Venezuela: The Road Forward

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Although the de facto government of Venezuela headed by Nicolas Maduro regime is no longer recognized as legitimate by the Organization of American States (OAS) or by most democratic nations around the world, it clings to power with the support of the military leadership and of its allies Cuba, Russia, and China.  Many of the the Venezuelan people increasingly blame the Maduro regime not only for election fraud and serious human rights violations but also for hyperinflation, endemic extreme poverty, and violent crime.  The crisis in Venezuela is also causing regional instability from the unprecedented outflow of refugees, the presence of heavily armed militias in border areas, and the regime’s involvement with transnational criminal organizations.  Suggested solutions range from “strategic patience” to outside military intervention.  Our panelists are a Venezuelan human rights activist, a dissident military officer now living in exile, and a former senior U.S. diplomat who specializes in Western Hemisphere affairs.


Ambassador Roger Noriega, former US Ambassador to the OAS and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Rodrigo Diamanti, president of "Un Mundo Sin Mordaza” (A World Without Censorship)

Col. José Gustavo Arocha, exiled military officer and political analyst

Moderator: Grover Joseph Rees, writer, advocate, and former United States Ambassador to East Timor



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Event Transcript

Operator:  Welcome to The Federalist Society's Practice Group Podcast. The following podcast, hosted by The Federalist Society's International & National Security Law Practice Group, was recorded on Monday, July 15, 2019, during a live teleforum conference call held exclusively for Federalist Society members.     


Wesley Hodges:  Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is on "Venezuela: The Road Forward." My name is Wesley Hodges, and I am the Associate Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.


      Today, we are very fortunate to have with us an all-star cast to discuss this subject. And our moderator today is Ambassador Grover Joseph Rees who is an attorney, advocate, and former United States Ambassador to East Timor. After our speakers give their remarks today, we will have an audience Q&A, so please keep in mind what questions you have for this topic or for one of our speakers in particular. Thank you all very much for sharing with us today. Ambassador Rees, the floor is yours.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you so much, Wesley. Of the many festering crises around the world involving dictatorships and failed states and other kinds of problems that other countries have to pay attention to, very few have been as enduring as that of Venezuela. Venezuela has been a problem for a long time, ever since the regime of Hugo Chávez. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has acted in many respects as a dictator. His elections and other elections in Venezuela have been problematic. But until recently, his opposition and nations around the world, including the United States, recognized the legitimacy—the technical legitimacy—of the Maduro regime.


      The 2018 election changed that. There was a general consensus that Maduro had not won the election, and therefore, the National Assembly, which was controlled by the opposition, invoked an article of the Venezuelan Constitution that said when the presidency is vacant, the President of the National Assembly becomes the interim president. That president, President Guaidó, has now been recognized by the great majority of the countries in the world who have taken a position at all, been recognized by the Organization of American States, by almost all countries in the western hemisphere, the great majority of them, and even by almost all of the countries in the European Union.


      Predictably, there a few countries on the other side still supporting the de facto government of Nicolas Maduro. They include China, Russia, Cuba, and a couple of others like Syria, Bolivia, Iran, the ones that you would expect. But those are important countries, and they've got positions on the Security Council, so Maduro still sits in the United Nations.


The economy is a disaster. There are links to organized crime. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights recently reported that the Maduro regime has engaged in thousands and thousands of extrajudicial killings and then covered them up. This really is a crisis.


      But the question is what do we do about it? Suggested solutions range from "strategic patience," which was generally the policy of the Obama administration, to outside military intervention. We have three expert panelists, experts in more ways than one. Rodrigo Diamante is the president of an organization called "Un Mundo Sin Mordaza," that is, "A World Without Censorship." He is a Venezuelan. He was based in Venezuela until 2015 when he was detained by the government and had to escape from the country.


      The second panelist is Colonel José Gustavo Arocha, a dissident military officer who was arrested and held for eight months in detention by the government, during which time he was tortured. He also managed to escape in 2015. He is now based in the United States.


      And the third panelist is Ambassador Roger Noriega who has served both as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States and also as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and has been dealing with Venezuela for a long time. I'm going to turn it over to our panelists, beginning with Rodrigo Diamante.


Rodrigo Diamante:  Thank you, Ambassador Rees. For me, it's an honor. And thank you for taking the time to talk about what is happening in Venezuela. You already mentioned this fight for democracy and freedom has taken more than we ever thought. And now, we not only have to deal with a dictatorship, but we also have to deal with a humanitarian emergency, refugee crisis, crimes against humanity, drug trafficking; too many problems at the same time for just one country and for the opposition in Venezuela to have to deal with all of this and try to survive at the same time.


