Hope is not a foreign policy
When engaged in international relations a government must never base its policies on hope.
Hope seems to be the cornerstone of our extemporaneous foreign policy with regard to Venezuela. But foreign policy formulation means getting deep background briefings and an understanding of the complexities on both sides of foreign issues.
On the surface, the people of Venezuela need help badly and any tangible process that can deliver them assistance should get our support.
That is the end game on which right-thinking Bahamians find common ground with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Darren Henfield. But we part company on strategy to achieve this end. Henfield ought to know that hope is not a strategy.
Venezuela has been wracked for decades by entrenched racism, economic inequality and mega-corruption. Racism is deeply ingrained. Objecting to racism is how Hugo Chavez was elected president. Millions of poor black and brown people are the reason why Chavismo thrives today and it props up Chavez’s handpicked successor the hapless Nicolas Maduro.
Many white Venezuelans have long believed in the superiority of Europeans, and a conversation with them quickly descends into the recital of their blood line which goes back only to Spain with nary a detour through Africa.
When the oil riches came to Venezuela the professional and middle managers in the industry were all white, and the laborers were black or mixed. White Venezuelans are known at home as “miameros” because of their frequent shopping trips to Miami. In South Florida many own million-dollar homes in Weston, now rebranded “Westonzuela”. Poor people stand scant chance of getting a U.S. visa.
Massive disparity bred discontentment among the poor who demonstrated for a piece of the pie. The white government reacted with brutal military force against demonstrators. Poor Venezuelans remember this time from 1989 onward as their government acting against them in order to protect the wealthy and their foreign allies.
Chavez supporters were called monkeys by the press and the elite who loathed Chavez and his policies. Chavez brought poor black and mixed-race people out of the shadows, winning grassroots support for his socialist ideas.
Many of those most affected by economic hard times today are hanging on to Maduro because they fear the loss of dignity if the right wing took over. Some middle-class demonstrators in Venezuela today have only one goal – Maduro/Chavismo gone. But we hear not a peep from them on what policies they have to fix the deep problems in Venezuela.
It is well documented that right-wing elements are behind some of the violence and there have been brutal attacks on black and brown men and just about anybody they feel looks like a Chavista.
Enter Juan Guaido, the white president of the legislature that hates Maduro. Guaido is no saint, but he has always wanted to be Venezuela’s savior. Though young he has been involved in dirty politics for over a decade. In 2007 he was a student protesting against Chavez at a time when Chavez’s policies were benefiting the poor.
Guaido has always seen Chavez as a social inferior, a colored interloper from a poor family. When Chavez died Guaido doubled down his protests to topple Maduro.
To be clear, Maduro is inept at managing the economy, but the U.S.-led embargoes and the fall in oil prices after 2014 didn’t help the situation either. Today people are starving as Maduro has to account for his failed stewardship.
The previously fractured opposition won a legislative majority in 2015. Naturally, the incompetent Maduro overreached in reacting to the new power-sharing arrangement. Guaido thinks Maduro is a barbarian and Maduro thinks Guaido is an arrogant puppet. Guaido did declare himself “interim president” in an act of supreme arrogance.
As this political cauldron boiled over it was best for our foreign minister to stay neutral and to coordinate our foreign policy with CARICOM. A solid course of action is to make CARICOM an honest broker who could cajole the two sides – Maduro and the opposition – to the negotiating table to get compromises that would lead to a free and fair presidential election.
Bankrupted state companies need investments, institutions need to be revitalized after Maduro emasculated them. Private capital must be respected, stolen billions repatriated and corruption ended; but, likewise, assurances will have to be given that the Chavez-inspired advances by black and brown people in the new Venezuela would be respected and deepened.
This is a Venezuelan problem that must have a Venezuelan solution. Both sides have to compromise for the common good. If the Americans and the Europeans try to broker a deal, poor Venezuelans won’t respect it. If Cuba, China and Russia are involved then the upper classes will reject any deal out of hand.
CARICOM has wisely aligned with the secretary general of the United Nations and therefore has a pivotal role to play here. But as a group CARICOM must be beyond reproach. They must be seen as honest brokers.
Henfield gave up our leverage in CARICOM by unilaterally recognizing Guaido as interim president. Maduro will probably never sit at a bargaining table with Henfield.
Bahamian neoconservatives like the letter writer Kevin Evans seem to think that just because the U.S. and Europe supports Guaido that must be the right foreign policy for The Bahamas. And because Maduro has the support of Russia, China and Cuba then theirs must be the wrong policy.
Evans is presumably old enough to remember when The Bahamas was on the same side as Cuba, Russia and China in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. The U.S., Europe and others now aligned with Guaido were slow to follow our lead.
Evans should spend less time conjecturing on this writer’s identity and more time familiarizing himself with the backstory in Venezuela.
To Mr. Evans: I am not who you think I am. Nor who you want me to be. I am who I am.
– The Graduate