US bets on aid gambit for Venezuela new government transition
Petroleumworld 02 08 2019
The US administration and its Latin American allies are hoping humanitarian aid deliveries to Venezuela will sway the country's military forces to back an interim government under acting president Juan Guaidó.
The US Agency for International Development has begun to ship assistance meant to alleviate shortages of food and medicine in the Opec country. The first truck deliveries arrived today in the border town of Cúcuta in Colombia, US and Colombian officials said.
"We are pre-positioning items so that they are available to reach Venezuelans in need in their own country as soon as that is safe and logistically possible," US State Department special envoy Elliott Abrams said today. "The US will mobilize and transport humanitarian aid for the people of Venezuela."
But the next steps depend on the willingness of the Venezuelan national guard that controls the border to allow the aid in. The presence of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees in the border towns where the food is awaiting transit could also complicate deliveries.
"It is probably correct that the Venezuelan army could prevent the international aid from reaching Venezuela," Abrams said. "We will be moving aid to the border with Venezuela in the hope that we will be able to get it in. I do not think we or the Colombians or Brazilians are planning to force it in."
Venezuela's sitting president Nicolas Maduro retains the loyalty of senior officers and control of military forces. Washington hopes the sight of aid will test how deep the loyalty lies among of the military's rank and file. The border guards blocked key arteries leading to Venezuela yesterday on Maduro's orders.
The aid deliveries — to be distributed by Guaido's government — are meant to bolster his authority and address the dire humanitarian needs that preceded the imposition of US sanctions on Venezuela's oil exports. But time is of essence as well. The sanctions — and the immediate financial squeeze they have imposed on Venezuela's treasury — already have sparked panic buying of gasoline and will accelerate the economic crisis in the country.
President Donald Trump and his senior aides have said all options are on the table to resolve the Venezuela crisis, including military action. But the Pentagon for now is focusing on protecting the lives of US diplomats and personnel inside Venezuela, admiral Craig Faller, who oversees US military operations in South America, told a Senate panel today.
Faller warned that the Venezuelan military is "a degraded force, but it is a force loyal to Maduro."
The prospect of a US military involvement has alarmed congressional Democrats. "Congress must be consulted if there is any military planning action beyond the current planning for the evacuation of US citizens and embassy personnel," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) said today.
The US administration is backing an amnesty offer for key members of the Maduro government and promised relief from US sanctions for senior officers who support Guaidó. Washington also has started talks with unnamed countries "to take members of the current illegitimate regime if it helps the transition," Abrams said.
But Maduro does not appear willing to step down. His government has seized on international offers of mediation from Russia, as well as the meeting organized today by Uruguay, Mexico and the EU with the purpose of establishing an "international contact group" to help negotiate a solution.
Abrams dismissed the effort. "Maduro has proven he will manipulate any calls for negotiations to his advantage."
Abrams said that the US has revoked visas for all members of the Venezuelan constituent assembly — an alternative parliament Maduro set up in 2017 to marginalize the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The constituent assembly is threatening to disband the National Assembly altogether, which would allow Maduro's forces to arrest Guaidó and his supporters.
A parallel effort to put together a long-term economic recovery plan for Venezuela under the IMF auspices is yet to start. Work on such assistance will have to wait an official recognition of Guaidó's authority, the IMF said. Maduro's government has not cooperated with the IMF since 2004.
The US, Canada, Australia and European governments that recognize Guaidó hold a majority of voting rights in the IMF. But the organization said it "will be guided by the members once they feel there is an established view."
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