-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — After several attempts to accelerate the overthrow of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, after the failed April 30 uprising, the unsuccessful take-over of the Carlota air base in Caracas, the liberation of chief dissident Leopoldo López and miscalculations by opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his allies, the Lima Group is changing its tactics.

The decision came after Maduro's repeated wins, the military high command's refusal to betray the president against opposition hopes, and the muddled, anemic mobilization on the streets, in spite of everything. Certainty about victory a few months back has given way to a more bitter, tactical and strategic rethink in the Lima Group, which hasn't hidden its desire to see the back of Venezuela's socialist regime.

Thus the Group's foreign ministers held a lengthy, closed-door meeting in Peru, without the frenzy of tweets or online statements but under the guidance of the United States, after which they reiterated their support for the Venezuelan opposition and its actions against Maduro's government. With a more realistic tone cleansed of the earlier, euphoric hopes for Maduro's immediate departure, the Group has landed back on earth and removed the element of haste and anxiety more typical of people negotiating not for a cause, but for their own interests. It is now contemplating what should have been a priority on its agenda from the start: a negotiated exit.

Is this a bid to return to classical diplomacy and a minimum level of common sense?

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, with members of the Venezuelan opposition, signed a joined communiqué. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected to contact the ministers but did not, for "technical problems." This might seem unusual when a subject of such importance to the White House was being discussed, but in these lands of magic realism, technical glitches could mean a change of strategy. The final declaration would suggest it.

Members agreed in Point Five of their declaration to propose to the International Contact Group an urgent meeting between envoys of both groups, to seek convergence on finding a way to restore democracy to Venezuela. It is the first time the Lima Group envisages moving closer to the International Contact Group consisting of Uruguay, Mexico, Bolivia, Costa Rica and several EU member states. Since a deterioration of the crisis in Venezuela, this group has been responsibly urging dialogue between the government and the opposition. Is this a bid to return to classical diplomacy and a minimum level of common sense?

Maduro, not going anywhere — Photo: OEA - OAS

In Point 11, Lima foreign ministers say they would take necessary steps for Cuba to take part in the possible dialogue. It is difficult to see Washington, which is just tightening sanctions against Cuba, accepting the Caribbean island's inclusion in any talks. So does this indicate an incipient divergence between the Lima Group and the U.S.?

The United States and Russia will be talking about Venezuela in coming days, and both countries still have in their hands important pieces of this strategic game designed to neutralize the possibility of a military intervention to restore democracy and rebuild Venezuela. Touting this is facile and underestimates the pain of millions of Venezuelans suffering from a humanitarian crisis not of their own making. Caught at a geo-strategic juncture, they may well ask, what is this democracy, and who is it for?

Hopefully, a change of strategy will trace a road map to regional peace.


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