The tactics of Venezuela and the US in the Saab case

Between Washington, Caracas and Bogotá, sparks are jumping over the case of Alex Saab. The Colombian businessman with Venezuelan nationality faces the US Justice since Monday for a case of money laundering. In the background is the information that he can and wants to provide about the alleged links of the Maduro government with that corruption scheme.
President Maduro — considered illegitimate by many Western and Latin American nations — responded to Saab’s extradition from Cape Verde by suspending ongoing talks with the opposition in Mexico. In addition, the Chavista regime re-imprisoned six former executives of Citgo, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, all with U.S. citizenship or residence, after learning of Saab’s extradition.
Colombian President Ivan Duque also did not miss this opportunity and said Monday that he hoped the Saab testimony would reveal Nicolas Maduro’s “narco-dictatorship” in Venezuela. Does that businessman deserve so much media and political attention?

Will Alex Saab collaborate with American justice?

Yes, says Ana Soliz de Stange, a political scientist and researcher at the University of the German Armed Forces in Hamburg: “Because it concretely unmasks the money laundering that Maduro and his government officials have been doing. This could have at least two important effects: First, it may reawaken social repudiation of Maduro’s government. Although corruption was suspected, this shows that people in Venezuela are suffering poverty, lack of food, medicine, not only because of the disastrous management of the fiscal and monetary policy of the Maduro regime, but that they have been victims of a deplorable network of corruption. Second, it can uncover information about the entire chain of corruption installed within Venezuela, but also unleash the entire international network it operates, including potential partners in Iran, Turkey, and other countries.”
Distraction maneuver?
Nikolaus Werz, professor emeritus at the University of Rostock, is more skeptical about the alleged secrets and internal details that Saab might reveal: “What else do we really want to know? We already know a lot.” Werz suspects that the current furor over Alex Saab is being deliberately “exaggerated” by the Venezuelan government. “It is possibly also a reaction on the part of the Venezuelan government to the international attention paid to the death of Raúl Isaías Baduel,” says Werz. The former defense minister had died in prison in the middle of last week. Baduel was considered an important confidant of former head of state Hugo Chavez before criticizing his authoritarian tendencies and falling out of favor.
In addition, he said, this extradition could be used ahead of the regional elections in November to play the card of national sovereignty and independence. In the regional elections on November 21, dozens of governors and mayors will be elected in Venezuela. And last but not least according to Werz, the extradition of Alex Saab was the perfect occasion to cancel negotiations with the Venezuelan opposition in Mexico and thus further delay the talks.
Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2014 to 2019, also immediately expressed that suspicion: “Venezuelans were looking for a way out of those negotiations. They found her and clung to her. It doesn’t seem more complex than that.”
Washington may even have deliberately calculated the failure of dialogue between the government and the opposition in Mexico. At least this is what Günther Maihold, deputy director of the Science and Policy Foundation (SWP) in Berlin, suspects. On the one hand, because of the close date of the elections and the slim hope that in the short time that remains, roads will be opened for free and democratic elections. On the other hand, for the possibility of being able to humiliate Maduro and reveal to the Venezuelan people the corrupt character of the regime of Nicolás Maduro. “This was certainly a calculation that was made in Washington,” says Günther Maihold.
Pressure from Washington reaches its limits
Despite all the sanctions, U.S. policy toward Venezuela would never have reached a point where there would have been serious negotiations about a transfer of Maduro’s power. “In this sense, the negotiations in Mexico have been canceled at a very early stage. From Washington’s point of view, a premature process was brought to an end which, in any case, would not have led to a resthis desired in the face of the elections.”
On the contrary, it is even Maduro who would be gaining ground at the moment: “We currently have a high oil price and production has increased a little again. Maduro again has a little more room for maneuver because the financial situation could improve somewhat if a high oil price is maintained,” according to Maihold.
The Venezuelan opposition loses weight
“The big loser of this last year has been Juan Guaidó,” says Maihold. “Their support has diminished quite a bit. He is no longer the decisive leader in the political opposition and has to agree much more with other political forces.” Meanwhile, the discontent of the population with both the Maduro regime and the opposition is increasingly widespread.
According to data from the Datincorp demoscopic institute from August 2021, 63 percent of Venezuelans are “not at all satisfied” with the Maduro government and only 12 percent are “very satisfied.” In Guaidó’s case, the corresponding figures are even worse: around 77 and 3 percent, respectively. Among citizens, almost no one yet trusts the civilian and military institutions of the state. In the case of the National Assembly, the figure is just under 4 percent, and, in the case of the armed forces, only slightly above 2 percent.
Anyway, the expert Ana Soliz de Stange sees no other way out than a change that has to emerge from within the country: “The visible pressure against the Maduro regime has to come from the Venezuelan people and a united opposition. The opposition is key, it would also have to be a renewed opposition.”

Original source in Spanish

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