Power struggle in Venezuela: a disunited Europe

Several European countries and institutions have joined the push for a changeover of power in Venezuela. They have recognised parliamentary speaker Juan Guaidó as interim president and set up a contact group with other Latin American countries. But the European states are far from united on the issue, which has prompted a lively discussion among commentators.

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L'Opinion (FR) /

Two camps clash

The crisis in Venezuela reveals a fundamental shift taking place in international relations, political scientist Frédéric Charillon writes in L'Opinion:

“One camp continues to believe (with a varying blend of sincerity and cynicism) in interventionism, regime changes and outside pressure to support local social preferences at home. ... The other, meanwhile, is convinced that the state currently in power is the only legitimate player, regardless of how mistaken or brutal it is, and of the fact that any foreign interference will result in chaos. ... So we're seeing a new paradigm change which has nothing to do with what some contemporary observers believe. It's almost philosophical, in fact, because it questions nothing less than the role of the state, the roots of legitimacy and the principles of international stability.”

Izvestia (RU) /

US fears it will be discredited

The contact group of EU and Latin American states that aims to negotiate with Maduro will convene for the first time on Thursday. Not everyone is happy about this, Izvestia observes:

“These negotiations under the EU aegis testify to the fact that the EU isn't pursuing the US line on toppling Maduro 100 percent (apart from certain countries, for example France). Some EU states like Italy are against any form of intervention in Venezuela's affairs. These negotiations will provide the Maduro government with a great stage for disseminating its legal position and discrediting the US. So it's clear that for the US any kind of negotiations - in the contact group or between Maduro and the opposition - are unfavourable. Washington will try to torpedo and discredit them.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Aversion to the rules of democracy

The Italian government does not recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. It hopes for a free and transparent election of the new president and respects the principle of self-determination, Rome announced on Monday. Columnist Gianni Riotta tries to explain this stance in La Stampa:

“Far from being two astute and pragmatic leaders, [Lega chief] Salvini and [Cinque Stelle chief] Di Maio are equally allergic to liberal ideas of democracy. ... The Lega has been moving in the sphere of Putin's Russia for a long time. And Putin was - first for the caudillo Chavez, then for his heir Maduro, model, boss and protector. As far as Cinque Stelle is concerned, from the very beginning it fuelled an impulsive aversion to the dialectic of democracy, coupled with a militant passion for strong men.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Venezuelans must correct their own mistakes

The Guardian warns vehemently against foreign intervention:

“The urge to help those in need is natural. Doing nothing can be painful and seem callous. But doing something rarely helps. Even states in political distress are sovereign. They must make and correct their own mistakes, and will be strengthened in doing so. The regime in Caracas faces possibly terminal domestic pressure. Outside intervention is its one best hope. How would we react if Maduro told us how to handle our Brexit mess, or Trump offered to build a wall down the Irish border?”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

EU must not side with Trump

The EU has come down on the wrong side, writes the pro-government paper Daily Sabah:

“Today, nobody will buy Trump's 'democratic motivations' for Venezuela. Since Chavez, Venezuela has had a long tradition of demonizing the neo-con administrations in the U.S. As a reaction, Venezuela has become almost a 'new Cuba' for the American right-wing. ... Therefore, the situation is very intricate, with every analyst concurring that the Venezuelan Army will have the last word. It was a very bad idea, on the part of the six EU countries, to align themselves with Trump by overlooking the EU solidarity and thinking that an ultimatum - bluntly rejected by Maduro - could help solve the existing problems.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

No hope without pressure from Europe

Criticism of US intervention or of those who recognise Guaidó as interim president is misguided, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“When the country lacks a legitimate president the parliamentary speaker must hold new elections as interim president. What's more, Guaidó is the highest-ranking democratically-elected politician. Secondly, this time it's not just the Americans acting on their own. ... Thirdly, so far no military force has been applied from abroad. ... It's clear that the Venezuelans can't get rid of their hunger-dictatorship by themselves since all the weapons are on Maduro's side. They depend on pressure from democratic countries if they want a glimmer of hope for the future.”

