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Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized
Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized
Report 181 / Africa

实现和平与安全架构(I):中非

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执行摘要与建议

中非的政治与安全合作亟需重振。十多年前, 非盟(AU)责成中非国家经济共同体(ECCAS)向和平与安全架构注入活力。中非经共体(ECCAS)成员国签署了有关条约和协议,但这一多国组织一直在艰难地塑造和实施区域政策。为确保这一冲突易发地区更加的政治一体化,中非国家需要重振中非经共体,对其进行改革并就清晰的安全工作重点进行决策。外国合作伙伴应把对中非经共体的支持与该组织自己的需要、吸收能力和目标协调一致。

20世纪90年代冲突的升级令中非深陷战火之中,也使得对区域政治与安全响应的需要极其迫切。有着非盟和欧盟的双重支持,中非经共体致力于预防、管控和解决地区冲突。可惜,与之前促进经济一体化的努力一样,政治与安全方面的合作也没有产生预期结果。

从纸面上看,中非经共体做得不错。中非国家签署了互助条约和协议,建立了中非和平与安全理事会(Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Afrique centrale, COPAX)。各国还共同设立了区域总参谋部(Etat-major régional, EMR),开展多国军事演习并在中非共和国建立了巩固和平代表团(Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique, MICOPAX)。但事实上,中非地区的领导层一直不愿创建一个对于他们在安全问题上的合作方式有所限制的机构并对其投资。他们口头上对区域和平与安全架构表示支持,但事实上对中非经共体并不上心,更倾向于诉诸之前可信的双边关系以缓解安全关切,因此形成了令人困惑的伙伴关系网。

中非经共体存在着严重的内部管理问题。组织内部问题的决策高度集中,并且必须经由所有成员国达成共识后才能做出。这并没有在区域行为体中间产生凝聚力,而是意味着成员国有着不同意见的敏感问题被规避了。并且,中非经共体还是一个尚在建设中的组织,人力资源管理,如同这一组织的财政依赖于外部支持者一样,是一个持久性问题。

只有成员国做出决定性的政治承诺才能为中非经共体注入新的生机。但国家首脑峰会的一拖再拖,以及成员国未能向在经共体内部的一些机构中委任代表,都揭示了中非地区国家对于该组织的宗旨缺乏兴趣。成员之间由于过去的暴力冲突而互不信任,区域领导层的缺失也使得中非经共体的效用大打折扣。结果,最严重的安全问题都在中非经共体框架外部解决,中非的和平与安全架构要从规划成为现实仍有困难。

中非地区各国政府应该紧急深化他们对中非经共体架构和项目的政治承诺,理清共同的工作重点。他们必须决定自己是否真正愿意成为中非经共体的成员。如果是,他们就应该通过采取一些关键步骤证明自己的意愿:尊重对组织的财政义务;任命自己在组织中的代表;尽快组织一次峰会。改革议程应该侧重决策体系,保证利伯维尔秘书处的平稳运行和民间社会的更多参与。安全工作的重点应该是力求切实的实施和具体成果。

外国合作伙伴应该建立有效协作,根据中非经共体的和平与安全工作重点提供支持,并根据经共体的吸收能力做出调整。首要目标是巩固秘书处,使其能够实施各项方案,避免超支和重复的努力。

在中非经共体成员国之间,不信任、竞争以及毫无掩饰的敌意交织存在。在未来几年中,最根本的挑战就是为这一组织赋予政治意义。如果这种零和地缘政治继续下去,中非国家将继续把自己狭隘的利益置于和平与安全架构项目之上。政治和安全一体化将陷入重蹈经济合作失败的悲剧道路的危险。

内罗毕/布鲁塞尔,2011年11月7日

The president of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodriguez (C-top) swears in the new authorities of the National Electoral Council (CNE), during a special session at the National Assembly, in Caracas. 4 May 2021. Federico PARRA / AFP

Venezuela: An Opportunity That Should Be Seized

A series of gestures from Caracas suggests that President Nicolás Maduro’s government might be more willing to negotiate with rivals and enact partial reforms. Washington should respond in kind with phased sanctions relief and diplomatic gestures that can be reversed if Venezuela backslides.

