor of four books and more than thirty articles, book chapters, and monographs. He recently authored for us CFR’s contingency planning memo update, entitled "Stabilizing Venezuela: Scenarios and Options." And we sent that out in advance as background reading, among other resources.

Dr. Mora, thank you very much for being with us today. Obviously, the situation in Venezuela is pretty grim right now. There’s a standoff between the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the migration crisis, and a whole host of things. It would be great if you could talk a little bit about what’s going on there on the ground and give us your policy recommendations on how you think, if you think, the region could be stabilized.

MORA: Well, thank you, Irina. And hello to everyone. My pleasures to really be here and talk to you a little bit about the political standoff that we find ourselves in Venezuela. So in terms of the specific political standoff, it’s important to remember that although sort of the governance crisis that Venezuela’s been facing has been ongoing for a number of years, but it all came to a head at the end of January of this year when Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated or his next or following presidential term after an election in 2018 that many, including the international community, found to be illegal and illegitimate.

That immediately sparked a crisis in which the National Assembly, which was elected in 2015 and which the democratic forces controlled, the speaker, then president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, following the constitution, assumed the interim presidency of Venezuela. So all of a sudden and almost overnight you essentially had two presidents claiming legitimate authority to exercise that role as president in Venezuela. The international community—or, much of the international community, to start with about fourteen or fifteen countries—immediately recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. That number has actually now gone up to about fifty-five, mostly in the western hemisphere.

In the midst of this crisis the United States enhanced, doubled down on its sanctions, not just on individuals—there have been individual sanctions since the Obama administration—but those sanctions have now been expanded to key sectors of the Venezuelan economy. In the meantime, the humanitarian crisis seems to have deteriorated significantly in only the last six or eight months. Inflation rates are in the 10-20,000 percent. The lack of medicine and food is all throughout the country. The lack of security between the border area with Colombia and with Brazil is dismal, as well as the levels of violence in the urban areas has also deteriorated significantly. You’ve seen the outbreak of diseases that are quite curable in normal circumstances but because of the lack of medical supplies or functioning hospitals you see really no capacity to respond to that.

The production of oil is another variable. Venezuela at one point was producing three million barrels of oil per day—per day. Venezuela, remember, depends on oil for about 90 or 95 percent of its revenue—state revenues. That now, as we speak today, is about five hundred thousand barrels per day. That has declined in large part because of the mismanagement and the corruption of the Maduro regime—and sanctions, of course, have exacerbated this situation, particularly the production of oil. All of this has produced one regional crisis. And that is manifested in terms of the migration of Venezuelans leaving Venezuela.

Today, in the last year or two, there’s been four million Venezuelans who have left the country. About a million and a half are in Colombia, creating enormous burden on the Colombians, as well as in other countries of the region. Some estimates, some studies estimate, that if the humanitarian crisis continues, we could easily have eight million Venezuelans leaving the country to other parts in Central America and around South America, or in South America, around Venezuela. This, as I said, will place, is already placing, enormous burden on the capacity of the Colombians, and Brazilians, and others to respond. It’s creating xenophobic sentiments, by the way, in many of these countries. So this is not just a Venezuelan, humanitarian, or political crisis. It is becoming increasingly an international or regional crisis.

So it’s important to repeat here: Maduro, the Maduro regime, exercises its coercive capacity of the state, although less so throughout the country, but has very little legitimacy certainly around the world, while Juan Guaido has quite a bit of legitimacy abroad, but has no legitimacy or capacity to exercise that authority within Venezuela.

So what are the options, policy options, that are being used at the moment? So there have been a number of diplomatic efforts, particularly on the part of the Lima group, which is about thirteen or fourteen countries in the hemisphere trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The Norwegians have also inserted themselves as mediators in a conversation between Maduro, the regime Maduro, and democratic coalition forces in Venezuela. Those conversations have not gone very far. There’s been some progress, but at some point for some reason or another those talks have been suspended. So we are really at an impasse.

