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Editorial | Venezuela needs the hard graft of dialogue

Published:Saturday | January 26, 2019 | 12:00 AM

This newspaper doesn’t much like Nicolas Maduro. We believe his leadership of Venezuela has been incompetent and inept and that he has manipulated, and in some cases hijacked, the country’s democratic institutions to authoritarian ends.

But we also do not believe that Venezuela’s economic, political and constitutional crisis ought to be resolved by putsches and coup d’états, encouraged, if not instigated, from abroad, potentially leading to civil war and bloodshed. Which is what we fear is the trajectory, onto which Venezuela has been placed, following the declaration by Juan Guaido – with the backing of the United States and some other Western and Latin American countries – of himself as the interim president.

Jamaica should be wary of being drawn into being a supporter of this likely scenario, and thus having to bear the burden of its consequences.

There are reasons, however, to fear that Kingston could find itself in the midst of this fiasco. A fortnight ago, Jamaica announced that it would compulsorily, by legislative action, reacquire Venezuela’s 49 per cent share in the island’s Petrojam oil refinery, without, it appears, a full exercise of all dispute resolution mechanisms provided for in their shareholders’ agreement.

Days later, the Andrew Holness administration sided with 18 other members of the Organisation of America States (OAS) in not recognising the government of Nicolas Maduro, following his swearing-in for a second six-year term as president, having won controversial elections last May.

That position of not recognising the de facto, and, at least up to the point of that decision, de jure government, is difficult to reconcile with the Holness administration’s decision to maintain Jamaica’s embassy in Caracas and presumably continuing its engagement with Mr Muduro’s administration, including, presumably, negotiations on the status of Petrojam.

The situation has become decisively more complicated, with Mr Guaido’s naming of himself interim president, a step he is unlikely to have taken without consultations with key anti-Maduro members of the Lima Group and, critically, the endorsement of supporters like the United States and Canada.

Jamaica is yet to declare a definitive position on Mr Guaido’s action, saying only that it was closely monitoring the developments in Caracas.

The statement of foreign affairs minister Kamina Johnson Smith that Kingston’s concern was for the “well-being of the people of Venezuela, the maintenance of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law”, can be interpreted in any of several ways. And supporting Mr Guaido’s stance, as the United States has done, could be one of them.

Indeed, many analysts would perceive such a stance as in keeping with what they see as a reordering of Jamaica’s foreign policy to include shifts that, among other things, have taken Kingston close to Netanyahu’s Israel.

WORK WITH GLOBAL AND INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS

Among the dilemmas of Venezuela, however, is dislodging Mr Maduro’s constitutional legitimacy, which Jamaica clearly believes he doesn’t have, given its vote at the OAS, and his de facto control of the apparatus and institutions of the Venezuelan state.

Indeed, the armed forces of Venezuela insist that Mr Maduro is the legitimately elected president, to who they owe constitutional loyalty. Last week, the defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, a long-standing Maduro loyalist, branded Mr Guaido’s action as an “attempted coup” supported by foreign powers.

“It is not a civil war, a war between brothers that will solve the problems of Venezuela,” he said. “It is dialogue.”

We agree with General Padrino, assuming that the Venezuelan military will not readily lay down arms, or, en mass, declare loyalty to Mr Guaido. The danger in this is a return to the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s, during the Reagan era as America’s president.

In that regard, Jamaica’s best option is to work with global and international partners towards dialogue and a constitutional route to compromise in Venezuela, as it attempted to do in 2004 when a triumvirate of nations instigated a voice-of-Jacob-hand-of-Esau coup against Haiti’s Jen-Bertrand Aristide. This approach is often long, difficult and frustrating, but there is no better way, as the consequences that Haiti still pays for the short-circuiting of Jamaica’s attempt still attest.