On 4 May, Venezuela’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National Assembly, swore in a new electoral authority, two of whose five principal members are from the opposition. It was perhaps the most significant of a series of gestures by President Nicolás Maduro’s government over the past two weeks. While nothing suggests that Maduro is ready to make concessions that might threaten his grip on power, his recent moves do signal a willingness to negotiate and might provide a rare opportunity to temper a crisis that has brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees and caused Latin America’s worst humanitarian emergency. Reciprocal moves from foreign powers opposed to Maduro are necessary to ensure that this chance, however slim, is not missed. Washington is best placed to make comparably conciliatory moves by offering modest relief from the sanctions it has imposed and initiating low-profile diplomatic contacts to assess the odds of further progress.

These moves represent partial responses to demands laid down by the U.S.

Several other developments preceded the new election rectors’ appointment. The first came on 19 April, when Caracas finally signed a long-awaited agreement with the World Food Program, granting the agency access to the country to attend to the dire and growing child malnutrition crisis. The second occurred on 30 April, when the chavista government released six imprisoned oil executives from Venezuela’s Houston-based Citgo corporation – five of whom hold U.S. citizenship – into house arrest. A day later, the country’s chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab took a third step, announcing charges against low-ranking officials in three high-profile political killings for which the government had hitherto denied any responsibility. These moves represent partial responses to demands laid down by the U.S. and other external allies of the opposition movement led by former National Assembly chair Juan Guaidó, who since 2019 has asserted a claim to the “interim presidency” of the country.

The changes to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, or CNE, by its Spanish acronym, were the most significant concession yet. Chavista domination of the CNE has been crucial to the government’s campaign to shut down any and all electoral threats. It ultimately led to the standoff with Guaidó and pushed many other opposition figures into exile. Opposition parties mostly boycotted parliamentary elections in early December 2020 – as they had the presidential contest in 2018 – and the small number that took part in the poll, some of them mere appendages of the government, obtained only twenty seats in a 277-seat Assembly. Even today, conditions for the opposition remain forbidding. Despite the new rectors, the electoral playing field remains deeply skewed in Maduro’s favour. Still, permitting a more balanced electoral authority marks a tentative step toward restoration of political competition.

For Maduro, greater opposition representation on the CNE could have benefits. First, this year’s elections, due in December, are local and regional, so there is less at stake for the president in any case. Moreover, he can sell the CNE deal to his own supporters as opposition recognition of government institutions and a strategy for reducing Venezuela’s international isolation. 

News of the reformed electoral board has divided opposition ranks. Even before Maduro announced the new CNE line-up, the alliance headed by Guaidó had rejected it as illegitimate. Its stance has not changed since, despite the two new opposition rectors’ strong credentials. (One is an experienced politician and former deputy chair of the Assembly; the other is a systems engineer whose role as an opposition elections expert was so important that the government jailed him for six months in 2017.) The opposition alliance maintains that the Guaidó-led parliament, a rump of which continues to meet, is the only body with the power to approve a new CNE. Guaidó himself, whom Washington recognises as the country’s legitimate president, blasted the appointment via Twitter, saying it would “drag the country toward a greater disaster”. 

Others take a different view. Notable among them is two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who, prior to the December elections, made fruitless efforts, with EU backing, to negotiate conditions that would allow his party to take part. Together with other opposition politicians, some of whom prefer for now to remain anonymous, Capriles rejects the “all-or-nothing” approach of Guaidó and his party, Voluntad Popular, which is led by the exiled Leopoldo López and has campaigned without success for Maduro’s immediate overthrow. Support for the new electoral board is also strong among regional and municipal politicians and party activists, especially those in opposition-held states and municipalities, who fear oblivion if the policy of boycotting elections is maintained. The issue threatens to fracture several parties, and could even lead to a formal split in the opposition coalition as a whole, which would also favour the government.

