In August, the Forum for American Leadership (FAL) issued a report on the Venezuelan negotiation process hosted by Mexico. We argued: first, that the Maduro regime has used all previous negotiation processes to distract from a real solution; second, that to prevent this, the United States and our allies must impose a cost for failure to meet benchmarks throughout the negotiation process; and third, that the United States must establish and maintain key sources of leverage, including its sectoral sanctions, until the successful conclusion of the negotiation process. Since then, the Maduro regime suspended the negotiations in Mexico in retaliation for the extradition to the United States from Cape Verde of Maduro’s money-man, Alex Saab. Further, Venezuela is making little progress on meeting key benchmarks.
Current Electoral Conditions
One of the key litmus tests of the regime’s willingness to return to a democratic path is the upcoming November 21 regional elections. Less than a month before the supposed “elections,” none of the essential conditions for free, fair, and transparent elections are in place, and the Maduro regime appears on track to leverage this process to tighten its grip on the Venezuelan people.
Municipal Elections Were Never the Solution
Even if conditions were present for democratic elections on November 21, local and regional elections will have no impact on the freedom of the Venezuelan people, nor on their access to humanitarian aid or the numerous other problems faced by the country today. Such problems require a national, presidential level solution. Municipal elections have accomplished a key Maduro regime objective: to distract the international community and divide the Venezuelan opposition. Instead of fighting for democracy with one national message, opposition leaders have focused on their own campaigns, confusing real opposition with regime loyalists merely disguised as opposition.
A landslide victory for the regime, which is a likely scenario, will further foster internal division among the opposition as they lose momentum, enthusiasm, and unity. This may trigger confusion in the lead up to January 5, 2022, the date when the opposition will need to decide who will lead the interim government when Juan Guaido’s tenure as President of the National Assembly ends.
What to Do
The United States was a key leader in calling attention to the humanitarian and human rights crises in Venezuela under the Trump administration, securing the commitment of over 60 countries to recognize the interim Presidency held by Juan Guaido and engaging in a maximum pressure campaign that crippled key sources of regime income. The Maduro regime, however, circumvented these sanctions by doubling down on generating income from illicit sources, like Venezuelan gold, and now believes the worst is behind it. To successfully shift regime behavior in favor of democracy, the United States needs to once again lead with strength. Actions can include:
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