Venezuela: the right way to do regime change


Given the U.S. administration’s strong rhetoric against Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan dictatorship, it seems odd that the U.S. has not yet used many of the non-military arrows in its policy quiver, notes Meghan L. O’Sullivan, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. But sanctions are not necessarily the best approach, she writes for Bloomberg:

Looking back at South Africa, it is easy to forget that the only UN sanction imposed on the apartheid regime was an arms embargo. Most of the sanctions against Pretoria were not comprehensive; they were as diverse as the countries applying them. Even the U.S. was selective in the sanctions it imposed. It maintained diplomatic contact with the government of South Africa and allowed some economic links to continue. U.S. aid was not terminated, but instead, significant funds were channeled to civil society groups; it was one of the first U.S. assistance programs that openly embraced political objectives and did not go through the government.

Venezuela has a dubious backstory when it comes to paying sovereign debt (above). It’s tied with Ecuador for the most defaults since 1800, Bloomberg analysts Ben Bartenstein and Daniela Guzman add:

But for anyone betting that a default would catapult President Nicolas Maduro from office even as he holds on in the face of untold economic misery, here’s a more relevant marker: Not once on those 10 occasions, most recently in 2004, did a missed payment spur a change in government.

“In Latin America, especially, because many democracies are still very young, you see a strong association between a large economic crisis and the demise of political administrations,” said Martin Uribe, an economist at Columbia University. “But if the Maduro administration falls, was it the economic crisis or the weakness of the regime? It’s not easy to disentangle.”

The Matrix – Bolivarian Revolution Edition

In the latest episode of the CSIS Americas Program podcast, “35 West”, Richard Miles, Senior Fellow, Deputy Director, Americas Program; sits down with CSIS Associate Fellow Moises Rendon and Former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider to discuss post-Maduro scenarios and a planning matrix they developed for the international community. How has the political and economic situation changed recently in Venezuela? What is the impact of almost of million Venezuelan refugees in Colombia? And what happens when the regime falls?

If you have a question for Richard, email it to with “35 West” in the subject line.

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