[MY COMMENTS ON] O’Neil: Venezuela’s Collapse Has Further to Go

Today, Dr. Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow at the  Council on Foreign Relations, spoke on Bloomberg Surveillance about the situation in Venezuela. Below, I elaborate on my initial reactions to this interview.

Fearing defeat, the National Electoral Council (under President Maduro’s control) did not activate the gubernatorial elections and the recall referendum.

The opposition engaged in such “dialogue” with two publicly declared goals: 1) make the recall against president Maduro happen and 2) achieve the release of 71 political prisoners, including Mr. Leopoldo Lopez.

Unless any of those goals are accomplished, it looks like these talks will not result in a political solution (For more information, see my report Venezuela This Week).

Why the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) gave up the recall referendum and wants to wait until 2018? Venezuela’s opposition is divided into two main positions: The MUD prefers a pacific and electoral long-transition whereas another group, represented by Leopoldo Lopez, Maria Corina Machado and Diego Arria, insists on a constitutional referendum that could become a non-violent and electoral short-transition.

Who is right? Could a deeper humanitarian crisis and gross violation of human rights be prevented now? Is it permissible to tolerate famine and deaths -due to current economic crisis-, arguing this could save thousands of Venezuelans from a potential violent conflict?

Those who believe this dire situation must be stopped before it gets worse, would support Mr. Lopez’s approach. People who think that it will actually get worse if the opposition attempts to protest now on the streets instead of talking,  would bet on the MUD.

Since politicians behind the MUD want to be the main leaders of the opposition, it is understandable why they are willing to agree upon the government’s breaches of basic democratic rules as long as president Maduro orders the National Electoral Council to celebrate gubernatorial elections in 2017 and the presidential election in 2018.

However, would president Maduro agree to carry out any of said elections? The electoral calendar does not give him too much choice.

On the other hand, what if Chavismo accepts defeat in both, the gubernatorial elections and the presidential election? Apparently, the problem would be solved.

Nevertheless, facts show it will not be that easy. By avoiding the celebration of the gubernatorial elections and the recall referendum, this year, the government demonstrated it is not giving any advantage, no matter if it has to break constitutional rules to stay in power.

In the event Chavismo undertakes the elections, would them be free, fair and transparent? Would the attempt by the government to steal the elections end up in the bloodshed the Obama administration and the Vatican wanted to prevent?

As of today, the MUD is wining -and, of course, the government too. If initiatives like #SiHaySalida do not take off, president Maduro may be still ruling the country by 2018 -I give more details in my post When will Venezuela’s Maduro exit the presidency?

Mr. Trump might decide to have a dog in this fight. It is very tricky because his good intentions may end up helping Mr. Maduro, in case the Trump administration intervenes to help the wrong people oust president Maduro.

There is always a possibility that a popular uprising and/or Venezuela’s army intervention backfire, victimizing president Maduro.

The bottom line: At this stage, certain measures outside diplomatic boundaries could be more damaging than helpful.

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