Venezuela has arrived at a dead end. It is mired in misrule, socio-economic chaos, unchecked crime and a spiraling humanitarian catastrophe that is leading to steady exodus of its population. The immediate causes of these were shortages in food, water, electricity and medicine, as well as hyperinflation (3 million percent per year) in an economy that has shrunk by half since 2014. But the deeper-rooted cause is the tyranny exercised by the country's socialist regime, kept in power by the armed forces and Cuban intelligence, and methods that include arbitrary detentions, persecution and torture of opponents.
Its institutional situation is both grim and confusing. The National Assembly (elected in 2015, but with an opposition majority the government has declared invalid), announced in February that President Nicolás Maduro's present term was illegitimate and, citing the constitution, installed its Speaker Juan Guaidó as acting president in order to defy Maduro and hasten his downfall. More than 50 states recognize Guaidó as acting president, even as Maduro's government has just declared a ban from him holding any elected office. The country thus has two presidents, two legislatures and two supreme courts. In several countries of the Organization of American States (OAS), Venezuela has two ambassadors.
Venezuela is in deep crisis, with no clear end in sight — Photo: Juan Carlos Hernandez/ZUMA
With Guaidó"s arrival, some optimistically declared that the dictatorship would soon end and peace and democracy would be restored. They overlooked the grit and determination of regime supporters, senior army officers and Cuban agents to ensure Maduro retains power. Avoiding any genuine electoral contest, which they know they would lose, would force many of these regime supporters to go into exile or prison. The situation is one of total, suffocating uncertainty. Nobody knows when or how it might end. Still, hard thinking can help us imagine different scenarios, some that involve regime change and others that ensure continuity. These outcomes are not in any order of likelihood, nor necessarily exclusive. One or more could happen simultaneously.
1. The status quo prevails indefinitely, with a regime resisting calls for democratization or humanitarian aid, and forcefully retaining power in the manner of its Cuban mentors, with Russian and Chinese help. At the end of this presidential term, the regime calls a general election.
2. International sanctions spread to trading and financial transactions, and come to include an end to U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil. This curbs the regime's revenues (by 80%) or cuts them off entirely. The economy collapses.
3. The regime's ability to provide services, subsidize its reduced public support base and bribe army commanders is significantly reduced. This irritates regime pillars and undermines their loyalty. Implosion occurs or a street revolt breaks out involving mid-ranking officers who demand Maduro's resignation. Or, they depose the president and assume power.
4. Internal pressure and international isolation intensify, while Russia and China have growing doubts on the regime's viability. Guaidó"s domestic and outside popularity grows, as does his ability to mobilize the population and generate support or discontent among soldiers. The regime starts to wobble. Maduro negotiates with Guaidó, holding genuine elections with international observers, or resigning and peacefully leaving the country, with immunity or impunity for his supporters. Guaidó assumes the presidency properly and calls a general election.
Maduro asks for talks, and direct negotiations begin...
5. Repression intensifies and the humanitarian and migratory crises worsen. Clashes multiply on the border, increasingly affecting the security and stability of neighboring states. The Lima Group, with support from the United States and the European Union, asks the UN Security Council to authorize the organization of a humanitarian intervention force in the Responsibility to Protect framework. With or without UN approval, an Inter-American Humanitarian Force is formed under OAS aegis, and Guaidó authorizes its entry (Article 187 of the Venezuelan Constitution).
6. The United States boosts its commercial, financial and diplomatic blockade. Maduro asks for talks, and direct negotiations begin with the Trump administration to organize legitimate elections, or the departure of Maduro and his allies.
7. Army deserters (already 1,000) form an insurgent group with outside help (financing, advice and arms), to begin a rebellion and topple the government, like the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1990s.
8. Tensions and conflict grow on the borders, threatening regional stability. The United States intervenes unilaterally to dislodge the regime, in the manner of the invasions of Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989), with unpredictable consequences.
Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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