Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid Rebuffed. Now What?
On Saturday, the world saw the horrific images of Maduro’s security forces shooting unarmed civilian volunteers carrying humanitarian aid from border distribution points into Venezuela for their desperate compatriots. What trucks did make it into Venezuela, were burned by the criminal regime, literally incinerating life-giving hope for the sick or hungry. It was not a pervasive bloodbath as some feared as a worst case scenario, but it was brutal: 100 military defections notwithstanding, it left no doubt that the Maduro regime will only go by force.
I said in my Friday interview on Voice of America that the choice of how events would unfold the next day, Saturday, would depend on Gen. Vladimir Padrino López. I was right. We hoped that he would off-ramp in the interest of avoiding participating in crimes against humanity and instead choose to flip, get his sanctions lifted, become a hero and enjoy at least some of his ill-gotten gains. Clearly, he feels staying in power is still in his best interest. It reminded me of what some military men said to me when I was in Caracas in May 2017 (during the protests): “We will get rid of the opposition and the Chavistas and keep the country for ourselves.” Let’s hope not, but with Guaidó in Colombia and Maduro without control of his GNB, worrying about this scenario is reasonable.
So how do we get out of this and move forward?
First, the Lima Group, the OAS and all the regional partners will assess the likelihood and effectiveness of escalating and militarizing the humanitarian aid. There is no question the people want it and need it, and they are being oppressed by a drug cartel that has usurped the levers of national power. So in these international diplomatic discussions of what next and how or if to escalate, look for invocations of the nearly moribund concept of R2P (responsibility to protect) — that is, to protect a population from its government when that government is committing crimes against humanity, which the OAS report from last year sustains. Look for those logical lines to be knit together in international law to support a more armed intervention.
While all that continues on the international scene, what can the Guaidó government do for itself?
Clearly, Padrino López needs greater disincentivization. Clearly, the Americans, through Treasury Department’s OFAC, haven’t seized enough of his assets. According to a preliminary analysis I have done with some of my friends who led the economic warfare campaign against Hezbollah and ISIS, we think OFAC has only found about 10% of what has been stolen. In a brief glance, we identified 212 PDVSA-related entities that are not under sanction. Each of these represents a rabbit hole for hidden money: money that rightly belongs to the Venezuelan people, that the Guaidó government could use to rebuild the country and provide that food, medicine and clean water Venezuelans so desperately need. It would also really tighten the noose on the oppressors. As I watched Saturday unfold, I thought: we clearly don’t have enough of Padrino López’s money and interests yet; if we did, he would have flipped.
So now the Guaidó government needs to be strategic and project its power. Concretely:
- Hire the private sector team with a long track record in aggressive asset recovery: if they nailed Hezbollah and ISIS, they can nail the Maduro regime. Guaidó’s team doing it for itself will not only greatly accelerate the process (much could be found in an initial three-month trial period for instance), but it will also vastly increase the amount of money returned to Venezuela. US laws provide for 25% whistleblower reward to go to Venezuela, but they are legally entitled to keep the rest. The Guaidó government should therefore have its own asset recovery program contracted to work solely for it.
- Appoint ambassadors to the world’s financial centers who have serious diplomatic and anti-illicit finance credibility. These will be the forward deployed operators who will take whatever information is uncovered and work local politicians and banks to find, freeze, and transfer those assets. For maximum effect, you want to choose ambassadors with strong personal ties to the cities in which they are deployed, with a high educational standard (including fluency in the local language) and media savvy, to drive cooperation when it stalls. Key appointments will be: London, Paris, Hong Kong, UAE.
There is no turning back.say all Venezuelan opposition leaders.
The 50+ countries who have recognized Guaidó cannot very well turn around now — after the horrific images of Saturday — and allow Maduro to stay in power. In fact, here is one more thing the international community can do to support human rights and the restoration of the rule of law in Venezuela: follow through with logical consistency, and expel the diplomatic corps working for the regime they don’t recognize and continues to flagrantly commit crimes against humanity. These expulsions would enable Guaidó’s diplomatic corps, armed with greater financial intelligence, to work effectively to end my compatriots’ suffering under the drug trafficking usurpers.
And then we might finally have a #VenezuelaLibre.
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