Photo Jonathan Blair

Friday, January 25, 2019

Canada's gamble on Venezuela

Looking bold towards Venezuela is not without risk. Listening to the brief reference to Venezuela by the "At Issue Panel" yesterday on CBC was interesting. Svend Robinson and Niki Ashton's denunciations of Canada's recognition of Juan Guaido's as the legitimate President by interim of Venezuela are obviously of a piece with their support for Latin dictators... of the Left. But that was predictable. What was more surprising, given the usual clear-sightedness of Coyne and Hebert, was their straightforward acceptance of the rationales for Guaido's claim and for Canada's decision to support it. This came, it must be pointed out, after a long discussion of the idiotic public declarations of John McCallum regarding Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, and about their implications for Canada's claim to be acting strictly within the boundaries of "the rule of law."

There is no doubt that Maduro is an authoritarian ruler who has manipulated his country's electoral process to get a second mandate. There is no doubt either that his regime is inept and corrupt and that Venezuelan's are paying the price for it. As such, however, he is part of a pretty large club, most of whose members have a cosy relationship with Canada. Among them, it must be pointed out, one finds those economically incompetent dictators that would have prevented any "National Assembly" to keep functioning or a potential challenger to the President to roam around freely and hold a meeting which tens of thousands could join without the military or the police preventing them (hello Niki Ashton's Cuba).

It is obviously easy to take strong stands on issues that have no bearing on us. But in this case, it may not even be true. ICG's Robert Malley's comment should apply to Canada --notwithstanding the apparent consensus of the mainstream commentariat about Canada's courageous stand.

“The administration’s posture toward Venezuela is a foreign policy gamble that in hindsight could look prescient” if Mr. Maduro is forced out “or reckless if that doesn’t happen,” said Rob Malley, the president of the International Crisis Group and a former aide to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “At that point, the ball will be squarely in the U.S. court, with the risk that it does little and displays impotence or, worse, intervenes militarily and demonstrates rashness.”

What exactly are we doing, or more precisely what exactly can we do, with allies or without, to make the Venezuelan military change their mind: Offer them guarantees that they won't be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court?  Promise that they can keep the millions of dollars they squirreled into offshore safe havens? Why not offer them refugee status if they are under threat by the new regime or its supports, which is very likely to happen, given their track record and the bitterness that pervades Venezuela's political arena. After all, isn't this what France did for Haiti's Duvalier when he was thrown out--if this can help the transition? And what do we do if, say, only half the military change their mind and an all-out armed confrontation explodes in the streets of Caracas?

I think Mexico and Uruguay found the right tone, along with the UN, when they proposed, in the face of Guaido's declaration, a new process of negotiation, "inclusive and credible." Mexico in particular--through President Lopez Obrado's spokesperson--, cleverly gave itself some space for manoeuver by stating that their position had not changed "for now" ("hasta el momento"). No such room for those who jumped the gun and basically ruled themselves out as "honest brokers." Germany and Spain also tried to use their power a bit more wisely, announcing that they would recognize Guaido unless new elections are announced, and it is trying to get the EU to adopt the same position.

But Canada decided to jump. Now, will we recognize Martin Fayulu if he declares himself President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, given the consensus of the international community about the illegitimacy of the December 30th election results? And which side will we pick when either of the likely winners of the Ukraine elections, Poroshenko or Timoshenko, is accused by her/his adversary, with plenty of evidence, of electoral fraud and corruption?

O'Malley is right: this is a gamble. I hope Freeland's will work, but I am not sure that I like the idea of gambling gaining ground as a diplomatic tactic.