Opinion: Germany′s pressure on Venezuela fails to deliver | Opinion | DW | 04.02.2019
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Opinion: Germany's pressure on Venezuela fails to deliver

Germany has recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president. But DW's Oliver Pieper doubts whether diplomatic pressure on Caracas will equate to any change on the ground.

When asked how many moves he thinks ahead during a match, chess legend Bobby Fischer once replied: "I don't think ahead at all — I win like that." Fellow grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky's answer to the same question wasn't quite so haughty: "One move ahead of my opponent!" 

Politics is like chess: Either the sheer force of conviction allows for a certain pomposity a la Fischer or — as is more often the case in realpolitik — you consider the opponent's possible reactions and are prepared to react quickly, especially when the rival across the table is a seasoned crook.

Read more: EU foreign policy has failed Venezuela in a crucial time

Germany initially gave Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro an ultimatum: eight days to call new elections — for the presidency, mind you, not for the parliament. If elections were not scheduled, Berlin would recognize Juan Guaido as interim president.

In the meantime, foreign ministers in the European Union have been unable to agree on a common stance on Venezuela, and that failure has further weakened Germany's position. Regardless, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has continued to call on Maduro to "immediately change course" and "initiate a credible political process within the framework of the political constitution."

Maduro responded as everyone in Berlin ought to have expected: He refused to call a new election. The next scheduled presidential vote is not until in 2024, and the demands coming out of Europe do not appear to be of any great concern to his government.

Perhaps German officials had quietly speculated that international pressure on Maduro might grow so great that it would lead high-ranking military officials to defect, and Russia and China to eventually give up their support. But how likely was that, especially when dealing with a survival artist like Maduro? Germany's calculative attempts to checkmate him, which were not made from a strong position, proved unsuccessful.

What happens next?

Following Maduro's refusal to hold new presidential elections, Germany and many other EU states have now recognized opposition leader Guaido as interim president. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expected Guaido to "initiate an election process as quickly as possible."

Read more: Venezuela's foreign journalists hamstrung by visa problems

Germany is holding true to its word and the governmental attitude reflects as such. But the next move is now Venezuela's, and there is little to suggest that Caracas is preparing a satisfactory response. Maduro will maintain that he is the elected head of state and Guaido will emphasize that he regards himself as a legitimate interim president. It remains to be seen whether Guaido could ever usurp Maduro, who can rely on the state apparatus to organize presidential elections. And what will Germany's move be then?

The attitude of many of Guaido's supporters is that if toppling Maduro now isn't successful, it will never happen. The longer the game for power in Venezuela goes on, the more the chances of Maduro remaining head of state increase. Perhaps it's because he always thinks one move ahead of his opponents.

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