      So I have been fighting for human rights since I was 18. Now, I'm almost 36. So it's 18 years since Chávez arrived to power that we knew that we were going to the wrong direction, but we never could even imagine that we could have arrived to this level of destruction of a nation. We're talking about the richest nation in South America that has been transformed to the poorest nation in the continent, and with the economical contraction never seen before, not even after World War II in Germany. So basically, it's a nation that's being destroyed where next year, we expect to -- right now, we have 4 million Venezuelans outside the country that had to escape because of all this crisis. But we are expecting, if we don't find a solution, to have at least 10 million by next year. That's one-third of the country's population.


      So basically, at this point, yes, we have the very important report from Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the U.N., but this report is just a tool to increase the pressure to the nations that we need sanctions, not only from the U.S., that they have been very effective against the regime, but also from all the countries of the European Union and all the countries of Latin America in order to increase the pressure in Venezuela.


      Also, we need the International Criminal Court to start a formal investigation right away. We don't understand why the prosecutor of the court is not fulfilling the mission of the court and hasn't started an investigation against the regime when she has all the proof that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. And of course, we need to exercise international jurisdiction, try to try members of the dictatorship in other courts, in other jurisdictions, in other countries for international crimes being committed by the members of the regime.


      So at this point, there is a lot to do on diplomatic level that we are still waiting. And that's our position, or at least my position as a human rights activist that needed to escape the country four years ago because I also suffered their persecution, even kidnapped from the regime and forced me to leave my lovely country.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you for that opening statement. We'll have time to ask some questions later to get you to give some more details. I'd like now to ask Colonel Arocha for his thoughts.


Col. José Arocha:  Thank you, Ambassador. Venezuela is living its darkest hours. The humanitarian apocalypse has hit more than 4 million people, and several hundred have been unjustly, unlawfully detained and tortured in my country. I am one of those Venezuelans. I am a torture survivor, and thank God that the United States gave me an opportunity to be free. However, when I heard talking, there are still almost 1,000 other Venezuelan political prisoners currently being tortured and even murdered for the only crime of dreaming for a free country.


      What is happening in Venezuela is the result of an evil process. Indeed, when I was 15 years old, I met Major Hugo Chávez giving a speech to the freshman class of the military cadets. He was already building his cast of rogue military officers who served their own ideals and interests rather than those of Venezuela. Chávez seduced middle rank officers to incite the first coup in 1992, but later rose to power in 1999, and immediately began to corrupt the Venezuelan army through increasingly placing undeserved, loyalist officers in high ranking positions of literacy across state companies and non-security related state ministries.


      At this moment, I realize that the destruction of Venezuela could be the Chávez biggest legacy. In July 2002, in the wake of the failed coup, I was the commander of the senior cadets at the military academy in Caracas. I saw high-ranking military officers participating in partisan activities, labeling dissidents as enemies, and even confronting civilians with force. At the same time, Chávez started to corrupt and criminalize the Venezuelan military by connect the [inaudible 10:16] to the FARC and other criminal actors involved in drug trafficking, illegal mining, extortion, and kidnapping, all under military protection.


      Chávez was celebrated and inspired by the role of revolutions around the world. His Bolivarian Revolution was always meant to lead to anti-American revolutions, mainly in Iran. When I was working in CAVIM in 2005 to 2008, which is the Venezuelan's military industry, Chávez closed the door to the United States and opened up military and security cooperation with the two aces of evil, namely Cuba, China, Russia, and Iran, not only as investors in Venezuela's energy and mining sectors, but also the principal suppliers of loyal military aid as well as cybersecurity, all to help his pursuit of total popular and social control of the country.


      For example, Russia sold  around $12 billion in arms to Venezuela. China sold about $1 billion in weaponry, and loaned $50 billion in total, to include three spy satellites. Iran engaged in covert military projects dealing with drones and chemical plants. Russia, China, and Iran support the [inaudible 11:45] in Venezuela and have done so for a long time. In fact, for the last 15 years, these countries have engaged in high-level military intelligence, communications, and security cooperation with Venezuela.


