Spanish – Expectations about the relations between Washington and Caracas after January 20 are mounting. Dealing with a relationship worn out by more than a decade is not easy, especially when the goal of one side is to break a dictatorship, while the other side expects forgiveness of sanctions. Therefore, it is not in vain that analysts and experts raise the growing possibility of negotiation between Biden and Maduro.
Yes, Biden has been critical in his own way. That is true. He has referred to Maduro as a “dictator” on the few occasions he brings up the subject. However, his foreign policy on Venezuela may be as lukewarm as that of the Barack Obama administration when Biden was vice president, compared to that of President Donald Trump.
That’s when a particular name could come into play: US Congressman Gregory Meeks. This Democrat has had ties to the Venezuelan government for years. He met Nicolás Maduro in 2002 through Hugo Chávez when Maduro was just a deputy in the Venezuelan National Assembly.
The two went their separate ways in the politics of their countries. Maduro became the leader of the Venezuelan dictatorship, while Meeks ascended through the US House of Representatives to become the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
It is not yet clear what position the Biden administration will take on Venezuela, but it is clear that the Democratic Congressman can be a significant player for better or for worse. Although, according to his words, he seems to be more inclined to talk directly to Maduro.
Caution with the interim government
Although the interim government has tried to ingratiate itself with the Biden administration through communiqués and congratulations as opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his party colleague Leopoldo López did on social media, the truth is that the Democrat’s response has been restrained. At least that is how it is perceived.
Although diplomatic sources indeed confirmed the invitation of the interim ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, to Biden’s inauguration ceremony next Wednesday in Washington DC, according to Infobae, a fact that is cataloged as a recognition of the interim government on the one hand, on the other hand, there is also talk of a rapprochement with Maduro involving figures that supposedly are familiar. For example, Gregory Meeks.
Recently, Meeks offered an interview to the Associated Press where, in summary, he says he could mediate with Maduro if the Biden government and US allies agree. He did not mention anything about talking to the opposition.
It would not be the first time he has done so. He confesses that after Chávez’s funeral (which he attended on behalf of Barack Obama), he returned to Venezuela twice in an unreported mission to promote the exchange of ambassadors between both countries.
At that time, the Congressman took the opportunity to ask Maduro for the liberation of Leopoldo López. It did not help. Meeks says he left the meeting frustrated.
However, the scenario has changed. Today we should pay double attention because the Democratic administration also has to evaluate the interim government now that in these years, several cases of corruption have accumulated, facts that erode the image of Juan Guaidó before the US government.
Interim government setbacks that deserve American attention
The United States is attentive to these stumbling blocks of the interim, even if they don’t mention them out loud. It helps, it is true, but it also takes care of other fronts. For example, this year, it contributed 30 million dollars to defend democracy in Venezuela plus an additional five million dollars for health programs.
This amount is included in the general budget of the US government for the fiscal year 2021, a document signed by President Donald Trump. However, the journalist Joshua Goodman indicated that the US presidency had requested that the amount be 205 million USD for a possible transition that they believed would occur during this year.
The figure is supported by a document issued by the research area of the US Congress, with the aim of “supporting the transitional government, improving food security, strengthening the health system, stabilizing the energy sector, and promoting economic growth.”
Total aid to Venezuela would increase by 170 million USD (48%) compared to the FY 2020 estimate. However, the new numbers, which are too deflated, do not convey a good message.
What will happen between Biden and Maduro?
In Venezuela, they are cautious, not only Maduro but also Guaidó, whose recognition hangs by a thread because he is gradually losing support within his own party and other countries.
Nevertheless, Biden is struggling with this question, which he has not yet clarified. According to AP, the Democrat’s advisers say he has limited options for putting pressure on Maduro and that there are no plans to lift oil sanctions or drug trafficking charges.
The article adds that analysts expect him to reduce the rhetoric initiated by Trump, who raised his hand and made statements or took action for every abuse of the regime. The former vice president could resort to holding a “free and fair” election as soon as possible.
Although we know that in Venezuela, such a scenario is unlikely.
Mediation under the magnifying glass
“Maduro doesn’t trust his own shadow. But he might trust Gregory Meeks,” former Rep. Bill Delahunt told the news agency.
Supposedly Meeks will have a less condescending attitude towards the Venezuelan regime, he said. “There will be no softballs or reminiscing about the good old days,” Meeks said.
His words will remain in writing during Biden’s four-year administration. In his statements, the congressman said that if he became a mediator, he and Maduro would have “some real hard talks about what has taken place.” He could also include Cuba and Russia -countries allied with Chavismo- if the United States approves.
Both political figures -Maduro and Meeks- strengthened their relations through the Boston Group, a network of US and Venezuelan legislators formed to supposedly repair relations between those countries. One of their meetings took place in 2003, and the Organization of American States (OAS) reviewed that meeting.
Only vestiges of that group remain. Legislators on both sides have diminished to the point that few remain. In the short term, we will see what is left of the political relationship between Meeks and Maduro; and what the results will be for Venezuela.
*This article was written in collaboration with Milagros Boyer