As last Monday’s public holiday honouring the bicentenary of the death of gaucho independence hero Martín Miguel de Güemes might indicate, Latin American republics have been celebrating 200 years of independence at various times in recent years, while today this newspaper marks a much humbler milestone with the same number – this bumper publication marks our 200th edition extending over five calendar years. Although not necessarily at the forefront of this week’s Latin American news (Nicaragua would be more in line, given recent developments), Venezuela takes pride of place on the grounds that today’s edition perhaps uniquely carries interviews with both the men calling themselves president – our little message against polarisation while giving it full voice.
The first step in any dialogue (defined by the dictionary as “a reciprocal conversation between two or more persons”) is precisely what we are doing today, giving a direct voice to both sides, but while supremely important, this is clearly only a beginning to any solution. A means to an end, dialogue is by definition an open-ended process and thus does not carry any absolute value – something which this newspaper would instead attach to upholding human rights in the tradition of our predecessor, the Buenos Aires Herald. And on this point alone the solution of Venezuela’s crisis enters into a collision course, as indicated more than once by Juan Guaidó in today’s interview – the opposition leader recognised by many nations as caretaker president recognises the inevitability of negotiations while also insisting on the impossibility of impunity for human rights violations.
While it takes two to tango, the whole may be more than the sum of the parts in this dispute – not for nothing does that dictionary definition speak of “two or more persons.” The deadlock calls for a mediator and here a potential role for Argentina emerges. Yet a variety of third-party approaches has already been tried and none have anything to show for themselves – whether the confrontational approach of the Lima Group or Spanish ex-premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s continual quest for dialogue with little result or the sanctions which punish the long-suffering people so much more than Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly military élite.
But the key point is neither one method or another nor even negotiations as such but coming up with a concrete exit strategy. An exit strategy for the country as a whole but for Maduro in particular. Venezuela has been clearly unsustainable for at least the last six years with decline turning into free fall featuring the exodus of millions, the world’s highest inflation and the biggest collapse in modern economic history. But no matter how bad things become, Maduro will not take the way out unless there is one. In his individual case this may or may not be as simple as an air ticket to Cuba but there are also much wider questions concerning the country’s emergence from virtual dictatorship – should it follow the Chilean route of burying the past and moving towards a democratic government with constitutional limitations or should it emulate Argentina’s junta trials? All roads lead to free and fair elections but there are many roads thereafter.
Argentine mediation might even be good therapy for this country towards overcoming its own polarisation but of course, the prime objective must be to help Venezuela. Some might dismiss this idea from the start on the basis of this month’s confused reactions to the Nicaraguan crisis over the arbitrary arrest of opposition candidates (abstaining from condemning Nicaragua in both regional and international forums in contradiction with the government’s strong human rights rhetoric while recalling its ambassador), attributing these zigzags to a fragmented coalition or sheer incompetence or both, and nor would such critiques be invalid. But most of those inconsistencies have stemmed from consistency with Mexico (failing to understand that today’s Mexico is more a North than Latin American country). In any case all efforts to sort out such messy situations as Venezuela are doomed to be messy themselves.
Mediation would entail various risks for the government, aggravating tension between its anti-imperialist wing and the followers of the more pro-Washington Speaker Sergio Massa within the ruling coalition during an election campaign and any attempt may fall flat on its face. Argentina would have to iron out various double standards in its foreign policy to even be seen as fully credible as a mediator. But Venezuelans have suffered too much for the effort not to be made, not least in the name of human rights.