      In 2009, my military career came to an end because of persecutions. But when Chávez died in 2013 and Maduro took power, it only got worse for the Venezuelans. Under Maduro, Venezuelan military officers loyal to Chavismo forged closer alliances with the terrorist factions, such as [inaudible 12:22] and ELN, and criminals [inaudible 12:24] such as the Cartel of the Suns. Combined,  these illicit actors control about up to 7 percent of the territory and resources. These illicit activities often reach high-ranking officers in the military, trickle down corruption among the lower rank, and create a de facto powerless state where systematic and [inaudible 12:48] and environmental and human rights abuses occur with the regime's complicity.


      The current crisis in Venezuela goes beyond the resolve of an inept or inefficient government. The current crisis goes beyond just the criminal regime. The Bolivarian Revolution is meant to be utilized as a proxy conflict to forcibly displace millions of refugees to challenge the sovereignty of the neighboring states. The Bolivarian Revolution is a tool of systematic warfare. But the military cannot be challenged due to all the reasons I said before and because they are completely and considerably made sure by the [inaudible 13:28] of evil actors. They have been in favor of house cleaning and reparation of the Venezuelan military to the point that, actually, Bolivarian -- the armed force of Venezuela are part of the problem and not the solution. The military is a broken institution in my country.


      Those who will solve the crisis in Venezuela must understand that the country is held up by its original actors, namely Russia, Iran, China, and recently, Turkey. These global powers have decided that the destruction of many will benefit the few and that the proxy war in Venezuela is necessary to defeat the United States and the Western world. Venezuela cannot solve this problem alone.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you, Colonel Arocha. And Ambassador Noriega.


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Great. Thank you very much, Ambassador Rees, for hosting this. And I thank my fellow panelists for laying a very good framework for the discussion. Let me say at the outset that what we're seeing, not only in Venezuela but in neighboring Colombia, is actually a product of malign neglect on the part of the Obama administration which, because it prioritized a process of opening up to the Castro regime through unilateral concessions, set aside what was happening in Venezuela and stood by while the Chávez and the Maduro regimes were consolidating themselves, and actually, in the case of Colombia, stood by as a peace process was advanced that resulted in an explosion of coca that threatens the United States.


      And let me just say that while we are all very interested in and committed to the human rights implications of what's happening in Venezuela as well as the refugee crisis, this is important to the United States precisely because, as was said, it's an asymmetrical challenge to U.S. security. This is a narco regime. It's not just another typical tropical dictator. It's a narco regime, Maduro's family being directly involved in narco trafficking. The former Speaker of the House, the same former Administer of Interior are also involved, state governors, virtually all of the generals involved, not only in the traditional forms of corruption, but being directly involved in moving cocaine and illicit gold through Venezuelan territory to other markets.


      And this is set against the backdrop of a corruption where they've looted about a half a trillion dollars in revenue from the Venezuelan state. This is a regime that is armed by Russia, financed by China, micromanaged by Cuba, and exploited by transnational organized crime, by Iran, by Hezbollah and Colombian guerillas. It is not just a question of saving Venezuela and restoring democracy and human rights. This is about heading off a humanitarian disaster and confronting this transnational organized threat which is abetted by our principal rivals or enemies, Russia and China and Cuba.


      And if we don't get ahead of the curve on this, it's going to swamp Colombia, an important economic and security partner in South America. It will continue the disintegration of institutions and stability in Central America in sowing more disruption, more displacement of people that drives that threat that's right at our border in terms of a wave of illegal immigration and will undermine security in Mexico. So this is really an important question for us.


      What's our policy up to now? Essentially, we're meeting this asymmetrical threat with conventional diplomacy. If tweets were hellfire missiles, this struggle would be over. President Trump identified Venezuela as a threat very early on and told his senior advisors he wanted to see a change. Unfortunately, when he said all options are on the table, the U.S. diplomats essentially backed off that. When they let off that pressure, it enticed the Russians to double down. The Chinese were ready to walk away from Maduro, essentially came back in, reversed themselves, doubled down and joined the Chinese -- I'm sorry, joined the Russians. And for Cuba, this is an existential struggle, and they cannot afford to lose it. And they micromanage the affairs of Venezuela, running the internal security apparatus, and really driving a lot of the political decisions within the regime.


      So that's what we're confronting. And that policy that we have of backing a constitutional solution around the interim President Juan Guaidó, I don't think is really up to the task because the opposition itself is weak, and it's discredited. It has a history of capitulation. We backed our policy up with targeted sanctions and individuals, and I think that's been a very sound strategy or tactic. And we have increased it by choking off oil revenue. Again, Treasury Department is driving this though the OFAC process targeting sanctions and entities and individuals that are directly involved in the criminality.