The United States, of course, has joined the Lima Group and others in isolating taking punitive actions against the Maduro regime, to force or pressure it to negotiate for real or to leave power altogether. The United States sees Maduro as the source of the problem, and the answer is his exit—and those around him—exit from the country. But Maduro, and particularly the armed forces of Venezuela, are sticking together. They are muddling through, surviving as best as they can in very difficult economic and political situation. Many, including the United States, had hoped early in January that with all these sanctions and isolation that the military would turn against Maduro, in other words stage a coup, and then restore some kind of democratic order, elections.

That has not happened. In fact, the military has stuck by the Maduro regime. We can certainly talk about why that’s been the case. But there’s no sign of the military joining any effort to overthrow or undermine the Maduro regime. So we are left with issues. And the reality that the United States has fewer and fewer policy options to achieve the outcome that not only the United States, but the Lima Group, and others are seeking, which is the end of the Maduro regime and the—and the introduction or the start of a democratic transition, which probably means Juan Guaido at its head.

At any rate, I want to, Irina, leave it at there. I think I’ve gone about ten minutes or so. Of course, I’m open to a lot of questions. I’m sure my remarks have left a lot of gaps. (Laughs.) So I want to leave others to make questions or comments. And I’m happy to react.

FASKIANOS: Well, wonderful. Thank you so much, Frank. Let’s open it up to the students for questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question will come from Georgetown University.

Q: Hello?

OPERATOR: Yes, go ahead. Your line is live.

Q: OK, great. Yeah. My name is Mikala Reear. I’m a second year in the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program. Excuse me.

My question has to do with the United States’ strategy at the UN and what you recommend that course of action to look like.

MORA: Well, the courses of actions available at the UN are actually quite limited. Why? Because as you know, the UN Security Council is the entity that really would be required to take whatever action that might be in Venezuela. And for it to pass the Security Council members voting in the affirmative. And so as a result, the Chinese and the Russians have been and continue to be spoilers of—leery of what the United States and others are trying to do.

MORA: I was just saying the Security Council is limited in its ability to respond because the permanent members need to vote in the—all in the affirmative. And with China and Russia basically supporting the Maduro regime or concerned about the intentions of the United States, the United Nations has not been able to act really in a forceful way, in a proactive way to finding a political or diplomatic solution in Venezuela.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Howard University.

Q: Can you hear me?

MORA: Yes, I do.

Q: Yeah. My name is Spencer Kelly. I’m a senior undergraduate student of international business at Howard University.

I know you mentioned the outbreaks of diseases in Venezuela. And my question to you is there—has there been any strategies in place about the heath disparities specifically in South America?

MORA: So, unfortunately not. The Red Cross and other international organizations have a presence and are providing some humanitarian aid. But it’s quite limited for the task or the overwhelming situation that Venezuela finds itself in. I’m afraid that the security situation as well as the political impasse has impeded other entities, and particularly the United Nations, providing aid in subsequent amounts to Venezuela. As I said earlier, the security situation is such that you have groups—non-state groups, some of them the FARC, which is a guerrilla group from Colombia that operates on the border within Venezuela. You have the so-called colectivos, or paramilitary groups, that roam certain urban and rural areas. And so you have to count on them, you have to even negotiate with them to be able to bring aid and assistance—medical assistance to those areas.

And so there hasn’t been, as far as I know, any effort to negotiate with these organizations to help in providing security. You cannot provide anything to any community without security. And at the core, the challenge today—and I would argue day one if there is a political transition is how do you restore order and stability to the country? Without that, you cannot truly address the humanitarian crisis.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Q: Hello. Yes. My question for you is do you think the migration from Venezuela is having negative effects on countries like Peru, that are experiencing their own problems in terms of claim of power of their leadership?