Venezuelan civil society is increasingly emerging as a significant, autonomous force.

Another important element in this complex equation is Venezuelan civil society, which is increasingly emerging as a significant, autonomous force, committed to a negotiated resolution of the country’s protracted political crisis. Four of the fifteen CNE members (the five principal rectors plus ten reserve members) appointed on 4 May were proposed by groups linked to the recently launched Foro Cívico, which brings together NGOs, trade unions, the main employers’ federation, professional syndicates, faith-based organisations and others. The Foro has played a role not only in the CNE negotiations but also in pushing for agreement between the government and opposition on importing COVID-19 vaccines, seeking economic reforms and setting up mechanisms for attending to the humanitarian emergency. Broadly speaking, the Foro leaders support a more conciliatory approach, along the lines of that promoted by Capriles, seeking areas where they can engage the government to alleviate ordinary Venezuelans’ suffering. 

Yet it is Washington’s response that is most keenly awaited. Under President Donald Trump the U.S. pursued a “maximum pressure” policy toward Venezuela, on the assumption that external action, particularly in the form of severe economic and financial sanctions and diplomatic isolation, would force the Maduro government to step down and accede to free elections. That approach failed. President Joe Biden came to office committed to a more pragmatic stance, but for various reasons related largely to the attention given to other pressing concerns – notably the pandemic and migrants at the southern U.S. border – little beyond the rhetoric has changed to date. Washington has demanded “concrete measures” from Maduro if it is to relax sanctions. It must now decide whether the gestures by Caracas merit a response in kind.

All the Venezuelan government’s steps thus far are political gambits; they are tentative and reversible; and, again, in themselves they do not create conditions for credible polls or in any way jeopardise Maduro’s hold on power. On the key question of election conditions, the opposition presence on the new CNE is only a start, albeit a promising one. Much more is needed. The government must legalise opposition parties, for example, most of which are barred from electoral participation and some of which have seen their names and assets transferred to minority, pro-government factions. The electoral authorities need to thoroughly audit voter lists. Most importantly, the Maduro government will also have to scale down its apparatus of state repression if it wishes to convince the U.S., the EU and its neighbours of its good faith.

Still, given the gridlock in Venezuela’s political standoff and the country’s appalling humanitarian suffering, outside powers should respond to and seek to encourage any signs of movement. Crisis Group has argued for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of sanctions that inflict humanitarian harm alongside a phased lifting of other punitive measures in response to the gradual restoration of civil and political rights. The most obvious and pressing humanitarian need is for a restoration of permits to allow Venezuela to swap crude oil for diesel, of which there is a critical shortage. Diesel is vital, among other things, for food production and distribution. The U.S. could also consider steps like renewing licences and lifting sanctions that prohibit certain activities by U.S. and other foreign oil companies, with the understanding that these steps could be reversed if Caracas backtracks or fails to make further progress.

Also important is that Washington and Caracas set up channels of communication, either direct or through third parties, so that each can correctly interpret the other’s moves. Biden will pay a political cost for any easing of pressure on Maduro, with no likely immediate return. U.S. politicians are naturally – and perhaps increasingly – reluctant to incur the hostility of the Venezuela lobby in their country. The Maduro government will have to factor in that reality, just as Washington will need to take into account the difficulty the Venezuelan president may have in selling any rapprochement to his own coalition. Contact would allow each side to feel its way with more confidence.

The worst thing the U.S. could do now is to sit on its hands and await further concessions without any corresponding move on its part.

The worst thing the U.S. could do now is to sit on its hands and await further concessions without any corresponding move on its part. Such a course would strengthen the hand of those in the Venezuelan government who argue that however much they concede, Washington is interested only in getting rid of Maduro. It may well be that the Venezuelan president has no intention of going further, but the only way to find out is to engage in a process of gradual, reciprocal change. The ball is in Washington’s court.