ABC (ES) /

Nothing to negotiate with the tyrant

EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Frederica Mogherini announced last week plans to found a contact group consisting of the UK, France, Germany, Bolivia and Ecuador to conduct negotiations with Maduro. ABC wants a clear stance:

“The recognition of Guaidó necessarily means a break with Chavism and all its consequences, which will require additional measures to accelerate Maduro's fall. You can't recognise Guaidó as the legitimate president yet continue to believe that there's anything to negotiate with the tyrant other than his leaving the country. Because otherwise the step announced yesterday could make the future of this ailing nation even more complicated. In this sense the negotiating process initiated in the so-called 'contact group' isn't exactly the best idea the high representative Federica Mogherini has come up with.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Guaidó should be scrutinised too

Just because Juan Guaidó is young and likeable that's no reason to support him unconditionally, the Süddeutsche Zeitung comments:

“Guaidó's backer Leopoldo López is a rabble-rouser who's under house arrest because the government holds him - no doubt not without reason - responsible for serious riots. ... What's more, Guaidó's stated reason for declaring himself president raises questions. He cites the constitution, which states that when the office of president is vacant in Venezuela, the parliamentary speaker automatically takes over until the next elections. But the president's seat is not empty. There can be no doubt that Maduro occupies the presidency due to irregularities in the 2018 elections. But is that sufficient reason to remove him from office?”

Malta Today (MT) /

Why US military intervention is unlikely

Malta Today explains why it is unlikely that Washington will intervene directly in Venezuela:

“To date, Maduro still has the backing of the armed forces, and he is likely to continue governing for as long as they are on his side. There have been suggestions that the Trump Administration may consider military action against Maduro’s government, but less than 20 percent of Venezuelans support foreign military intervention. In addition, Russia and China have been vocal in their support of Maduro, given their heavy investment in the country’s oil infrastructure in recent years they would strongly oppose any move by the US which lessens their influence in the country’s future.”

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (UA) /

US upping the economic pressure

The US is abusing Venezuela's dependency on exports, Andriy Karakuts of the Centre for Applied Sciences in Kyiv writes in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia:

“On January 29 Washington blocked all assets of the state oil company PDVSA in the US. At the same time the Trump administration prohibited American companies from doing business with Citgo, PDVSA's Texas-based subsidiary, because it's controlled by Maduro. This decision affects 40 to 45 percent of Venezuelan oil exports. ... In all, 95 percent of the Maduro regime's revenues come from energy resources. It's practically impossible for the country to compensate for the shortfall by selling to other buyers, since three-quarters of Venezuelan oil is heavy fuel oil. And that is mainly processed in the US.”

Le Point (FR) /

Supporting the right leader

Europe's support for Juan Guaidó is absolutely justified, Le Point finds:

“Maduro and those around him lost all democratic legitimation in 2017 when they had an 'alternative' parliament elected that excluded the opposition. This 'Constituent' Assembly has annexed the legislative competencies of the National Assembly which was elected in 2015 in the country's last half-way free elections. ... The president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, is currently the only legitimate leader. ... His courageous gesture has demonstrated that this is no longer just about poverty, hunger and hyperinflation but also power and democracy. The EU countries, first and foremost France, are right to support him. ”

Dimokratia (GR) /

Unsolicited interfering

The daily Dimokratia is annoyed by what it sees as the EU Parliament's interference in the Venezuelan conflict:

“In addition to all its other functions, the EU Parliament apparently serves as a 'substitute' for national parliaments. ... Without waiting for the decisions of the EU's national parliaments, the European Parliament has recognised Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela, thus interfering in the affairs of the Latin American country as well as indirectly ignoring any alternative stance that a European country might have. The main issue here is not so much the politics and the state of Venezuela itself, it's the Eurocrats' belief that they can do what they like anywhere in the world (from Yugoslavia in 1999 to Venezuela) without asking the people who live there first.”

The Economist (GB) /

Learn from the mistakes of the Arab Spring

Unless he received rapid and substantial foreign support Juan Guaidó would also fail as president, The Economist warns:

“The lesson from the Arab spring is that even a leader who starts by sweeping away a tyrant must bring improvements rapidly or risk losing support. The immediate priorities will be food and health care. The very fact of a new government will help stop hyperinflation, but Venezuela will also need real money from abroad - international lenders, including the IMF, should be generous. The to-do list is long: Venezuela will need to remove price controls and other distortions and build a social safety-net. It must restart the oil industry, which will entail welcoming foreign investment.”

Dilema Veche (RO) /

Guaidó will soon have the military's support too

The weekly Dilema Veche explains why opposition leader Guaidó has good chances of taking over power:

“Encouraged by the international support he has received, Juan Guaidó is now trying to chip away at the army's loyalty to Maduro. This isn't easy, but nor is it impossible: in recent years widespread poverty has prompted thousands of soldiers to leave the army and the national guard. Guaidó has promised amnesty to all functionaries and members of the military who back him. In addition he has called a demonstration for Saturday to convince the army to change sides and back the European ultimatum.”