Pres­i­dent on top in Venezuela cri­sis talks

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Cri­sis talks in Venezuela last week­end left Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro on top and the op­po­si­tion floun­der­ing in its bid to re­move him from power, an­a­lysts say. Here are five cards the so­cial­ist pres­i­dent holds to trump the op­po­si­tion dur­ing the Vatican-backed talks over the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

Block the Vote

The two sides vowed in a dec­la­ra­tion on Satur­day to find a “demo­cratic, peace­ful” way out of the cri­sis, tackle food short­ages and dis­cuss elec­toral re­form. But Maduro re­jected his ri­vals’ key de­mand for a vote on re­mov­ing him be­fore his term ex­pires in 2019. He has re­sisted pres­sure so far with the back­ing of the high court and elec­toral au­thor­i­ties, which the op­po­si­tion says he con­trols. “The MUD has been left in a very un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion with re­gard to its vot­ers, be­cause the most es­sen­tial is­sues are not men­tioned” in Satur­day’s dec­la­ra­tion, said Benigno Alar­con, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at An­dres Bello univer­sity.

Weak­ened Op­po­si­tion

To sit at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, the op­po­si­tion sus­pended its threat of street protests and a po­lit­i­cal trial against Maduro. The move brought to the sur­face di­vi­sions in the op­po­si­tion MUD coali­tion. Half of the 30 groups that make up the coali­tion have boy­cotted the talks. “As far as ap­pear­ances are con­cerned, the govern­ment clearly won this round by a knock­out,” said Luis Vi­cente de Leon, head of polling firm Datanal­i­sis. “It man­aged to calm peo­ple, con­firm its sta­tus as a ne­go­tia­tor with in­ter­na­tional in­volve­ment and ac­cen­tu­ate the di­vi­sions in the op­po­si­tion.”

In­ter­na­tional Cau­tion

Alar­con said Maduro had suc­cess­fully played for time. Stag­ing the talks has staved off pres­sure from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Mem­bers of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States have talked about sanc­tion­ing Venezuela. But while the di­a­logue is un­der way, “no one will call for that,” Alar­con said. Mean­while, “the op­po­si­tion finds it­self in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion given the fact that it is un­der im­mense pres­sure from the Vatican and in­ter­na­tional ac­tors to con­tinue talks,” the Eura­sia Group con­sul­tancy said.

Mil­i­tary Al­le­giance

With Maduro block­ing their drive for a vote, Alar­con judged that the op­po­si­tion “are go­ing to have no choice but to re­turn to a strat­egy of street protests and leg­isla­tive pres­sure,” which Maduro has so far re­sisted. Eura­sia judged that “the con­tin­u­a­tion of the di­a­logue bodes well for Maduro and re­in­forces our view that he will be able to re­main in power un­til the end of his term, bar­ring a more acute so­cial ex­plo­sion that brings masses to the streets.” Con­fronta­tion in the streets is a high-risk strat­egy for the op­po­si­tion, since Maduro has the pub­lic sup­port of the mil­i­tary high com­mand. MUD sec­re­tary gen­eral Je­sus Tor­re­alba ad­mit­ted on Mon­day that “when it comes to re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence, (Maduro) is in con­trol.”

Debt Cush­ion

The op­po­si­tion blames Maduro’s eco­nomic poli­cies and mis­man­age­ment for the cri­sis. He says it is a USbacked cap­i­tal­ist con­spir­acy. Eco­nomic an­a­lysts have won­dered whether the govern­ment will be top­pled if it de­faults on the bil­lions of dol­lars of debt Venezuela owes to China and other for­eign in­vestors. But last month PDVSA, the state firm that han­dles the oil ex­ports on which the coun­try re­lies, gained much-needed breath­ing room. It re­struc­tured 39 per­cent of its debt in a bond swap.

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