By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The only candidate that published a plan to defend democracy in Venezuela is now President-elect of the United States. What are the implications for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, trying to cling to power with more than 80% of the country against him? Analysts in the US and Caracas say that the Trump White House could undertake a more aggressive foreign policy against Venezuela, with sanctions included, while some see a new President focused more on domestic issues, bordering on isolationism.
“Now we can expect increased pressure from the US,” says Professor Greg Weeks, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & Public Administration at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. “Trump will probably impose sanctions” on Venezuela.
During the campaign, Trump made more references to Venezuela than Clinton, saying things like “Venezuela is a beautiful, vibrant, and resource-rich country, filled with amazing and hardworking people. But Venezuela has been run into the ground by socialists,” in September.
“The next President of the United States must stand in solidarity with all people oppressed in our hemisphere, and I will stand with the oppressed people of Venezuela yearning to be free,” Trump said in October.
On November 7th, the day before the elections and after his last Florida campaign stop, Trump posted in his Facebook account: “Today in Florida, I pledged to stand with the people of Cuba and Venezuela in their fight against oppression, and to help the people of Haiti to recover and rebuild, and to bring jobs and education to all the communities of Florida -- including Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Venezuelans and all Floridians”.
The President-elect retweeted that post on election day.
“Of course the wave of the North American sea quake will reach the Cuban and Venezuelan shores. How and when, I don’t know, but it will arrive,” theorized Venezuelan journalist and diplomat Leopoldo Castillo.TRUMP ONLY KNOWS
In Caracas, sanctions are also a hot topic after the Trump win.
“You can expect increased sanctions. I expect more international pressure in general. Even Obama has imposed sanctions on certain regime individuals. He [Trump] will be more active than Obama on the Venezuelan front. What type of sanctions however, well, Trump only knows,” said Luis Salamanca, a university professor and formerly a high ranking official with the CNE electoral board.
Like other analysts, Salamanca expects that President Trump will be different from Candidate Trump, but perhaps not when it comes to Venezuela. “A lot of what he promised is unrealistic, such as the Mexico wall. However, with Trump in the White House, the international scenario will be harder on Maduro. I see Trump eventually threatening to stop buying Venezuelan oil, if Maduro keeps up the gratuitous provocations.”
The day after Trump began his campaign -- with the infamous “rapists” comments -- Maduro called him some choice names: “Bandit”, “thief” and “Pelucon”, literally meaning “big wig”, a Colonial-era slur aimed at the ostensive rich. Venezuelan Forbes billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, for instance, gets also called “pelucon” by Maduro. A lot.
Trump's position on Venezuela was actually not dissimilar from that of Clinton, but Maduro made it personal.
“Maduro has tried to upstage Trump, calling him a big wig, a pelucon. I don’t think Trump will forget about that," says Salamanca. "I see Trump trying to swat Maduro. And I see Maduro acting more cautious from now on. Trump will make statements about Venezuela, but I don’t see it as the central theme of his presidency.”
Influential people in the region know the score. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was among the first to congratulate Trump in Spanish on his win, reminding him also of his commitments to the región: “Congratulations President Trump, narcoterrorism in Colombia and tyranny in Venezuela are the great enemies of our democracy.”IT IS ALREADY PRETTY BAD
Under Chavez and Maduro, U.S.-Venezuela relations have hit an all-time low. Both countries recalled their ambassadors and haven't had them in each other's country since 2010. A U.S. citizen, a Latter Day Saints Church missionary who came down to marry a Venezuelan mormon, is jailed on weapons charges in Caracas.
U.S. journalists have been expelled from the country and U.S. interests nationalized and expropriated, almost always without compensation. And Maduro’s very own CNN, international all-news TV station Telesur routinely referred to the President-elect as “Fascist Trump.”
And Trump has promised more confrontation. Days ago, during a campaign stop in Florida, Trump promised to implement regime change in Venezuela and its long-time ally Cuba. "With a victory in November everything will change, that change includes standing in solidarity with the suffering of the people of Cuba and Venezuela against the oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes," Trump said referring to Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Trump won Florida Tuesday, a state that had gone to the Democrats since 2008 and which Bush won with great pains in 2000.
It is telling that the one Venezuelan that worked closely with Trump, Miss Universe Alicia Machado, crossed camps and went to Hillary Clinton after a legendary feud centering on her being (according to Trump) overweight.
Leonardo Vivas thinks chavismo will be able to derive propaganda benefits from the Trump victory: “It will strengthen Maduro’s anti-USA stance, in tune with the ideoogical trappings of chavismo,” said the Venezuelan scholar, who lives and teaches at Boston universities. And Weeks warns that an overly aggressive strategy against Maduro by Trump could trigger support from other Latin American countries.
In spite of the previous Venezuela comments, lately the Trump campaign has published position statements saying the U.S. should abandon “nation building and regime change.”
With that perhaps in mind, Venezuela on Wednesday sent congratulations to President-elect Trump.
"We hope that the United States of America will be able to face the great economic, social and political challenges facing humanity, where its actions are important for world peace and stability," the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry wrote in a note, saying it hopes that President-elect Trump can advance "respectful bilateral political and diplomatic relations" and that this new chapter will be marked by "respect for non-intervention in internal affairs."