MORA: Yes, without question. More than the political—at least for now—the political, I think these countries, these economies, who are challenged already with being able to provide some services to their own people are now having to absorb growing numbers of Venezuelans. And so they have done their best. Certainly the Colombians are doing a Herculean job. But they are limited in their ability to do so. And so—and then it creates a political problem for them, because then there’s a sense of, well, we’re helping—we’re helping the Venezuelans. Well, what about our people who need X, Y, and Z? So it’s becoming a political problem from that standpoint. But at the core, the challenge for these governments is the lack of an absorptive capacity to respond to the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans who are arriving in the country.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Next question will come from Washington and Lee University.

Q: Hi. My question is that Venezuelans within our country face the issue of being neither the conventional definition of a refugee or of a migrant. And their classification is critical, because it determines how the international community treats them and whether or not the receive asylum, and various other issues. How does their nonconformity affect their treatment by other countries and by the international community? And can and should international organizations attempt to address their definition?

MORA: Yeah, so this is an important question. And there isn’t a consensus view on this. So each country is treating them differently. So the Peruvians are treating them as refugees, while the Colombians have a more amorphous sort of way of treating them, but they’re considered migrants. The point is that the expectation, and maybe it’s a false expectation, but the expectation is that the crisis in Venezuela will be solved soon, and these people now will be able to go back to their countries, right? So this is a very temporary thing that they’re trying to do to help the Venezuelan community. But after the crisis is resolved, they’ll be going back.

The problem with that assumption is that it’s not clear that the crisis will be solved in the short-term. And as we know from other cases, the longer a crisis holds—in other words, the longer individuals are in their—in these new countries, and they find a way of settling in and of addressing their needs—they’re less likely to leave Peru or Colombia back to Venezuela because in the short term Venezuela is going to be a huge governance challenge. So it’s unlikely that they’ll return in the short term, but that’s the expectation. And that is a huge challenge that they’re going to have to face because what if this crisis continues for another year, two years, even five years?

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from SIPI Community College.

Q: Hello. Can you hear me?

MORA: Yes, thank you.

Q: Yes. Hi. I am Victor Lopez, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

I was just wondering if you could expand a little bit on why the military is still in support of Maduro. And is it, like, the entire military, or are there just—(inaudible)—almost?

MORA: So, yes, happy to do so. So over the course of the Chavista regime the military has been sort of coopted and corrupted, as well as purged from elements viewed not to be sympathetic to the regime, OK? And that is a process that really started in 2002 and only accelerated and deepened for the following subsequent fifteen years or so. So this is a very different military than the one we’ve known—you know, we knew twenty years ago. The feeling within the military is that they have very few options.

There are no alternatives to the current regime. Many of them are involved in drug trafficking and other illicit or corrupt activities, right? And they always fear that any subsequent regime, any regime that might or government that might come after will prosecute them for human rights violations or for corruption. So many of them may not like the status quo, but they have few options because they’re suspicious or skeptical that the future regime, or future government, will allow them to continue operating or being an institution—that is to say, a military institution.

There are no signs that there are elements within the military or factions within the military that have tried or are thinking of turning against the regime. There hasn’t really yet been a rebellion or coup attempt, certainly since January when the crisis first started. And the last thing I would add is that in order to stage a coup or to overthrow a government, militaries need time to conspire. It is true that the level of counterintelligence within the Venezuelan military, much of it led or designed by the Cubans, is very sophisticated and very deep throughout the institution.

So any attempts or any conversation that militaries have or might have will be—or is feared, that those will be revealed to the government, to counterintelligence. And in fact, in the last eight or nine months there have been cases in which groups of the militaries have been arrested for—charged with one crime or another. And many of them thought to be conspiring against the regime. So there are a number of factors that are impeding, deterring the possibility and all the conditions required for the military to begin to turn against the regime. So it is unlikely I think, at least for now, that the military will be the solution to the answer or to the crisis in Venezuela.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from St. Edward’s University.

Q: Hello.

MORA: Yes.

Q: OK. So my question is, given Venezuela’s attempts to recently institutionalize and stockpile bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is this a serious option for them to pay off debt and bypass sanctions? Or in your opinion is there too much resistance from international banks and foreign influence? And if there is, what has to change so that that becomes a viable option?

