Maduro Off the Ropes and Straight to Mexico

VA columnist Ociel López looks at the importance of Maduro’s presence at the CELAC Summit in Mexico last week.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held its sixth presidential summit in Mexico City on September 18. It was attended by eighteen heads of state, two vice presidents and a plethora of delegations from all member countries except Brazil, which excluded itself from the body in 2020.

Simply put, the summit turned out to be a harsh setback for the political set-up that Trump had designed for Latin America.

The summit’s main issue was Venezuela and the figure of President Nicolás Maduro. This was not because some naïve observer asked where [opposition leader] Juan Guaidó was when the event’s presidential photo was taken, but because Maduro’s mere presence represented another failure in the ongoing attempts to criminalize the Venezuelan government and use it as leverage for ideological positioning. This leverage has been successfully enforced since 2019, when the region was divided between those that recognize Maduro and those that recognize Guaidó [as Venezuela’s head of state], with the majority in Latin American favoring the latter.

However, in a matter of months, the Lima Group [regional right-wing bloc of governments backing Guaidó] has received its death sentence at the hands of the new Peruvian president Pedro Castillo. Only this ad-hoc alliance’s grandiloquent, though ineffective, rhetoric can now be remembered, while an enormous number of meetings and statements can be forgotten.

Looking at the CELAC summit, only a handful of attacks against Venezuela remain from the strong majority once seen in the region (now in the form of ‘abstained votes’ from Uruguay and Paraguay Presidents Lacalle Pou and Abdo Benítez, respectively). These right-wing governments looked on in earnest at the summit’s moderately balanced ideology, and at its inclusive “family” photo.

Furthermore, Maduro’s triumphant presence in the photo must have been received with a sour taste by the chagrined founders of the Lima Group.

The CELAC ̶ led by [Mexican President] Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) ̶ has returned Maduro to the concert of nations after the Venezuelan president passed through a vast diplomatic desert, lifting him off the ropes and shaking him off before the world.

The continent’s radical right (encouraged by US Republicans), has observed this summit as the undoing of at least five years of political work. Maduro’s enemies still can’t believe it, and Colombian President Iván Duque has been especially left out in the cold with his high level of bellicosity towards the Venezuelan government.

When the “interim government” of Guaidó began in 2019, Duque and [Chilean President Sebastián] Piñera “enlisted” to lead a pre-war action for the entry of “humanitarian aid” on the Venezuelan border (a crisis about which they never spoke again). They thought that Maduro “was on his way out.”

Now it turns out that he who appears in the summit’s photo is Maduro alongside 17 heads of state, and not Presidents Duque and Piñera, or Bolsonaro for that matter. In addition, all three are facing presidential elections in 2021 or 2022, and changes of course and the end of their mandates are expected. On the other hand, Maduro’s presidential term lasts until 2024, with an increasingly clear path.

Back in the game

Since at least 2017, Maduro has lost significant capacity to displace his political foes. Accused of the worst possible crimes including “narcoterrorism” (although his accusers never took it upon themselves to present evidence) by the US and its allies, Washington’s officials have spread reward-ridden “wanted” signs around the globe as if it were the Wild West. At the same time, reports from the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Criminal Court have made Maduro the object of international attention.

All this has come at a high cost for Venezuela, which has suffered the onslaught of a blockade and international threats that seek to weaken Maduro. However these actions have ended up strengthening Maduro and hitting the most vulnerable sectors of the population instead.

So now, after being fenced in for years, Maduro sits at the table and challenges his detractors to a debate.

AMLO has unexpectedly become Maduro’s best ally, and will accompany him until the end of his second term since both have more or less three years left on their constitutional mandates.

The Mexican president’s regional leadership, which has increased greatly with this summit, could mean a potential sponsorship for Venezuela’s 2024 presidential election. That would prevent an international boycott like the one seen in 2018. If so, AMLO’s recognition of the 2024 presidential elections in Venezuela (and with him a set of governments) may open the floodgates of an electoral solution to the Venezuelan crisis.

The Mexican president’s leadership and his position regarding Venezuela also makes it easier for Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America to resume diplomatic ties with Venezuela. In return, the Venezuelan government will have a harder time reinforcing its electoral advantage by applying measures against opposition political actors due to the now watchful international community, which expects a peaceful way out of the blocked political map.

In any case, possibilities for Venezuela’s normalization in the political and electoral path open up for both internal and external actors.

With Maduro in the CELAC, the opposition has been hit hard. His presence in Mexico erodes the imaginary idea of a “narcoterrorist” hidden away and persecuted by international justice and relegates the image to historical social media debates.

At the negotiation table, this is also a blow to the radical sectors that will be weakened when it comes to imposing conditions. However, Maduro’s opening up to the international arena also helps to guarantee their dialogue with the Venezuelan government and potentially raises the chances of new presidential elections with both sides participating in due course. As such, in the long run, the CELAC meeting may end up favoring the moderate opposition that has placed their bets on the electoral path and is consolidating relationships of trust in order to reach concrete agreements at the negotiating table, which not by chance, is also set in Mexico.

Ociel Alí López is a Venezuelan researcher who has published numerous written and multimedia works. He analyzes Venezuelan society for several European and Latin American media outlets. He is also co-founder of the alternative state television station Avila TV and recipient of the CLACSO/ASDI research prize and the Luis Britto García literature award.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.