During John Bolton's recent tenure as a national security adviser, he convinced President Trump that Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro was about to lose power. Mr. Bolton is said to have been the architect of the various failed attempts to dismiss President Maduro, a frequent target of Mr. Trump & # 39; s roar.
We now know that the fall of Mr. Maduro was not imminent. Instead, Mr Bolton bluffed against the senior military officials who were about to betray Mr Maduro; he bluffed about the number of people who would take to the streets in April to try to overthrow the Maduro regime; and he also seemed to believe that sanctions would work very quickly. But the most important thing was that his biggest mistake was to go in that direction without Plan B in case Plan A didn't work. In the end he only succeeded. To make Maduro stronger.
The best proof of this foreign policy debacle is that last week, for the first time since January, Mr Maduro traveled abroad and, logically enough, chose Moscow as his destination. He also won his first diplomatic victory in years last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, sufficient countries, including China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran and Mexico, to convince vote for a resolution to promote a peaceful solution the Venezuelan crisis without foreign interference, which must be taken with a grain of salt from Mr. Maduro. However, he was forced to accept the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate the most serious human rights violations in Venezuela. This setback will come back to pursue him.
Maduro also left the talks with the opposition in Barbados without serious consequences, another sign of his resilience. The absence of Plan B in Washington has enabled the Venezuelan dictator to survive his foreign and domestic opponents. This is almost reminiscent of Varkensbaai.
Today it seems Mr. Maduro further removed than he was a year ago. Despite the steady stream of refugees from the country – what has already reached four million – and a crumbling economy, the Venezuelan dictatorship continues to exist. The question now is whether a new path can finally be found by the so-called Lima group of Latin American democracies opposing Mr Maduro, the European Union, Washington and the United Nations human rights system.
The diplomatic approach to Venezuela must be thoughtful and systematic and patient. Plan B would consist of maintaining the course, continuing to exert pressure and refraining from generating false expectations due to impatience or bureaucratic struggles. Never shoot from the hip or improvisation again.
The sanction regime imposed by the United States, especially for oil-related transactions, whether financial or otherwise, must be strengthened to be effective. The European Union must also do its bit on sanctions, and the new foreign policy leader, Josep Borrell, should not hesitate. It is one thing for Norway to sponsor talks between the opposition and the Maduro regime; it is another for Europeans to get cold feet and accept Mr Maduro's grasp of power, despite the widespread human rights violations and clear illegality of his government.
The investigation into those violations, in Geneva and at the Organization of American States, must be performed with force. A devastating report by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, found more than 6,000 extrajudicial executions in Venezuela over the past five years; the fact-finding mission must do its work as quickly as possible, despite Mr Maduro's reluctance. There must be more specific case studies, more precise declarations and more individual responsibilities for human rights violations.
In September, 16 of the 19 countries that signed the Rio Convention, a regional security compact, voted to impose additional economic sanctions on Mr Maduro and his employees. Colombia, which has taken the initiative, has to put forward a better argument for his claims that Mr Maduro protects armed groups on his territory, than outdated or non-credited photos taken in Colombia.
Venezuela poses a real threat to regional peace and security, and further sanctions must be applied as a result of the vote. The Rio Treaty was never a great idea, but it can be used to enforce more sanctions than a military action.
Finally, if Cuba is again seriously besieged, a country on which Mr Maduro's continued existence depends entirely, for security and intelligence reasons, Havana must be tempted or pressured to understand that it must go. It probably never accepts quid pro quo, but nothing is lost when trying. Mr. Bolton forgot this & # 39; small & # 39; detail: without one carrot and stick approach for Cuba, there is no reason for Havana to be helpful. Raúl Castro, still first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and the strong man of the islandknow that Mr. Maduro won't last forever; the question is when is he willing to jump from one melting iceberg to another.
Several Latin American presidents recently urged Moscow and Beijing to work together with their efforts and to stop supporting the Venezuelan regime with money and vetoes with the United Nations Security Council. They may be the most useful way to convince Cubans that although the mold is up, there can be something in it if they contribute to Mr Maduro's departure and the planning of fast, free and internationally controlled elections.
Mr. Trump knows everything about quid pro quos, even if Mr. Bolton didn't know that. For all the wrong reasons, the American president has gained more influence over Havana by reversing almost all of Barack Obama's normalization. Now he should use it.
Jorge G. Castañeda, Mexico's Foreign Minister from 2000 to 2003, is a professor at New York University and a contributing writer.
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