      But I believe that the diplomacy has not been up to snuff. On April 30th, the State Department backed a power-sharing arrangement which would have left narco generals and the vast majority of the regime in place to cohabitate with a weak figurehead of the interim President Juan Guaidó. That's just not sufficient. I'll talk a little bit about where we are now and, I think, what options are on the table for us, but with that initial comment, I'll stop.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you so much, Ambassador. Your last sentence is provocative, and is, I think, where we ought to go now. Everybody admits that this is a disaster, and it's not just conservatives in the United States and conservatives in Venezuela who feel that way. It's just about everybody in Latin America. It's the Organization of American States. It's almost everybody in the European Union. It's Michelle Bachelet, the former left-wing President of Chile who's now the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Everybody admits it's a disaster. Everybody admits it needs a solution.


      The problem is that the solution that many Venezuelans are suggesting, which is to invoke Article 187 of their constitution, which says that the National Assembly can invite in foreign military forces, is exactly the thing that President Trump has said he's not going to do anywhere. And indeed, he may be right about that. Do we really want a war in Venezuela where, superficially, it's gringos, Norteamericanos, against everybody else? And if we're not going to do that—and of course, we'd end up fighting Cubans and maybe fighting Russians and Chinese in that situation—if we can't do that, what can we do that we haven't done? And I would like to ask Ambassador Noriega but also the other panelists.


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Okay. Well, I'll be to the point so the others have an opportunity to comment. I agree with Senator Scott. Incidentally, there's a bipartisan consensus in Washington that Maduro has to go, the illegitimate has to go. The principal Democratic leaders at the House and Senate have joined Republicans in saying that very thing. What Senator Scott has said is that we need to be prepared to use some sort of military pressure to get them out of there, to displace that regime. They are not going to voluntarily give up power, least of all through elections. And so they're looking at buying time.


      And what we have to calculate is what are the costs of doing nothing? We have an international coalition, essentially, that's defined by what it's not willing to do to deal with the crisis. And so I think we need to look at real partners, coalition of willing nations, that are willing to identify the Maduro regime as a criminal regime that has no legitimacy and that has to be removed.


      I think we can sharpen the point on this by indicting principal leaders of that regime. Already, I would say, one of the troika of Venezuelan leadership, Tareck El Aissami, has been indicted in the U.S. courts. Some of the cronies of the regime have absconded with billions of dollars and keep that for the regime leaders have also been indicted or will be soon. But I think that we need to target the Maduro family. Diosdado Cabello, another leader of the regime. We need to indict these people, and we need to put rewards, substantial, multi-million-dollar rewards for their arrest or capture. And we need to work with leaders of other countries to identify Venezuelan patriots who are willing to fight for their country.


      Yes, we need to press the interim government to ask for a multinational coalition. It's really unconscionable that the current interim president of Venezuela has refused to do that. Why? Because the Americans are not comfortable with the use of force. He has an obligation, in light of the humanitarian disaster that his people are confronting, to do that, request that multinational force, and then have the international community hash out what it's willing to do.


      Also, that interim government needs to say to the leaders that they are prepared to pay for the multinational intervention. They have $4 billion frozen right now. This is an oil rich country with recovered assets. Every country that participates in a multinational coalition to displace this regime should be reimbursed for the expenses that they incur. I think it needs to be led by Venezuelan patriots who want to carry that fight to the regime. We need to provide training and resources for them to do so, or we're going to end up with another Syria right in our hemisphere with the impact right at our border.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you, Ambassador. I'd like to ask our two panelists to respond, but in particular, since you're both Venezuelans, how would the Venezuelan military react to the kind of multilateral effort that Ambassador Noriega has discussed? There was talk a few months  ago that senior military leaders who were Chavistas were thinking about defecting, were thinking about compromising in some way. Would that happen, or would this harden the opposition?


Col. José Arocha:  Well, we have to remember that some of the threat of the Chavismo, they are looking to keep their criminal network. Indeed, most of them are -- like Hugo Carvajal is a known drug trafficking dealer. So I don't believe that the Chavismo is looking to fully restore democracy in Venezuela. They are looking to restore or keep their networks.


      But I think that the military, especially the junior officers who is going to have future in the new government, that they are willing to help and be helped by a coalition, as Ambassador Noriega said, after they have to be patriot to recover democracy in Venezuela. And after that, it's necessary -- a coalition in order to deal with some threats like Hezbollah, ELN, and FARC because the military right now is totally broken and it's not possible to handle this threat by themselves.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Señor Diamante?


