By EARL ANTHONY WAYNE, MOISES RENDON and CARMEN GARCÍA GALLEGO
(The following was written for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., and is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with specific prior permission.)
For the people of Venezuela, it may seem as if the current humanitarian, political, and economic crisis has no end in sight. Severe lack of food, money, electricity and health and sanitation services are harming many every day. High rates of severe child malnutrition and preventable illnesses have been reported. Many have fled. There are currently over 3.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants, mostly scattered across Latin America. The de facto ruler Nicolás Maduro and his supporters have not indicated a willingness to transfer power anytime soon, despite the mounting international and internal pressure for change.
Yet, there is hope and determination among Maduro’s opponents and in the international community. More than 50 countries have recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, and many argue it is a matter of time before Guaidó and the democratically elected National Assembly take back political power in Venezuela. The United States and other international supporters of Guaidó are actively pursuing additional ways to increase pressure on Maduro and his senior supporters to yield power and leave the country.
In preparation for that moment, interim president Guaidó, Venezuela’s National Assembly and their international partners will need a concrete and well-developed “day after” action plan for recovery, rebuilding and development. In addition, a plan will be needed to arrange for free, democratic presidential elections.
If the “day after” arrives and Venezuela is not ready with an action plan to immediately put in place, it will be much more difficult to distribute critical humanitarian aid, restore basic services, hold free elections and get the country back on its feet.
It is important to remember that Guaidó is not Venezuela’s officially recognized president yet, and if his government can gain political power in Venezuela, it will only be on a temporary basis. Per Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, an interim president has 30 days to hold presidential elections. The 30-day period has arguably yet to begin for Guaidó, and the process will realistically take longer than a month, given the prolonged and complex nature of the current crisis. Nevertheless, they will need to organize early elections.
Guaidó and his advisers have already presented an initial framework dubbed “Plan País,” which focuses on humanitarian aid, stabilizing the economy, mobilizing the oil sector, diversifying the Venezuelan economy and restoring access to public services. However, his team has yet to address how these broad plans will be transformed into specific policies and practical steps to ensure a good chance of early success after a transfer of power. These details should be worked out now.
It would be best if efforts to establish frameworks for the recovery, rebuilding and development of Venezuela were authorized by the National Assembly in order to proceed in a manner consistent with constitutional authorities. The National Assembly should act in accordance with the constitution to designate some person or a small group to convene and facilitate work with a group of international partners on the key tasks for the “day after.” The international financial institutions (IFIs), other specialized international organizations, key NGOs and the private sector should be key players as these plans are developed.
Lessons learned from other relief and rebuilding efforts indicate that getting a “day after” plan right is not easy, and forging and managing a unified implementation effort is even more challenging. Coordinated international work should begin now to develop and reach consensus on overarching strategies and specific sectoral plans to be launched on the day after a transition of power. This work would benefit from the wisdom and experience of those who have undertaken such efforts elsewhere in the world, as well as from Venezuela’s talented diaspora, and should include contributions from those countries supporting Guaidó and the National Assembly. This work should produce an agreement about what concrete steps will be needed and the order and timing of the necessary tasks ahead, as well as on how vital international partners, the private sector and NGOs can best contribute to achieving good results.
Specifically, the individuals designated by the National Assembly to lead this effort along with a core of partner countries should set up a working group with the active support and participation of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (as far as possible, given the recognition accorded to president Guaidó) to do the preparatory work needed to be ready to act when the moment arrives.
Initiating this work now will provide the opportunity to sort through the complex, practical steps needed to develop a successful and realistic action plan and to begin defining funding needs, as well as seeking financial commitments. Additionally, and importantly, the process itself will send powerful messages to Venezuelans about the specific help that will be available if Maduro leaves.
There are at least five key areas that a “day after” recovery, rebuilding and development framework must address: 1) humanitarian relief; 2) restoring key infrastructure systems, services and sectors, especially the oil sector; 3) establishing legal certainty; 4) addressing key international finance issues; and 5) establishing basic security. Holding elections will be a separate early task.