MORA: So you’ve answered your own question in many ways. Yes, the answer is B. I think the Venezuelans don’t have the mechanisms or capabilities to take advantage of that mechanism. But more importantly, I think the international community has put so many restrictions around all kinds of financial interactions with the Venezuelan environment that it’s very difficult for them to use that vehicle to address their sort of economic challenges that they’re facing. It is certainly something that the regime has talked about, has tried to create an infrastructure for, but have not been success for the reasons that I think you’ve—that you have given. So I don’t see that as a viable way forward for the regime that they need in order to survive.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Northeastern University.

Q: Hi. I have a question regarding the core issue regarding, you know, what put Guaido—I’m sorry—in Maduro in place. Are we clear about what brought him to power, and what kind of keeps him in power within his country?

MORA: So he became sort of the appointed successor of Chavez when Chavez got sick and died of cancer. There have been subsequent two elections that have kept him sort of in a—at least from a legal standpoint, you know, as far as the Bolivarian government is concerned, has given him the legitimacy. Legitimacy that others, particularly outside of the country and inside of the country, don’t—do not recognize. Now, the question then is, OK, so in light of this crisis—of the humanitarian crisis, what explains the resilience of the regime, right, because it would be intuitive to say that economic—this level of economic crisis would bring down any regime.

Well, I don’t want to go into a lot of the research that has happened about this particular question, but it’s important to understand that poverty and economic crisis of this nature does not necessarily lead to regime change, right? In fact, regime change often occurs—you know, not including some kind of military intervention—occurs when the economy is sort of doing well and there is a sort of decline over time, but not a substantive decline that would impoverish the whole country. Because what happens in these situations is that people in a sense are trying to resolve their day-to-day finding enough food and medicine to survive in this environment, therefore do not have the space to conspire, to mobilize in ways that could produce regime change.

So in other words—and also in situations where individuals in these circumstances depend on the state for their livelihood, there is sort of these lunchboxes that the government gives, that creates a dependency on the state, right? And therefore, the state uses this dependency as a mechanism of social control, right? And so you put these things—these things together and it really adds to—not that the government is viewed as legitimacy. It’s only that it finds way in an impoverishing environment to sustain itself just enough to avoid collapse. And that, I think, is largely the reason why we don’t see regime change in situations that you would think would lead to collapse.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Fordham University. Fordham University, your line is live.

Q: Hello. Hello, my name is Andy Scobos. I’m actually from Venezuela as well.

I may have a question about the sanctions. You know, like, in your view, what is the effectiveness of the sanctions? You know, we have these examples in the past of Iran, Cuba, North Korea that the sanctions don’t play an important change in regime change. And we see the U.S., most of the work that they have done so far is related to sanctions, associated to sanctions. And it seems like the Maduro regime has other sources of revenue, such as China, Russia, and illegal sources such as drug trafficking or illegal mining, et cetera, it seems like so far they have been able to bypass or stay in power despite the sanctions. So why U.S. continue focusing on that? And what else can they do?

MORA: Yes, that is an important question, and one that I’ve actually worked on. So you’re absolutely right. If you look at all the work that’s been done on the effectiveness of sanctions in terms of helping a government or the international community achieve a desired objective, in fact sanctions—and especially sanctions on its own—do not work. They do not allow or help achieve the objective. They’re under—there are certain conditions when economic sanctions do work. And one is when they are multilateral and very comprehensive. There’s a few examples of that. It also depends on how—the degree to which the government—the target government is dependent on the international community to survive.

We’ve seen that, for example, in Cuba. You know, sixty years of sanctions. It hasn’t had the desired effect. United States continues with those sanctions even though there’s no evidence of effectiveness. And so the question then—it begs the question, so if history that this doesn’t work on its own, why do we keep doing it? And there, we get into, I think, domestic politics. I think the Trump administration understands that for now, at least, the talk of sanctions and the implementation of sanctions is popular with a certain constituency in a very important electoral state, which is the state of Florida, right? And so whenever the president announces or the administration announces sanctions, he gets an applause from the Venezuelan and others community in South Florida who want to punish Venezuela.