Rodrigo Diamante:  Well, I'm not a military expert. I'm more of a human rights activist, but I think we as a nation, before -- we should go first to the diplomatic process or action that we haven't done. I think that discussion should come after that. I think after all members of -- I agree with Ambassador Noriega that these members of dictatorship should be indicted in the U.S. for the relationship with narco traffic. All of them should be also prosecuted and tried in other countries using international conventions like Palermo and other tools that international justice system already has that we haven't used. We should put pressure on the court to not only start a formal investigation, but also to send an arrest order against the members of the dictatorship.


      And after that, we can find a way how to resolve this. I think I agree with Arocha and Ambassador Noriega that this is a criminal organization. I think even the title of dictatorship is too big for the members of the regime of Venezuela. I think they are just a criminal organization who have kidnapped Venezuela.


      But at this point, before we arrive to any type of military coalition, we should think of where are the sanctions in Latin America for the members of the regime? Where are the sanctions in Europe? I think that will increase the tension inside the members of the regime to understand that they need to step down and allow President Guaidó to call for election and recover democracy. I know that criminal organization -- maybe this type of action is not enough, but I think that we need to do that first step before we're thinking further actions.


Amb. Grover Rees:  I have one other question before we turn to the audience. If there were a multilateral military effort, of course, the regime and its allies would portray it as an American effort, even if it were led primarily by others, even if it were a coalition of the genuinely willing. What would the Venezuelan people feel about that? Would they say what we thought the Iraqi people would say? Would they be baking cakes for the liberation forces, or would there be a nationalist backlash in support of the regime, support that it doesn't have now? And secondly, what would Russia, China, and Cuba do?


Rodrigo Diamante:  So I think that there would not be a -- the people are completely suffering right now in Venezuela. Just last year, the average Venezuelan lost eleven kilos. I don't know how much is that in pounds. It's a lot. And because there is no food, there is no water, there is no electricity, so I think people are desperate and they want a solution. And there's a lot of pressure for that. So I think the biggest enemy will not be the Venezuelans that need support right now.


      I think we should take care more about Cuba, as you said, or Russia, or China at this point and consider any type of response from them. Also, other regular members that have their claws in Venezuela. But definitely anything, I think it will be less costly than just leaving things how they are.


      As Ambassador Noriega also said, I think we are very close to not only completely losing Venezuela, but also this can make us lose Colombia who already had as a former guerilla that run for president, maybe could win the next four years. And that's when you will have a problem because you will have a completely -- Venezuela under control of a criminal group, and then you will have, again, all the producers of cocaine in Colombia who will be doing business with the government in Colombia and Venezuela at the same time.


      So basically, we think that the problem is as big as Venezuela. I think the wrong point to see it, I think, this could be the problem, the tumor, the cancer that is right now in Venezuela can make metastases and go and affect Colombia, who's already affected by 1 million and a half Venezuelans that have left the country and leave there, and are collapsing economy of Colombia. And with the collapse, also Colombia can suffer political change and move toward the radical left and the criminals related to that left.


Col. José Arocha:  I think it's hard to have people who is already kidnapped to say, "Well, do you want freedom?" Of course they want to be free. I think that it's hard for Venezuelan people right now living in desperation because people are immigrating sometimes without any money and any food, anything. There's a lack of food, lack of medicines. They are dying, and they want to be free. I think they don't care who is going to give the freedom.


      But the real question -- you said that the real question, what about Russia, Cuba, Iran, and all these actors. I think that is the big problem. I think that is the help that, really, Venezuela needs, they need, is from power to say, "Well, you have to be out of Venezuela." And that is not possible for the Venezuelan properly.


Amb. Roger Noriega:  I think that's a very critical point. This is a big power issue, and the United States needs to get much tougher as part of the strategy I'm suggesting, to tell the Russians that we're not going to allow them to sustain a criminal regime in our neighborhood and have a serious situation play out in our hemisphere. We need to tell the Cubans that if the U.S. were going to intervene and one American were to be injured at the hands of the Cuban regime, that we will deal with that in Havana. I think essentially what I'm talking about is a Noriega-type response—no pun intended—that is to say, what we did in Panama.


