Unlike the vague offers of dialogue and mediation offered by UNASUR and the Vatican, the region’s position must include a clear, credible list of punitive measures they will take, with a specific timeline, if the government does not take concrete measures to allow political competition and elections, and to stop political violence against protestors and members of the opposition. These could include trade sanctions, the cessation of assistance and loans, seizures of property owned by Maduro and his allies, and legal actions of their own.
Though they mirror U.S. efforts, such actions would show firm regional resolve and remove any prospect for Maduro and his top loyalists that they might preserve a future as national leaders. Obviously, they must also offer pathways for escape, perhaps to Cuba or to Russia as political refugees, protected from the long arm of U.S. law. Washington should accept this as a cost for achieving its strategic objective of regional stability. The United States can also offer critical help by offering logistical and material support for any crisis-response actions that are a part of those negotiations and their resolution. No other nation in the Americas can come close to the capacity of the U.S. military for mobilizing essential resources in times of emergency.
So the United States is still a key player, by virtue of the global reach of its legal, institutional actions endorsed by the lawful community of nations, and the unique capabilities of its military and government to mobilize resources. Its best path forward is to eschew assertive leadership and stand ready to support a partner-led regional response to the crisis. A successful resolution, led by Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and other partners, would dramatically bolster regional stability and security, as did the region’s resolution of the Peru-Ecuador border war in 1995. Then as now, U.S. national interests are best served by supporting a region-led effort to nudge—and if necessary, to shove—Venezuela toward a peaceful, lawful transition of power, and afterward a collective regional approach to the slow, difficult process of Venezuela’s recuperation as a democracy and a functioning state.
Ralph Espach is the director of Latin America Strategic Studies at CNA, a not-for-profit policy and operations analysis center in Arlington, Virginia. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government or U.S. Navy.
Image: Protests in Maracaibo, Venezuela, in 2014. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/María Alejandra Mora