And of course, it’s clear why it’s important to deal or to confront the Maduro regime for its corruption and it’s human rights violations, but I think that despite the fact that these—this instrument, particularly if done by itself, does not work, the only—the only answer one can come up with as to why one keeps doing something that it doesn’t work, in the hope that, I guess, it will work in the future, it really has to do with electoral politics in Florida. And so it’s very unlikely that the Trump administration in the last—next thirteen to fourteen months will remove any sanctions. And in fact, will try to enhance sanctions if possible. Not because they are working, but because it’s still a popular electoral measure to take.

FASKIANOS: Great. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Georgetown University.

Q: Hi. My name is Daniel Harris. I’m calling from the Security Studies Program.

And I was wondering if you could speak about—to the bifurcation between Citgo and PDVSA, be it through Guaido seeking executive order to protect U.S. assets and then also through lobbying courts to approve his board of directors. Can you speak about how you think that will affect the sanctions program targeting PDVSA specifically?

MORA: So this is a more technical question. I’m not a lawyer. But I do understand that there are some legal problems in the way—or, challenges I should say—in the way that the United States is trying to deal with Citgo, or at least separate Citgo from PDVSA. This can be because there are, as I understand, certain investors—U.S. investors with respect to Citgo—that are impacted by potential sanctions or expropriation of Citgo. That is a legal challenge that I believe, and I may be wrong about this, is being challenged in the courts today. But I apologize. My depths on that technical legal issue isn’t what it should be. But you’re right to raise that question because it’s one of many other legal questions related to sanctions where we tend to be sanctioning and moving forward without thinking of the legal, political consequences of those sanctions.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Wheaton College.

Q: Hello. Can you hear me?

MORA: Yes.

Q: Yes. My name is Khadija Mojato and I work in the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department on campus.

And I’m working with a student who has people on her team creating a leadership program for students in Venezuela to teach them leadership skills and entrepreneurship skills, just to get them by through everyday life until the bigger crisis, that they have no control over, hopefully ends. The biggest issue that we’re facing right now is security in terms of the team that she’s working on—working with in Venezuela, and how to go around, you know, the mobs and the school and the government making her do it in such a strict way, when she wants to just basically give students tools to move forward. Do you have any suggestions or any bigger partner organizations that we can work with, or any tips to how we can overcome this issue?

MORA: I was saying that kudos to you and to the students who are not just working on this issue but working on the ground in this very difficult environment. I’ve been asked this question before, by the way, by private companies and others. And it’s a very challenging issue because of the breakdown of the social order, right? There are—can really provide you with the kind of security required for you to do this work. You have to sometimes contract in these colectivos or these armed non-state groups. But that, at least as I understand under U.S. law, is illegal. So you have to be careful with who you hire. The state is not in the condition, does not have the capacity to provide that kind of security. So you have to negotiate with these colectivos or small armed groups who will—who are involved in all kinds of illicit activities. And they would be shady partners, to say the least.

This is all—this is sort a very long answer to your question, but in the end of the day I think one has to be very careful when operating in Venezuela in terms of who you partner with to provide security. And it is likely only to get worse. Kidnappings are increasing or have been going up for some time. So I would only ask that you be careful in terms of how and what you do in Venezuela at this point.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you very much.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our next question will come from Monroe Community College.

Q: Hello. My name is Ruth Belton and I’m a student at Monroe Community College.

And I remember you talking about how inflation has increased to the tens and twenty thousands. And I was just wondering if the Maduro regime is eventually overthrown, how would the new government decrease the inflation rate? And how—if then, how would they stabilize it?