      But I hasten to say, I'm not minimizing the challenge. This is a -- you have serious security problems there. You have narco guerillas that are well trained, that have nothing to lose. You have militias that are well armed. You have groups called collectivos, which, they're pro-regime gangs that are expert in sowing mayhem. And so that's why I think the United States would go in with other countries, deal with the conventional military challenge, which I think would be rather weak. We're talking about a military that's been decimated by its own corruption and soldiers who can't walk a mile because they don't have more than one meal a day, decimated units.


      You deal with those in a conventional way, and then you introduce the DEA with -- backed up by arrest groups that go in and arrest kingpins, because that's what we're talking about here. This is not a military per se. This is a criminal organization. You go in in that way. But the bulk of that force should be a multinational force. Get some sort of a mandate from the United Nations or from the Organization of American States to maintain forces there as a police action, essentially to -- and immediately reactivate the economy, get the oil revenue flowing so this can be a sustainable effort. But the tough, heavy lifting of dealing with the criminals in the country who are occupying that country should be done by Venezuelans, but they have to have our support.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you. At this point, I'd like to ask the technical folks if there are callers on the line who'd like to ask questions.


Wesley Hodges:  Absolutely, Ambassador. Looks like we do have three questions in the queue. Caller, you are up.


Karen Lugo:  This is Karen Lugo. And first, I'd like to thank you all for participating in this very informative discussion. I have a question regarding the other -- what you called proxy powers, but with the fact that Mike Pompeo, Secretary Pompeo had announced that Maduro may be seriously considering stepping down but that Russia had intervened to stop that impulse, and that China has, in fear of some of their investments and loans paying back the way they had expected, actually taken partnership in some of the oil and support enterprises -- with that kind of direct involvement in the country, how important is it that the United States is, I guess we would say, negotiating or putting pressure on the countries of Iran also, but China and Russia directly as we're involved in other kinds of negotiations with those countries?


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Let me just say I think that, first off, you need to have a credible team. And we need a new team leading the Venezuela policy who will deliver more credible messages to the Russians about where we're headed on our policy and have them make the judgments they need to make. But I don't think for a moment that the Russians want to go to war with the United States over Nicolas Maduro. I think they wanted to collect maybe $10 billion, maybe more, of their investment and make sure that that investment is safe.


      A successor government could make it very clear that people willing to do business in a transparent way, who have made investments in Venezuela will recover those investments. That is certainly a message that the Chinese want to hear, and they understand that it's more likely they'll get back the money that they're owed from a new government in Venezuela or a new private sector run petroleum sector than they would get from the corrupt, incompetent regime of Maduro.


      I will say, on the point about whether Maduro was ready to leave, that was in the context of an April 30 plot, which I believe that the Russians knew about two weeks earlier before the April 30 date when it was supposed to come to fruition. The reason I think that they knew that is that I knew it. I heard about that plot, and if I know it, the Russians knew it.


      And so what happened was that the opposition folks who were suckered in by the corrupt regime bagmen who helped put that plot together were essentially fooled. And I think that -- I have no doubt that somebody told Secretary Pompeo, “We were just that close to getting rid of Maduro.” But I don't think that was ever the case. And it indicates, really, that you have a team that does not understand the complexity of the challenge in Venezuela. And we need new leadership to deliver a message about a new policy.


Amb. Grover Rees:  I'd like to ask our Venezuelan panelists if there were overwhelming force about to happen, would there be senior military defections, or at least enough military defections to change the balance of power inside Venezuela? And is there any possibility Maduro would go peacefully?


Col. José Arocha:  Well, I'm going to explain something about the military in Venezuela. That is a very important question. First of all, the professional military in Venezuela is a rogue institution, which means we can see individuals instead of a corps. The military is function when they act together as a corps, they have a maneuver, the companies, battalions, brigades, divisions under leadership, and they have communications, support.


      That is not happening in Venezuela. They only have individuals wearing uniforms. That is a good example of deflection, to say deflection by people don't have, that we should mean that while there's a captain or major, but there is not companies, there is not battalions. There is just one guy, two guys, or several guys, but they are as individuals.


      And there is not important in the military that you act like a Rambo. That is not important. The most important thing is you act as a corps, and that is not possible right now in Venezuela. That's why you see that the deflections and there is not, ah, well, Christopher, okay, but nothing happened because he's one of a group. There is not the group.


Wesley Hodges:  Next caller, you are up.


Caller 2:  Thank you. My question is what NGOs, or charitable organizations, or human rights organizations would you say are truly helping Venezuelans right now? And what can the average citizen do to pressure Maduro and help Venezuelans?


