Expert Igor Pshenichnikov, from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, on how Washington is trying use Norway to end the Venezuelan crisis.
Various foreign powers are making active attempts in Venezuela to establish a peaceful dialogue between the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro and the self-appointed “president,” Juan Guaidó. And this is the result: Maduro has shown a willingness to carry out early elections at the end of 2020 in the National Assembly, which is currently under the control of the opposition. What is this? A concession? A renunciation? Absolutely not.
The head of the government is staying ahead of and confidently intercepting Washington’s initiative, which has reached an impasse on the Venezuela issue and is, itself, feverishly searching for an exit that will not damage its image. For this, the U.S. is using a broad arsenal of behind-the-scenes diplomatic instruments, among which features, unexpectedly, a play on the ego of little Norway.
At the end of last week, ambassadors from the European Union “Contact Group,” (which brings together a series of European and Latin American countries) visited Caracas with the aim of finding a “peaceful and democratic solution to the current crisis” and finding “a possible way forward for a negotiated electoral path.” The mediators met with both parties to the conflict. In the final communiqué following the visit, the group expressed satisfaction that “both sides have shown willingness for a dialogue, the aim of which is a solution to the crisis through free elections.” This was followed by Maduro’s statement regarding the early parliamentary elections.
However, a few days before this, something more interesting happened. In Norway, with the mediation of diplomats, secret negotiations took place between senior representatives of the Venezuelan government and the opposition. They were secret until Maduro and Guaidó, themselves, confirmed that they were taking place. The minister of popular power for communication and information, Jorge Rodríguez, and the Miranda state governor, Héctor Rodríguez, represented the official authorities of Venezuela at the meeting in Oslo. The opposition delegation was made up of Gerardo Blyde, Fernando Martínez Mottola and Stalin González.
But the most intriguing thing is that, according to the Venezuelan portal AlNavío, which refers to sources in the opposition party “Popular Will,” the initiative to hold a dialogue with Maduro did not come from Guaidó (he, himself, belongs to Popular Will). It was, in fact, another member of the opposition who was the initiator of the dialogue: Leopoldo López, who, under strange circumstances, escaped house arrest on April 30, and is now at large.
The official spokesperson for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ingrid Kvammen Ekker, said, “Norway has been in contact with the parties to the Venezuelan crisis for some time and strongly encourages them to find a peaceful political solution to the conflict.” It is necessary to know what Norwegian diplomacy actually looks like: It is not based on words, but on actions. And the most important thing is that the Norwegian broadcasting company, NRK, according to sources, announced that “the country is leading [its] mediatory activity under the knowledge and consent of the U.S.”
This clears everything up: The U.S. is supporting Venezuela and gradually reducing the tension of the crisis, at the very least, until the 2020 presidential elections, by establishing a dialogue with Maduro. Moreover, it is circumventing Guaidó, whom, it seems, the U.S. is no longer seriously counting on.
Previously, the U.S. has ignored the efforts of the Contact Group, which publicly rejected the option of military intervention in Venezuela and took the course of a peaceful solution to the crisis. At that moment, a dialogue was not favorable for the United States, especially not on their terms. Therefore, Washington has been unable to join the efforts of the Latin group without losing face.
Today, at a point when the U.S. has come to an impasse regarding the situation in Venezuela, the emergence of some kind of credible and independent mediator, such as Norway (officially, Oslo incidentally did not recognize Guaidó as the lawful president), is quite a convenient way for the Americans to retreat without dropping the flag. The military operation, which Washington threatened at the beginning of the year, is today disadvantageous for Trump. On the eve of the American presidential elections, a sure failure of military action will throw a wrench in reelection plans for the head of the White House.
Having the peaceful mediation carried out by credible Norwegians is a very comfortable screen for the Americans, in that it is also advantageous for Oslo. In turn, Oslo can prove “the strength of its diplomacy” in the management of crisis situations, which it considers to be its “signature brand.” In the mid-1990s, Norway constructed secret negotiations in Oslo between Israelis and Palestinians, which led to the signing of a peace agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. A few years ago, Norway organized a peaceful dialogue in Colombia, which also led to peace, after half a century of partisan war in the country.
The peaceful mediation in Venezuela is a run-of-the-mill attempt of Norwegian diplomacy to take credit for the sake of raising its status as a diplomatic conciliator. The U.S. is skillfully using this Norwegian “weakness.” Be that as it may, it is better than military intervention. And, until then, Venezuela is winning. They have a respite until November 2020.