Biden’s support for Guaidó and sanctions could stress Venezuela relations from the off

JOE Biden’s previous endorsement of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó will make it difficult to engage with Nicolas Maduro, an expert has said.

Last year the President-Elect was one of the first to endorse Mr Guaidó, and has since labelled Mr Maduro “a tyrant, who has stolen elections, abused his authority, allowed his cronies to enrich themselves, and denied the delivery of food and medicine to the people he claims to lead.”

Biden tried and failed to gain Latino voters, taking an ardent anti-socialist line during the election.

Instead, he lost them in the primary to Bernie Sanders as he was out-flanked from the left, and couldn’t keep up with Trump steaming in from the right.

It means the Biden administration will need to take a step back once in office, according to Professor Daniel Hellinger of Webster University.

He told Redaction Politics: “Biden made a major show of endorsing Juan Guaidó during his campaign, undoubtedly hoping to contest for votes in Florida. That didn’t work out so well, did it?

“Now, I do not expect much administration engagement with Guaidó, partly because he has lost the confidence of most of the opposition within Venezuela.

“The new administration is going to have to face the reality that Guaidó main base of support is now in the Venezuelan diaspora in the US, not in his own country.”

John Bolton has revealed that Trump mused military intervention in Venezuela throughout his tenure, only to be put off by less hawkish security officials.

READ MORE: US military intervention in Venezuela will be an act of self-sabotage for Trump

Biden criticised the Trump administration for using the crisis ” to rally domestic political support than in seeking practical ways to effect democratic change in Venezuela”, indicating that his premiership will be more hands-on in Latin America – but not with boots on the ground.

“I think it likely that the Biden administration will shift to promoting unity in the opposition forces in Venezuela though so-called ‘democracy promotion’,” Professor Hellinger said.

“This is a form of intervention, but invasion will be off the table.”

“I also think that the administration is likely to work multilaterally through the Lima group of Latin American nations.  

“The Trump administration also took this approach, but changes in political climate in Peru and Bolivia and the region’s desire to deal with the out-migration of Venezuelans would align with less emphasis on promoting a military coup and more emphasis on negotiations between the opposition and Maduro administration.”

Biden has consistently promoted sanctions on Venezuelan officials – but it is the economic strangle on Venezuela’s state oil company that is decimating the economy.

As such, Professor Hellinger suggested, Biden could make a “humanitarian concession” in order to get both sides to the table. Mr Maduro has already said he would like to resume a “decent dialogue” with a Biden administration.

This isn’t guaranteed, however. In October Biden’s advisers said he would not talk to Maduro without significant changes.

Juan Gonzalez told the Miami Herald: “In 2015, Maduro proposed to have a dialogue with the White House. Biden’s response at the moment was, ‘You don’t need to talk to us, you need to talk to your own people.

“If you’re serious about doing something you have to release all political prisoners, engage in real dialogue with the opposition and put measures in place to prevent an economic collapse.’”

This sort of aggression as an opening gambit would be ill-advised, according to Professor Hellinger.

“The situation in Venezuela today is quite different than it was in 2015, when the opposition thought a military coup against Maduro was imminent and the full depth of the economic crisis had not yet been reached,” he said.

“Dialogue is more likely to take place on a lower level and through multilateral engagement.”

Daniel Hellinger is Professor of International Relations at Webster University and has just completed the third edition of his text, Comparative Politics of Latin America: Can Democracy Last?

Featured Image: Alexcocopro @WikimediaCommons

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