By Beatrice E. Rangel
News about the potential initiation of a settlement dialogue in Venezuela came wearing -- like most recent news about that country -- the robes of controversy.
The opposition block known as MUD for its acronym in Spanish (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica) almost by unanimity voted no-confidence in its director for international affairs after he seemed to be leaning towards the easing of international pressure when the rest of the world is going the opposite direction.
Certainly, the international community, the people of Venezuela and organized opposition groups all agree that this is the time to exert pressure on the Government of Venezuela so that it sits at the negotiating table and agrees to a democratic solution to the humanitarian crisis engulfing the country.
The episode has triggered a debate among Venezuelans and interested foreigners on the relative value of dialogue as compared to letting the ongoing collapse proceed.
And while in Latin America’s recent past dialogue has helped abort armed conflicts that would have been devastating, some believe Venezuela’s institutional framework has degenerated to such a point that there is nothing to be kept.
Most observers however seem to side with negotiations given that a deteriorating regional environment could serve as fuel for a never ending conflict should the collapse proceed.
Those that side with a negotiated solution which demands as primary input a national dialogue seem to think that a violent conflict in Venezuela would soon take over Colombia and neighboring Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba and Barbados.
With this in mind, I think it is useful to analyze past regional experiences where dialogue has prevented conflict while strengthening the institutional framework. Two such occasions come to mind. The 1978 border dispute conflict between Argentina and Chile over the possession of Picton, Lennox and Nueva islands located at the Beagle Pass and the scope of the maritime jurisdiction associated with those islands; and the resolution of the Ecuador -Peru border dispute in 1995.
The Beagle crisis exploded when Argentina’s dictatorship concocted the operation Soberania to take over those islands disregarding an international arbitration of 1977 awarding the territory to Chile. The move came as the authoritarian regime was driving the country to economic prostration thereby facing a popularity crisis.
The Chilean military government led by Augusto Pinochet was well aware of the move and had mobilized all the army to the confrontation area. When war seemed to be inevitable, the Roman Pontiff, John Paul II, sent Cardinal Samoré to Buenos Aires to offer his good offices. The Argentinean government backed off well-informed of the popular support the Vatican had in an overwhelmingly Catholic Argentina. By January 1979 the Act of Montevideo signed by both countries formally launched the Papal mediation.
In the case of the Ecuador-Peru dispute an international committee provided good offices and through its mediation the dispute was settled through a peace treaty signed in 1998. The triggering event was the bombing by Ecuador of a Peruvian Army Guard Post located four kilometers from the borderline with Ecuador.
The attack occurred as diplomatic steps were being taken to settle the bilateral tension provoked when Ecuadorian and Peruvian military patrols exchanged fire on January 9 and 11, 1995.
With the mediation of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States, a peace treaty was negotiated and signed in 1998. The treaty turned out to be a road map to opening the borders and to building avenues for trade and development. Ever since, trade has acted as the best conduit for peace as it has grown from US$310M to US$1.2B from 1999 to 2010.
In contrast to these two experiences, there is Haiti where no mediation, treaty or even election seems to settle the domestic discord that prevails in that country -- virtually since 1810.
Haiti’s institutional framework continues to be weak and unable to aggregate interests and resolve disputes.
It further seems unable to establish the foundations for the rule of law to take hold.
Consequently, the country is submerged in poverty, violence and destitution as its economy is in constant collapse. Political fragmentation and economic mercantilism prevail among the elites, condemning the country to constant failure.
This brings us back to the Venezuelan momentum. Two things jump to our eyes.
First it will be virtually impossible for Venezuelans to build a consensus on their own.
The wounds run too deep in the heart and soul of the middle classes that have been subject to a slow motion process of dispossession and house arrest. These were hard-working people who had little or nothing to do with the works of the elites. They, however, are being severely punished for failing to share with the ruling clique their authoritarian mindset and their penchant for rampage of public assets.
The poor, on their part, felt better off at the beginning of the revolution and now think that the sudden deterioration in their living standards is attributable to the early death of the caudillo. Both abhor the current head of state and would like to sack him soon. But that is about it.
Second, no one seems to have a plan to pull the country out of its current predicament. President Maduro’s potential demise to abort chaos needs a negotiated road map to bring the country back on its feet. And that is where dialogue is essential.
But for this to happen, the government and the opposition need to agree and trust a mediator or committee of mediators that secures the occurrence of the recall referendum and brokers a road map to internal peace. For this to happen international and national pressures need to continue.Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.
For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.
You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.
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