Venezuela still trying to negotiate Maduro out of office?

The situation in Venezuela has mostly returned to its normal, dismal, awful state of decay since the failed effort to oust dictator Nicolas Maduro earlier this year. But behind the scenes, the opposition party that controls the National Congress is still attempting to achieve the same goal through non-violent means. Earlier negotiations between the two sides hosted in Norway last month failed to produce any concrete results, but now the talks have moved to Barbados. This next round also has yet to deliver any sort of agreement, but reports indicate that the opposition is trying to sweeten the deal a bit, perhaps going so far as to accept Maduro remaining in office until elections can be held. (Washington Post)

Publicly, the sides remain far apart. The Venezuelan government insists that U.S. and other international sanctions must be lifted, while opposition officials are demanding new and verifiable presidential elections and an end to what they call the “Maduro dictatorship.”

But privately, senior members of the opposition are internally debating an offer that some argue might help break the deadlock: the possibility that Maduro could temporarily remain in the presidency as new elections are mounted, if certain conditions are met. Some are even floating the notion that Maduro could run for reelection, calculating that his approval ratings are so low he has next to no chance of winning a free and fair race.

I’m all for a way to end the collapse of Venezuela without anyone having to go to war, but I think you have to be a bit skeptical about how these negotiations are playing out and the demands currently on the table. In terms of Maduro’s regime, they’re not offering much more than amnesty for the “enemies” of his government. And in return, they’re asking for U.S. and international sanctions to be lifted. I’m not sure if the tyrant realizes it, but the opposition party can’t lift those sanctions. They can ask the rest of the world to do so, but why would we when we get nothing in return?

It’s probably a sign of desperation on the part of the opposition that they’re putting so much on the table. Allowing Maduro to remain in office until the next elections would be generous indeed if they actually had a way to remove him if he refuses. But they already tried that and it didn’t work. Allowing him to run for another term is even trickier. They’re claiming that Maduro is so unpopular that he couldn’t possibly win another term in “a free and fair race.”

I don’t doubt that theory at all. But you’re assuming that it’s still possible to have a free and fair race in Venezuela. Maduro wasn’t very popular in the runup to the last elections but he still mysteriously found a way to win. And when one of the races in the next round of regional elections didn’t go his way, he invalidated it and made them do it over until he got the result he wanted. You’re dealing with a dictator who has absolutely no intention of giving up power.

Trying to cut a deal with Maduro’s government at this point seems like an exercise in futility. If he trades amnesty for everyone accepting him as president until the next elections, he can always revoke the amnesty later. (Or have his hand-picked judges on the Supreme Court do it for him.) And if it’s his government organizing and running the elections, well… you might consider just moving to Colombia as millions of others have already done.