MORA: Yeah. So one of the things that happens when you have such high levels—and I think it’s up to beyond 20,000 percent now—is the economy starts to dollarize. So the currency, the Venezuelan currency, is worthless. And whatever you have today is worth less tomorrow. So the way to stabilize your financial situation in that kind of environment is to acquire dollars and to do business in dollars. So in the short term, what’s going to happen is increasingly, and even after the crisis, is that people are going to turn to the dollar as a way of stabilizing not only their financial situation or economic situation, but that of the economy. And that in a sense will bring inflation down because of the dollarization of the economy.

So any future government—and, by the way, the Juan Guaido group has a number of plans to deal with this. But in the short term, you’re going to have to remove, in a sense, or enhance the value of the currency by, I think, dollarizing the economy, at least for some time. Some economies did that in Latin America. As you know, Ecuador has a dollar economy. El Salvador has a dollar economy. But that will require, you know, lowering expenditures, lowering government expenditures. And that’s going to have a social consequence, right? People are not going to see the services that perhaps they expect from a new government. So this is going to be tricky. It’s an easy economic fix, but that has problematic social consequences—especially for a democratic government when it happens, where the expectations are going to be very high.

The task for any government that comes in the future will be enormous in the area of inflation, in the area of security, in the area of humanitarian assistance, et cetera. And in some ways people think that things will only get worse before they get better.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the University of New Mexico.

Q: Hello, can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Yes, your line is life.

MORA: Yes.

Q: OK. This is a graduate class in Latin American studies. Mostly masters students. We have a question from actually a Ph.D. student that’s with here in the class who’s from Venezuela. And he was wondering if you could speak to the long-term outcomes and impact on Venezuelan stability with the formation of highly skilled and armed foreign terrorist organizations.

MORA: Right. For some background, there are, in addition to Venezuelan armed groups there are also Colombian armed groups, paramilitaries as well as guerillas. The FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. You have the National Liberation Army of Colombia. And all of these groups, all these Colombian and Venezuelan armed groups, are involved or engaged in all sorts of illicit activity within Venezuela. What are those illicit activities? Well, of course, there is drug trafficking. They’re involved in illegal mining. They’re involved in kidnapping, et cetera. And I should also add that it is estimated that these armed groups, these Colombian armed groups, have a presence in half the states of Venezuela. So in a sense, you have these non-governed spaces in which these illicit groups, armed groups, domestic or foreign, are roaming around without any effort on the part of the state of control, manage, repress, neutralize, et cetera.

So this will become—again, this is only expanding the sort of security challenges a future government will face. The Colombians, of course, are—they’ve been very clear as to their concern about how Venezuela’s become a safe haven for Colombian guerilla forces attacking Colombia from the other side of the border, for example, and then going back into Venezuela. And of course, the Colombians can’t go into Venezuela in pursuit of these groups. So, again, this is another example of how the Venezuelan crisis, the governance crisis, is spilling over into other areas outside of Venezuela and affecting the security of its neighbors.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Rutgers Law School.

Q: Hello. My name is Pierre.

And I was wondering—I had one question about sanctions. And I just wanted to get your thoughts on possibly strategy, based on my limited understanding of the issue here. So I was wondering what you thought about the possibility of additional financial pressures, including things like secondary sanctions of more foreign-owned companies that do business in Venezuela, and also coupled with that the United States working with the Lima Group to bolster its capacity to impose sanctions on the Maduro regime..

MORA: Yes. Of course. A couple of things. You’re right that the secondary sanctions for the most part have not been implemented, although some are being—are being executed at the moment. There’s a problem, though, here, which is what is the purpose of sanctions? What’s the objective with sanctions? Is it to inflict enough or additional pain on the public so that they, then, turn against the regime? That has not happened. And it also means that you are now in some ways, even though the cause of the humanitarian crisis is because of the regime’s corruption and mismanagement, now the international community if they double down, if you will, on sanctions will then be at least partly to blame for the worsening of the economic and social conditions, right? And so the international community would be responsible, in part, for the humanitarian crisis. I am not sure if any countries want to go down that path.

