Venezuela: From Weapons to Dissent in Oslo

Marco Teruggi

From guns to raproachment, the panorama has changed in Venezuela in just one month. At dawn on April 30 was the attempted military coup led publicly by Juan Guaidó, fugitive Leopoldo López, accompanied by several deputies of the National Assembly. Over the last few days, the stage has moved to the capital of Norway, where Chavismo and a sector of the opposition have held talks.

There is a direct correlation between the two moments. The political-military incapacity of 30 April forced the right wing to initiate a process of public recognition of the adversary in a space of dialogue. That morning’s plan did not succeed. What was it? Free López through the main gate, place him next to Guaidó in front of an uprising where barracks, high commanders of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB), and institutional sectors should be gathered, and unleash a wave of popular mobilization towards the Miraflores Palace.

The only thing that happened was López, Guaidó, some deputies and leaders, some forty men in arms, the head of the intelligence service, five thousand people in the streets, then a series of escapes to various embassies.

Speculation multiplied from there. One suggestion was that it had been a trap set by those who, according to Elliott Abrams – the U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela – had undertaken it. Abrams pointed out then that the commander in chief of FANB, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, and the chief of the Presidential Honour Guard were part of the scheme. A fifteen-point agreement existed, he said, that was never disseminated or confirmed, and neither was the supposed participation of those he mentioned. They appeared in their respective roles alongside Maduro.

The media allied to the attempt to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro openly questioned the April 30 operation. They questioned not only the Venezuelan right, but also the actors in Donald Trump’s administration and the internal tensions: the American president would be in favour of an exit with dialogue, while the John Bolton and Mike Pompeo axis would be willing to advance in military escalation.

The speculations, still present, were modified by the information about the first rapprochement in Norway, unofficially extended until it was accepted on 17 May. Guaidó was confronted with accusations from his ranks that he had travelled to Oslo without informing other opposition sectors and, consequently, with consideration of the possibility of modifying the order of the actions he promised from day one: cessation of usurpation, transitional government, free elections.

On 28 May the second rapprochement took place in Oslo. The self-proclaimed president delivered his speech as an ultimatum, bolstered by men from his Popular Will party, like Carlos Vecchio, a fugitive from justice, who said: “All options pass through Maduro’s exit. There would be nothing to negotiate except the form and destination of Maduro’s departure”.

On the 29th, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for maximum caution in the reservation of the results and reported in a communiqué that the meeting addressed economic, political and electoral issues.

The resolution would involve in part elections. On what authority, when and under what conditions? This is part of the debate with no consensus. The other central dimension is the economic one: Venezuela is an economy that has been blockaded by the United States that is attempting to asphyxiate. “It’s like in Star Wars, when Darth Vader strangles someone, that’s what we’re doing economically with the regime,” explained U.S. security advisor Bolton in a graphic way. The goal now is to strike at the epicenter of the government’s food plan to confront high prices: imported food for the Local Supply and Production Committees.

The government’s national political position provides it with a stronger negotiating power, while the economic situation indicates it is weaker. Data published by the Central Bank of Venezuela explain the difficulties: the contraction of GDP since the third quarter of 2013 by September 2018 reached 52.3%, inflation in 2015 was 180.9%, 274.4% in 2016, 862.6% in 2017, 130,060.2% in 2018. What margins does the government have with these numbers, an international economic and financial blockade and oil production that has not yet presented figures of productive recovery?

Guaidó announced that no agreement had been reached in Norway and that he had received a call from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to lend his support. The government, through the Minister of Communication Jorge Rodríguez, who participated in both Oslo meetings, affirmed that they will continue working “for peace, harmony, democracy and the defense of the Constitution”, in continuity with Maduro’s commitment to dialogue on behalf of Chavismo, which he explained: “it was very difficult to arrive in Norway, after several months of secret conversations”. The President said: “Be brave, and tell them the truth”, in reference to Oslo.

If the right wing that went to Norway under US directives, abandons the incipient dialogue, will it return to guns or a scenario of escalating violence? Only Maduro’s exit will be accepted. The point is that to negotiate means, among other things, to yield.