It is time for the world to pick sides, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As the Venezuelan crisis has turned into the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in modern Latin American history, with millions of refugees pouring out across the region, presidents and prime ministers throughout the world have been doing just that.
Here is a map, continuously updated, that displays the foreign policy game, as Maduro and opposition leader (and to many interim president) Juan Guaido jockey for international support.
There is no question that the momentum is with Guaido. This past weekend dealt Maduro a devastating blow: the vast majority of European Union countries progressed from recognizing the National Assembly, to explicitly recognizing Guaido as interim president. Italy was the only major power that did not progress to full recognition; the Five Star Movement has a fundamentally non-interventionist orientation. Slovenia, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania have also maintained this “half measure” position. Other than that, the opposition now enjoys recognition from the powerful EU, with Spain, France, the UK, and Germany leading the way.
Russia and China have proved Maduro’s biggest backers, with Russia setting the tone for its fanaticism and belligerence.
But are Russia and China reconsidering their adamant support for the ever-increasingly-dictatorial Maduro? That could be the case. A recent piece in the Moscow Times suggest that Russia is growing increasingly worried about Maduro’s ability to retain power.
China appears to have softened its tone in recent days, and appears to have little appetite for actually going to bat for Maduro: their support is largely rhetorical, and more oriented to “non-intervention” than explicit backing of an individual who is increasingly taking on international pariah status.
This is a diplomatic battle that inherently reflects an increasing polarization of the world into two blocs: one marked by free markets, social liberties, and democracy, and another largely marked by authoritarian, socialist, Communist and/or Islamist governance.
This is it.
Where your respective government stands on the Venezuela question is likely to be extremely predictive of where they stand on other key issues of political, social, economic, and cultural freedom.
The list of Maduro’s backers reads like a “Who’s Who” of dictators, tyrants, autocrats, and lunatics: North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, China, Equitorial Guinea, Russia, Belarus, Palestine, Suriname, Laos…
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Fundamentally, the countries that back Maduro are doing so because they are ruled by tyrants: tyrants who believe that they should be able to run the economic and social life of their countries as they see fit: without democratic elections, without free market forces, without free trade, without freedoms for women, gays, transgenders, or religious or ethnic minorities.
We see this trend in China, where the Communist government is increasingly using forced removal and concentration camps to crack down on its restless Muslim population in its western provinces. We see this in Bolivia, where a president, in clear violation of the Constitution and a democratic referendum, is seeking to install himself as “president-for-life.” We see this in Turkey where Erdogan has trampled and suffocated what was once a thriving, secular, and liberal society. And we see this in “Europe’s last dictatorship” Belarus…where Lukashenko has no real reason to support Maduro, other than to give another dictator a proverbial “pat on the back” while tipping his cap once again to his foreign master Russia.
Guaido must now use all tools at his disposal to negotiate with Putin and Xi: is this a fool’s errand?
It could be. Then again, it is entirely possible that both autocratic leaders could be amenable to reason…Guaido could make a very clear and convincing case that Russia and China would actually fare better with him in power, than the hapless bumbling incompetent former bus driver.
Let us hope and pray that that happens. The future of 30 million Venezuelans depends on it.
Maduro may forever enjoy the backing of top Venezuelan military brass who have enriched themselves illicitly and extravagantly under two decades of Chavismo. But losing the support of Russia and China would likely deal Maduro a near-lethal blow, from which he could not recover.