Amb. Grover Rees:  I suppose that Rodrigo would say that "Un Mundo Sin Mordaza" is helping.


Rodrigo Diamanti:  Yeah, that's the most important one. No, I think we have been working with, lately, just this year, Amnesty International have been helping us to increase pressure to the ICC and the transnational court. I think at this point, the most important one is the OAS. If you tell me we should support one institution that is doing everything to help Venezuela, is the OAS, the Organization of American States conducted by Secretary General Luis Almagro, who while being the first person in a position of power since 2016 to talk about and explain what is happening.


      They have group to work about and help refugees outside Venezuela. He's also conducting an investigation about what Cuba is doing in Venezuela in order to increase the pressure against Cuba. They also conducted an investigation about crimes against humanity to reduce impunity and corruption. And so basically, they are doing all the political level, international level, all the pressure to put other countries in the direction to help Venezuela because as we all said, we have to me a multilateral solution.


      But I think that the biggest coordinator of this multilateral solution, of course with the support of the U.S., Canada, and other important countries, has been the OAS and the Secretary General Louis Almagro. Then you have Human Rights Watch. They also have done a wonderful job supporting us.


      But then, again, the best help to support Venezuela at this point is to really help us to end this problem. Like any humanitarian help is important, but the best humanitarian aid that we can have is just ending the Maduro regime. And I think that the OAS is the best institution at this point who have been helping us with that.


Amb. Roger Noriega:  I concur with those comments, and I would say there's another group called Foro Penal, a Venezuelan organization that has chronicled the human rights abuses and which the OAS has used in building its referral to the international criminal court against that government. And I think that that would be a really important group particularly for The Federalist Society to take a look at because of its commitment to the rule of law as an essential part of restoring democratic institutions.


Amb. Grover Rees:  I'm sorry, Ambassador. The first word is Foro, and what's after that?


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Penal, P-E-N-A-L.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Penal. Okay, great.


Rodrigo Diamante:  Yeah, I agree.


Col. José Arocha:  I agree too.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Okay, the next question from the audience.


Gino:  Hi, my name is Gino. I'm calling in from Dallas, Texas. Where would each of you predict if or when the U.S. might begin to conduct military operations, emphasis on if, would it be Maduro unwilling to stand down? Would talks between the government and opposition break down, or senior members of opposition being arrested? What do each of you think?


Amb. Roger Noriega:  I'm going to defer to the Venezuelans first.


Col. José Arocha:  Oh, wow. That's a very tough question. I don't know. According to my opinion, there is not to commit to a war. That's going to be -- it's going to take its time, for me, because although people believe that the regime is weak, sure, but is it weak enough in order to say that, well, “It’s going to be broken tomorrow,” or even waiting time with the dialogue and negotiations as always. They are surviving day by day, and they feel more fear in the population. I don't know. It's hard to say that when it's going to finish. I would like to say tomorrow, but I don't think so that it's going to be in the coming days. I may be wrong. I don't know.


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Yes. So let me jump in. I didn't mean to throw the hot potato to you, but I think that the conditions that you mentioned would be potentially contributing factors, the breakdown of the so-called dialogue, but I -- certainly, a massive crackdown use of violence against people or some kind of incursion into Colombian territory.


      By the way, I believe the Colombian government has a casus belli already in terms of the presence of the narco guerilla groups operating with impunity in Venezuela. Certainly, that kind of a conventional threat against an American ally could induce a response. But I think it's a dangerous situation precisely because the regime, I don't think, will take that bait. I don't think the regime will do those things that would provoke that sort of justifiable response. We're going to need to, I think, retool our policy and work to challenge the regime on the ground in Venezuela.


Rodrigo Diamante: I want to jump in with some math to this equation. I think as long as -- if people from Venezuela -- or becoming a refugee is easier than bringing down the dictatorship, people will prefer -- will have to decide to choose to escape. As long as it is easier to put all the political prisoners -- all the political politicians in prison is easier than bringing down the dictatorship, as in that is what is going to happen to a politician, without a position and a people ready to fight, I don't see a solution inside the country.


      So again, there have to be something that need to change that equation that will make more costly for them to do whatever they want because so far, just beyond some sanctions from the U.S., there is no any penalty for their actions. I remember when they tried to introduce the humanitarian aid some months ago, and we couldn't, and then nothing happened. There was like this meeting of all members of the Latin American continent, and they just condemned what just happened. And there's nothing that will affect directly every time they kill someone, put someone in prison. That equation is working against us, and that's why we're losing power every day.


