France Loses Its Independent Policy Toward Venezuela
In Latin America, France is respected because it has been able to oppose the United States. De Gaulle, Mitterrand and Chirac contributed to the prestige of France with their independent policies. A rapprochement with Washington has made French diplomacy lose its specific character, it has become only another Western voice among others vis-à-vis Latin America.
14 février 2019
France, like many other European countries, decided to recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela following the refusal of Nicolas Maduro to organize early presidential elections. The EU countries presented an ultimatum to Venezuela’s controversial president, Nicolas Maduro, hoping to prompt new elections because of alleged fraud in the country’s May 2018 presidential election. He responded by quite a straightforward maneuver, saying that he was quite ready to hold elections, but not the presidential ones, alluding to his desire to control the National Assembly. However, Maduro’s United Socialist Party holds only 31 seats in the unicameral 167-seat National Assembly, which is led by a coalition of parties that oppose him, the Democratic Unity Roundtable. He has no chance. He could convince the Western and Latin American countries to accept his leadership if he announced simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, but he opted not to do so.
It may have been precipitous for France and other EU countries to immediately recognize Maduro’s opponent. This course of action seems to too closely mirror that of the United States, where Elliott Abrams has been appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Special Envoy to Venezuela. Abrams is a Reagan-era anti-communist who has played a key role in US interference in Latin America, including the Iran-Contra affair. He has allegedly helped several Central American military dictatorships, whose actions led to the death of 200,000 people. His close ties with National Security Advisor John Bolton deserve attention, especially when Trump is considering the possibility of a military intervention in Venezuela. This would only lead to the radicalization of the country’s rival factions.
The European countries were at first more inspired to follow the path proposed by Mexico and Uruguay, which are seeking to mediate in the conflict between Maduro and Guaidó; the latter refused. By attempting to act as mediators despite having already chosen a side, the European countries are somehow out of play. It’s almost certain that there will be no way out of the crisis as long as Maduro remains in power. It is also certain that his negotiated departure is necessary and the risk remains that Venezuelans will continue to flee the devastated country, which is sinking into a bottomless pit, if the army does not let Maduro go. A civil war or a confrontation would cause a lot of deaths. It is unfortunate that Europe did not want to take a more balanced alternative position.
Of course, the Lima group, which includes Canada and most Latin American countries, no longer recognizes Maduro and favors Guaidó. Europe would certainly have prevailed in an attempt to pursue a more independent policy, rather than marching in lockstep with the United States. It goes without saying that Donald Trump, who has made very harsh remarks against all Latin Americans, is not motivated to intervene by a desire to rescue the Venezuelan population, but by classic imperialist reasons, essentially reinforcing Maduro’s position. So to avoid violent conflict, Maduro’s departure should be organized as soon as possible; everyone seems to agree on this goal. But it is not certain what path the Europeans should take to achieve this more quickly.
Why did Macron take such a hard position? There are both domestic and foreign policy reasons, and both are questionable. Internationally, it is a way to get closer to Trump; meanwhile, disagreements between France and the United States are accumulating. However, is it necessary and/or useful? In Latin America, France is respected because it has been able to oppose the United States. De Gaulle, Mitterrand and Chirac contributed to the prestige of France with their independent policies. A rapprochement with Washington has made French diplomacy lose its specific character, it has become only another Western voice among others vis-à-vis Latin America.