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A multilateral approach could smooth transition in Venezuela

Juan Gaido speaking at a podium to a crowd
Venezuela's National Assembly head Juan Guaidó at a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolás Maduro on Jan. 23. Photo: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has taken a firm position on Venezuela by officially recognizing opposition leader and National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as the country's president. This declaration could mark a moment either to draw a red line and walk away or to further amplify the U.S.' voice through a multilateral approach in opposing Nicolás Maduro.

The big picture: Maduro is already claiming the anti-gringo mantle, despite the rise of a domestic opposition leader legally empowered to demand his removal. To ensure long-term stability, the U.S.' most promising approach is to work with regional allies who together will bolster Guaidó's efforts to legally succeed Maduro.

Between the lines: Because Maduro's anti-gringo card is his key to survival, Trump would have to take actions that maintain the legitimacy of Guaidó’s position without adding risk by raising the American profile. There could be several dimensions to such a strategy:

  1. Economic and political incentives: A robust economic aid package dependent on a new leader being installed could make it clear to Venezuelans that their economic pain will subside once Maduro is gone. Amnesty to those willing to switch sides against Maduro could also be offered.
  2. Humanitarian assistance: The U.S. could signal that it stands with Venezuelans by increasing humanitarian assistance to refugees and expediting its asylum process.
  3. Non-militarism: A call for non-violence is critical. Maduro and his cronies should know that they will be held accountable for any violence on their part. Any hint of U.S. military activity could play into Maduro’s hands.

Multilateralism has been effective and remains the clearest path to resolving the crisis. It will ensure that those who can actually achieve the goal of displacing Maduro — the Venezuelan people, armed forces and politicians — are viewed as legitimate both inside the country and abroad.

What to watch: The next step for the U.S. is to build a robust package activities backed by regional partners — and potentially the UN — that further incentivize Venezuelans to push out Maduro. There's a real sense of urgency, as Venezuelans themselves will face greater risks without support from the international community.

Joel Rubin is the president of the Washington Strategy Group and the former deputy assistant secretary of state for the House of Representatives.

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