The new American plan for a Venezuelan transition looks great, but...

This news probably got lost in the shuffle for most of you because of that other thing that’s killing the news cycle, but we still have some foreign policy issues to deal with. One of them involves the rolling disaster that is Venezuela where the Nicolas Maduro brand of socialism has managed to collapse the once-thriving country into third world nation status. Is there a way to pull them out of this crisis? Maybe. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced a new plan this week that would see most of the sanctions on the country lifted and bring them back into the international fold. Of course, the plan relies on a few key points of progress which may strike observers as unlikely to say the least. (Associated Press)

The Trump administration is prepared to lift crippling sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government requiring both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to step aside in favor of a five-person governing council, U.S. officials said.

The one-page “Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela” was presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaidó that shows how growing concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American country’s already collapsed health system and economy, are reviving U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.

“This framework can provide a path that ends the suffering and opens the path to a brighter future for Venezuela,” said Pompeo in Washington.

Let’s go over the major details. And just to try to put a positive spin on something (anything!) this week, let’s start with the most promising features of the proposal.

First of all, the end result would be a lifting of all sanctions except the ones placed on specific individuals accused of “grave human rights abuses and drug trafficking.” This would include the lifting of sanctions on the nation’s oil industry. This is what Maduro desires more than anything these days, so it should be tempting. Further, Juan Guaido would not be eligible to be on the five-person council that would rule the nation until elections can be held. Being his chief rival, that’s designed to make Maduro more comfortable with it also. (Guaido would be eligible to run for President when the elections are held, however.)

As I said, those are the good parts. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the proposal is probably going be like poison in Maduro’s mouth. The first stipulation is that he would have to voluntarily step down as soon as the interim ruling council is formed. Can anyone honestly imagine that happening? Further, the plan calls for the initial four members of the council all to come from the opposition party that controls the National Assembly. Nobody from Maduro’s Socialist Party would be seated. Let’s call that strike two.

Finally, before any of this happens, Maduro would have to evict all foreign military assets from the country, including those from Russia and Cuba. Those troops and their military equipment are arguably the only things keeping Maduro in power some days. Why would he throw them out? Also, it’s not clear if Maduro could actually throw the Russians out at this point even if he wanted to. They might not want to leave.

Prospects for an agreement were rather dim before the conversation even got into gear. Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza released a statement saying that Maduro “never will betray the vote of confidence that the people gave him.” Of course, the vote of confidence in question is the obviously rigged election that Maduro held last time that generated months of demonstrations across the country.

As I suggested above, we’re obligated to make some sort of good faith effort to end the suffering of the people of Venezuela. With that in mind, developing and presenting a plan such as this one was not a waste of time. But in reality, it’s difficult to see Maduro even considering it for more than a moment. The only way he’s going to leave power at this point is if his own military turns on him, and we’ve seen no signs of movement in that direction to date.

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