The humanitarian aspect of the crisis will be the most urgent. Short-term relief and provision of food and basic services are vital though complicated priorities. Under designated Venezuelan leadership, a special working group should be tasked with forging a rapid and effective response and framework for coordinated implementation. International NGOs will need to be key players in the immediate humanitarian relief work.
The second area should be on the steps to restore and improve systems for water, electricity, sanitation, food delivery and hospitals, among others, as rapidly as possible. Designated Venezuelans will need to lead the development of a sector-based approach with help from the private sector, donors with expertise in these sectors and international organizations. Especially important will be a plan for the oil sector, given its vital role in providing revenues and the serious deterioration it has suffered. Recovery will not be quick, but getting underway rapidly and effectively will be important. Private sector and Venezuelan diaspora support will be essential.
The third area for good early preparation rests importantly with the Venezuelan National Assembly. To the degree possible, the National Assembly — working with the interim government — should prepare laws and regulations that give legal certainty, for example, so that the private sector and common citizens can quickly move to restore production and commerce. International and private sector experts can help the process, but Venezuelans must take responsibility for the preparation, presentation and approval of initial key laws, regulations, decrees and so forth.
International financial and ownership issues constitute the fourth area where international support and expertise can help Venezuela be well prepared on Day One, especially given the debts that the Maduro regime has taken on and the assets it has sold to other international actors. Those designated by the National Assembly should begin to explore emergency financing mechanisms and debt restructuring plans with IFIs, international organizations and key partner countries. Private sector advice will be valuable here too.
Vitally, the interim government and the National Assembly must develop and bless a comprehensive and workable security plan. This focus is essential for the effective delivery of relief or other services, as well as for holding elections. Lack of security has often undermined the best recovery plans, and it is unclear who will oversee security if the Maduro regime collapses or what tools will be needed to ensure security. The National Assembly should designate those who can work with international organizations, other partner countries and the military, once it is under the National Assembly’s control, to deal as effectively as possible with pro-Maduro colectivos, any resisting members of the security forces, ordinary criminals and drug cartels or foreign insurgent groups present in the country.
Security for elections will be similarly vital and have particular requirements. This work merits a specific working group to include international partners with tailored expertise to help. In addition, handling the burgeoning refugee situation will pose significant security challenges. By the end of 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is a very complex and challenging set of tasks. Venezuela’s friends need to help the National Assembly and the interim government forge and implement a workable strategy and detailed plans. To spark this hard work, the Venezuelan authorities — as approved by the National Assembly — should convene a core group of international partners that can begin work soon, building from Plan País and drawing on international best practices. The governments of Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Canada, the United States, select European countries, and Japan — all of which have recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president — are good candidates. Civil society, the private sector and the Venezuelan diaspora should also be engaged to work on specific areas and to offer ideas. For example, CSIS has developed a preliminary Post-Crisis Recovery and Reform Framework that could be of value.
It would be helpful for an international organization to host meetings and help Venezuelans build an overarching needs assessment and strategy for the “day after.” The IDB is a top candidate for that leading role, as it just approved Guaidó-backed Ricardo Hausmann as Venezuela’s representative to the IDB. The World Bank and the IMF would be invaluable participants, as would the UN humanitarian agencies, if they are able to participate. The international organizations could help estimate total costs and required international financing and aid on a sector-by-sector basis. There is a wide array of tools available in the international community to develop comprehensive plans.
A respected set of participants will add substance and credibility to the working group process, sending important messages to the people of Venezuela and to the Maduro government. They can help the National Assembly to act wisely and efficiently.
This combined effort by Guaidó’s interim government and the National Assembly would signal both to the international community and to the Venezuelan people that they are planning for a transition and that there is sufficient international support to develop and implement a comprehensive relief, recovery and development framework. It would also demonstrate that they are dedicated to restoring democracy, stability and prosperity in Venezuela.
Earl Anthony Wayne is a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and career ambassador (ret.) from the U.S. Diplomatic Service, where he served as U.S. ambassador to both Mexico and Argentina, as well as assistant secretary of State for economic and business affairs. He is also a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Prosperity and Development. Moises Rendon is an Associate Director and Associate Fellow of the CSIS’ Americas Program. Carmen Garcia Gallego is a temporary researcher at the CSIS for the Project for Prosperity and Development.