Talks with Venezuela as it sits on the brink

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Secretary of State John Kerry attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States last week.
Secretary of State John Kerry attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States last week. AP

The U.S. government is taking a tougher stance on Venezuela’s socialist government, but also offering to help rescue the country from its current economic crisis. Quite the juggling act.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced high-level talks will take place to ease tensions with Venezuela’s socialist government. This came just hours after he also backed calls for a referendum that could force President Nicolás Maduro from office. This president has dodged and bullied his way out of holding any vote on his future, so the United States must be prepared to play hardball.

“The United States joins the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, and others in the international community calling on the government of Venezuela to release political prisoners and respect freedom of expression and assembly,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Maduro, a tone-deaf and incompetent leader who has brought his country to the brink of chaos, last month declared a state of emergency granting himself pretty much full authority. Coupled with the colossal military exercises designed to intimidate the Venezuelan people, and it’s clear the president is out of ideas.

The latest round of talks would start immediately in Caracas. Last year, when relations between the two ideological foes were at their worst, dialogue attempts stalled.

The talks would also be aimed at fostering communication between Venezuela’s government and the opposition to carry out a “timely recall referendum that is part of the constitutional process,” Mr. Kerry added.

The regional body will debate the issue in Washington on June 23 and decide whether to apply the charter, introducing a gradual process that could lead to diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Venezuela and, ultimately, to its suspension from the OAS.

Therefore, it is more than appropriate that Washington press to seek a remedy to the crises in Venezuela. The humanitarian crisis has put the country on the brink of a popular revolt. Within a two-week period, three people died during riots as people clamor for food, medicine and other necessities.

These stunning shortages plague a once-rich oil-producing country that enjoyed high oil prices during the years of the Hugo Chávez administration.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez responded to Mr. Kerry’s concerns and demands by saying that the internal affairs of Venezuela are the business of Venezuelans. Not a very encouraging start, or one that’s very realistic.

If Venezuela’s condition deteriorates into chaos, the consequences will breach its borders. The international community, in this case the OAS, should take steps to contain it.

Mr. Almagro’s proposal and Mr. Kerry’s announcement are the logical responses to a political, economic and social crisis that Mr. Maduro’s government has been unable — and unwilling — to resolve.

In took Mr. Chávez 17 years to dismantle the productive apparatus that was once Venezuela. And Mr. Maduro seems hellbent on finishing the job. The era of astronomical oil profits is over, and now Venezuelans are paying for the lack of foresight of an administration that continues to make crude attempts to survive.

Mr. Kerry did well to demand becoming part of the solution, and Washington must continue to insist that Venezuelans be able to express themselves and define their future in a recall referendum.