Amb. Grover Rees:  If I can suggest a possible trigger that didn't happen, I was personally shocked by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights report that said that there had been several thousand extrajudicial killings, that the government forces would go in and they'd fire machine gun bullets against a wall to make it look as though the victims had resisted, and then they would simply engage in mass slaughter of people who had not themselves committed violence. I really thought there was going to be a bigger international reaction to that than there has been. Would there need to be something else like that? Would there need to be another massacre in order to galvanize international forces to do whatever it is they're going to do?


Amb. Roger Noriega:  I was alluding to, by the way, a situation where there would be a mobilization of people, again, to challenge the regime. And there would be brutal repression against them in the streets which would cause some sort of a public revulsion and reaction. Again, I think the regime with their Cuban handlers are advising them how to avoid this kind of provocative display of force. They're perfectly content with driving people quietly out of the country, anybody with any energy leaving the country, abandoning the country.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Well, that's what I thought until I saw this report. And of course, it wasn't 4,000 people all killed in one day. It was over a period of time. But apparently, they're not doing it publicly in the streets, but they are engaging in massive extrajudicial killing as well as torture. And the report goes into detail: electric shock, sexual violence against women, those kinds of things. Anybody have another further reaction on the questioner's question or my follow-up?


Rodrigo Diamante:  Well, I believe that the report, it was surprising. But again, what is also surprising there is no response from international community after something like that. So basically, there is something is that is not working in the system, and it looks like only strong image will help to explain that we need to act. So basically, it's like the international community is waiting for another disaster, another massacre in order to manage to do something more.


      But the people are dying every day because of the scarcity of food. This doesn't go too well into the media because it is something that happened very slowly. So basically, yeah, I am worried about the pace of the international community. But again, I am more worried that we are talking about, I don't know, military actions when we haven't seen other type of actions that are easier for the continent are not being done. So I even see far, far away any type of those actions that are stronger when the easy ones haven't been applied to Venezuela at this point.


      So yes, maybe we just need to wait for more pressure. Maybe countries are waiting that their borders will collapse like in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru in order to raise their voice to a level that they understand that they need to do something more and really stop what is happening. I was surprised that this week the Pope that hasn't spoken too much of Venezuela, even the Pope, have just said that the tragedy in Venezuela must end, that we need to find a solution, for the first time that he make publicly make this statement that we need to solve the crisis in Venezuela because it can't continue like this. And this is very important, a message to the Catholic world, and I hope that this will have the consequence at some point in political actors.


      But again, we have been doing everything possible we can do as human rights activists, and I don't know. Next week, I will be in Brussels advocating and talking with the European Union and the European Parliament about doing something against the regime right now. But I don't have too many high hopes that we will see a quick response for Venezuela.


Amb. Grover Rees:  We're running out of time. I would like to give, if we can, Colonel Arocha and Ambassador Noriega each one minute to summarize or to add any final thoughts.


Col. José Arocha:  Well, I think that the problems is not just from the Venezuelans only. There's a regional problem. And there is not only to the Maduro regime out, but there is the main goal, I think, is to stop the Bolivarian Revolution to spread on the region.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Ambassador Noriega?


Amb. Roger Noriega:  Yes. One of the panelists referred to a man named Hugo Carvajal who is a general in the Venezuelan military, deeply involved in narco trafficking. Another mentioned Christopher Figuera, another general deeply involved in human rights abuses. These people are being used by -- are being presented by our State Department as evidence that there is room for bringing about change in Venezuela. If these people are supposed to represent change, we are in very serious trouble.


      I will say one final point on negotiations that are going on right now. We don't know who's leading these negotiations on the part of our side, whatever side that is. There are no clear red lines. There are no clear objectives. And I'm afraid that it'll produce some sort of an agreement for another round of phony elections which the regime will use to consolidate power, to bleed off international pressure, and get sanctions lifted. That, right now, is the looming problem.


Amb. Grover Rees:  Thank you so much, Ambassador. And thanks to our other panelists. I think that's all the time we have.


Wesley Hodges:  Well, Ambassador, and all of our panelists, thank you so much from The Federalist Society as well. On behalf of The Federalist Society, I would like to thank each of you for the benefit of your valuable time and expertise today. We welcome all listener feedback by email at Thank you all for joining. This call is now adjourned.


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