Editorial | Avoid civil war in Venezuela
It is an increasing coincidence, some might claim, that every time something big is about to happen, or is taking place in Venezuela’s political crisis, Jamaica displays its disesteem for Nicolás Maduro.
In January, for instance, on the eve of the US-inspired vote at the Organization of American States (OAS) against recognising Mr Maduro’s new term as president, which Jamaica supported, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith announced the Government’s decision to forcibly reacquire Venezuela’s 49 per cent stake in the Petrojam oil refinery.
Last month, just as Prime Minister Andrew Holness was about to join three other like-minded Caribbean leaders for a summit with America’s Donald Trump, we voted at the OAS to seat the representative of Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s national assembly and self-declared interim president of the country, whose presidency Jamaica, paradoxically, claimed not to recognise. In the meantime, Jamaica has mothballed its embassy in Caracas and continues to host Venezuela’s in Kingston, which is headed by a diplomat appointed by, and apparently still loyal to, Mr Maduro.
Then on Tuesday, as Mr Guaidó and his political colleague, Leopoldo Lopez, supported by what seemed to be a relatively small contingent of soldiers, were attempting to foment what they termed a “peaceful rebellion” and which Mr Maduro called an “imperialist coup”, Prime Minister Holness was in Jamaica’s Parliament defending his Government’s policy on Venezuela and his decision to attend the summit with Mr Trump, which critics saw as an effort by the Americans to split the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Mr Holness insisted that Jamaica’s concern was for human rights in Venezuela and for free and fair elections, which Kingston says was not the case with the one last year, in which Mr Maduro was re-elected for a second seven-year term.
In the case of Tuesday’s event in the House, Mr Holness was meeting an obligation to respond to questions previously posed by the Opposition. The prime minister, would, no doubt agree that the timing was awkward as well as concede the danger of Kingston being perceived as being among the architects of Mr Guaidó’s adventure.
It could have gone very badly wrong. And still can.
Jamaica’s official position is that it is for a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis that it supports the CARICOM initiative, promoting dialogue between the parties and backing the region’s stance against foreign intervention in Venezuela. Those goals were far off before. They are more distant now.
Mr Maduro, at least for now, continues to have the support of the leadership of the military. Most of the top brass stood beside him as he claimed to have defeated the coup attempt but not before violent clashes between government and opposition members. We presume there were deaths.
Mr Guaidó, who, surprisingly, Mr Maduro has allowed to remain at large since his self-declared presidency, has called for continued protests. Mr Maduro has called for counter-action from his own supporters.
From the sidelines, Mr Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, without whose imprimatur Mr Guaidó is unlikely to have acted, have been urging the military to abandon Mr Maduro while praising the mutineers. Indeed, Mr Pompeo made it clear that America reserved the right to intervene to restore the peace.
“Military action is possible,” he said on US television. “If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.”
Such assertions echo America’s old style diplomacy in this hemisphere and a philosophy and optics with which Jamaica should not want to be associated. We may not much like Mr Maduro, but the principle of non-intervention, except in the most extreme situations, must be sacrosanct.
The peaceful resolution of crises such as exist in Venezuela is never easy. It requires hard work and patience, but it’s better than war and bloodshed, which Jamaica’s diplomacy used to, and still, we hope, appreciates.