Now, recently the Lima Group and countries that are supporting Guaido met at the OAS and invoked or are planning to invoke the Rio Treaty. Now, that’s an odd mechanism or vehicle to use because the Rio Treaty is an agreement from the late 1940s. It’s a collective security or collective defense arrangement, which basically—not unlike NATO—an attack on one country is then considered an attack on all. That is within the inter-American system. And they’re thinking of utilizing that as a way of bringing the Lima Group countries, giving them the legal framework to apply additional sanctions. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. It is a strange and off vehicle, legal instrument to use when it’s about collective defense, being used as a framework to impose additional sanctions. Not an international lawyer, but I find that a little suspect from an international law perspective.

But there is sort of a movement on the part of the United States to get the Latin Americans to apply sanctions on Venezuela the same why that the United States has done, and that they have not done in the last six months. But the danger here, again, is—or, the fear is that additional sanctions will only make the situation worse for normal Venezuelans in the country.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

MORA: Thank you. Our next question comes from Washington and Lee University.

Q: Hi. My name is Gabriel Worthington.

So the shortage of supplies and the inflation of those prices are pretty well documented. So to what extent are those shortages and the inflation a result of U.S. sanctions versus just the failure of the Venezuelan state?

MORA: I think up to now it has been a failure of the Venezuelan or the Maduro regime. Of their mismanagement, the corruption, the policies, et cetera. But we are getting to the point, as I said in my previous answer to the previous question, we are getting to the point where these additional sanctions that the United States has imposed, which are much more comprehensive than they’ve been in the past, and that the Latin American or the Lima Group might join in, will undoubtably only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. So there is—and a lot of people would say, well, no, it’s still the fault of the Maduro regime. Well, it is, but you’re imposing sanctions with what purpose? Again, what’s the objective? What’s the argument? What’s the theory of the case of sanctions?

Again, the theory of the case of sanctions is, and as I said much earlier I think it’s a flawed argument, but the theory of the case is that if you add additional pain, if you make the public suffer more they would then turn against the regime and overthrow the regime as a way of getting out of these sanctions. There’s no evidence to prove that assumption or that theory of the case. And ultimately, I think the United States, with time, will increasingly be blamed, perhaps unjustly, but increasingly be blamed for the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Georgetown University.

Q: Hi there, sir. Thank you so much for your time.

So photos recently came out a few days ago of Juan Guaido talking with a paramilitary—well-known paramilitary group of Colombia. And as well as the fact that when you speak with local Venezuelans or the Venezuelan diaspora, that they have become disillusioned with his empty promises and the fact that he only calls for demonstrations when they have black water in their homes, and they do not have electricity. So do you think that Guaido has the legitimacy and a capacity to be a leader for Venezuela? And do you think the international community in retrospect was too quick to call their support for him? Thank you.

MORA: Great series of questions there. But you are pointing out a problem, an increasing problem, which is that the opposition for some time has been at times more at war with itself than with the Maduro regime. The internal divisions, the jealousies, the fights that go on within the opposition is only weakening their efforts in—the overall effort in confronting the Maduro regime. And during the course of the six months, I think Guaido was quite popular. He had found a way of uniting the opposition in ways that we hadn’t seen before. But with the essentially now we’re going on the, what, ninth month of this, he is losing some of that support.

Now you ask did the international community get ahead of itself by supporting Guaido? Well, the problem was that there was no other options. There was consensus that the Maduro regime had become illegitimate, but there were no options or no individual or no group support in that effort within Venezuela to support in confronting the regime. And Guaido or, I should say, the National Assembly, using an article of the constitution that allowed the president of the National Assembly to assume the interim presidency if the presidency of the country was vacant—and they considered because Maduro was illegitimate in this new term for which he was inaugurated they found therefore that the presidency was vacant. So there was a legal framework that they followed.

And the international community thought that this was the best mechanism and way to deal with the crisis, because there were democratic forces that were united behind Guaido. And it offered the best chance for a solution. We can argue whether that calculation was the right one. I think it’s still early to make a judgement on this. But you are alluding to a growing problem that the opposition or the democratic forces are facing if the crisis continues.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from SIPI Community College.

