Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.



WOLA Podcast—The Transition: U.S. Credibility, Cooperation, and a Changed Tone

I thought it would be a good idea to record a few podcasts with colleagues at WOLA to talk about what this U.S. presidential transition means for Washington’s relations with Latin America. Here’s the first of what should be a series of four: more of an overall view of what Biden can do in a context of diminished U.S. standing and credibility in the region.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.

The United States is in the transition period between the Biden and Trump administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

The shift will be sharp in some ways, at least—but not across the board: even amid a changed tone, there may be some surprising continuities. And the United States, beset domestically with political polarization, human rights controversies, and mismanagement of a public health emergency, suffers from reduced influence and credibility in the region.

It’s a complex moment. Discussing it in this episode are WOLA’s President, Geoff Thale; Vice President for Programs Maureen Meyer; Director for Drug Policy and the Andes John Walsh; Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt; and Venezuela Program Assistant Kristin Martinez-Gugerli.

This is the first of a few discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. In coming weeks we plan to cover migration and border security; anti-corruption; and the state of human rights and democracy.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

“What Now in Venezuela?”

Screenshot: “Presidente Nicolás Maduro: He ordenado el inmediato retiro de la OEA”

Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organization of American States deepens the country’s political crisis still further. Meanwhile, at least three people died today in mounting protests against the country’s definitive turn toward authoritarianism.

It’s really hard to predict where this is headed. I found useful, though, a column published Monday by Luis Vicente León, a widely cited analyst who runs Venezuela’s Datanálisis polling firm.

León sees two scenarios. Here’s an English translation of the key excerpt. Highlights are mine.

The government’s “exit costs” are almost infinite, which makes it a sort of “kamikaze.” Added to this is the very low possibility of a successful negotiation to lower these exit costs, because the opposition still needs to perform two tasks in order to get there. First, it needs negotiating power, something to offer in exchange that is compelling enough for the government to either to accede or to find itself obligated to exit from power. Second, it needs a valid interlocutor, someone with enough internal control and power to commit the opposition to uncomfortable accords with a government that has explicitly violated its rights.

The first need can be filled with pressure from the street, which—rather than a single “epic” march—would have to become an unstoppable demonstration in all the country and of all the country, making the nation ungovernable. But this would still leave the second variable without a response: who can negotiate to lower the exit costs?

With this in mind, these are the two most probable scenarios.

1. One in which opposition pressure continues to grow, but the government remains willing to repress it brutally and tirelessly, even amid international repudiation and sanctions, because it sees only one outcome: that its leaders’ heads get cut off if they give in. With a military sector also committed to the government side, this scenario could be prolonged. This would lead to the formation of paramilitary and guerrilla groups around the country, which would become part of the nation’s everyday life—but with the government remaining in power.

2. Another in which pressure from the opposition reaches its maximum level and fractures Chavismo and the military internally, due to fear of what could happen to them in the future, with the likelihood of being held accountable for brutal and evident human rights violations. In this case, it will probably be the military that decides to seek and coordinate negotiations to reduce and control exit costs. That negotiation would take place with an opposition leader who has managed to capitalize on the struggle and become the unquestioned spokesperson for those pressing for change.

Here’s Luis Vicente León discussing this “exit costs” theme on a November 2016 WOLA panel.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.