Q: Hello. I’m Lurie Owen. I’m a communications instructor here.

Given the general turmoil that this has caused on Venezuelan society in general, what has been the direct effects on indigenous communities and people within the country?

MORA: It has been more pronounced. There have been incidents on the border with Brazil, just to give one example, where the regime tried to go and repress sort of opposition members or forces identified with Guaido who were sort of going back and forth between the Brazilian and the Venezuelan border. And they ran into some indigenous communities. They repressed those indigenous communities. What’s interesting is those indigenous communities then responded, but not with guns, but with actually bow and arrow, and killed some of the regime’s people who were down there. And so they are responding, and they are reacting to the crisis.

Now, what’s paradoxical perhaps, but some of these indigenous communities have a—have found ways of living in their sort of very remote and isolated ways better than Venezuelans in Caracas. They understand and they have remained largely untouched in their communities and have continued to live their lives the way they did in their sort of isolated areas. So though they have been impacted in some ways, what I thought was interesting is that the impact in some ways has been less than it has for citizens living in Caracas.

Now, some of them have experienced repression. And of course, that is something that they had not experienced the same way in the past. But they’re defending themselves. They’re reacting in ways that I find interesting and unique.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our final question come from Georgetown University.

Q: Hi. My name is Roland. I’m with the security studies program.

And I was wondering if there’s been any discussion of the U.S. reversing its current stance and supporting the Maduro regime, in order to ultimately provide more rapid humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people? Or is that completely politically unfeasible at this point?

MORA: Yeah. I would agree with that. I think it’s unfeasible. There are absolutely no signs that the United States is willing to accept the Maduro regime. Now, there has been conversations with the Maduro regime, you know, between Maduro and the United States. But it hasn’t been about the issue you just raised, which is how do we get humanitarian assistance into the country. As far as I know, I may be wrong, but as far as I know those conversations have not been had. They’ve been had mostly at the political level. They have not gone very far at the end, at the moment. I think increasingly, the United States, as this crisis drags on, will be forced to negotiate in a much more serious way with the Maduro regime as a way of finding a way out of the crisis, because it’s becoming politically challenging for the administration that this crisis continues. So we’ll see. But at the moment, no, I don’t see that possibility at all.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, Frank, for that. This may be an unfair question, but we are entering the election 2020. Have you seen any candidates on the Democratic side speaking out on this issue and offering different policy recommendations?

MORA: Yeah. There have been a few—(audio break)—the issue of Venezuela, and clear at least stating upfront about the humanitarian crisis, about the corruption, about the human rights violations. They’ve been very clear in referring to Maduro as a dictator, as a delegitimate president. And they have expressed to one degree or another support for Guaido. When it comes to solutions, there haven’t been many solutions coming from the candidates yet. Some were talking about a dialogue that would include the Maduro regime. Many of them are doubling down on the process of negotiation between Maduro and the democratic coalition forces. But beyond that, we haven’t—we haven’t seen much.

I suspect that when the Democrats do have their—(audio break)—that this question of Venezuela, if we’re still in the crisis, will be asked, and they will have to sort of give us a much more deeper, thorough analysis or recommendations as to what they would do if they were president, and if the crisis still ensues at that point.

FASKIANOS: Terrific. Thank you very much, Frank, for sharing your insights with us today. We really appreciate you taking all your time. And to all of you, for your great questions and comments. I encourage you to follow Frank Mora on Twitter at @FrankMora_FIU. Also we are tracking on our website, CFR.org, the foreign policy statements of the candidates. So I encourage you to go there to look at what the candidates have been saying on different issues. So we hope you will use that as a resource.

Our next call will be on Wednesday October 16th at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Elizabeth Economy, C.V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia studies at CFR will lead a conversation on “China’s Belt and Road Initiative.” So, again, thank you to Frank Mora and I hope you will also follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter, and come often to us for resources on foreign policy issues, as well as announcements on upcoming events. So thank you all.

MORA: Thank you.

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