When President Trump announced Wednesday that the United States was recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president over President Nicolás Maduro, it raised concerns, given the long history of US intervention in Latin American politics, including allegations of backing coups.
Yet, according to Ricardo Hausmann, Venezuela’s former minister of planning and a former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank, there’s reason for cautious optimism. Calls for change in Venezuela, he said, are not about the United States. It’s not about right or left or socialism vs. capitalism, but about the Venezuelan people, who have been hurting for far too long.
Hausmann, a Harvard economics professor and director of the university’s Center for International Development, spoke to the Globe Wednesday by phone from Davos, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. The interview has been condensed and edited.
Can you tell me about what happened in Venezuela? How did this come about?
What happened [Wednesday] is the result of a very, very well-thought out political plan. This is not a coincidence, this is not good luck. This is a political plan that was led by the Venezuelan opposition.
But don’t you, as a Venezuelan, have any concerns or hesitations about the United States deciding it has the power to say who is or is not a legitimate president, or what is a legitimate government? Considering the history, doesn’t that give you pause?
Absolutely no. The United States is not the main player here, the main player is the political forces in Venezuela and the Venezuelan people. There is broad support, bipartisan support in the United States in support of Venezuelan democracy. I think that the United States might have had, in the 1950s and 1970s here and there, issues that you might want to question, but we are not going to be trapped by US history.
This is not a puppet. These are elected officials that won in an unfair election despite government abuses, despite government restrictions, [and] in spite of all odds. These are people who fought an election and won.
This is no puppet dictator, this is the reestablishment of democracy in Venezuela.
So what you’re saying is that because Venezuela is driving everything, there’s no fear that the US will cross some untoward line?
Venezuela is going to need massive international support to end this humanitarian catastrophe, stabilize the situation, and improve the living situation. This cannot be seen from the narrow point of the US and the history of the US in Latin America. This is the here-and-now, and this is a very important step forward for democracy in Venezuela and Latin America.
Where does Venezuela go from here? Do you see Venezuela keeping socialism? Socialist programs?
There [are] no socialist programs in Venezuela. This is the biggest economic collapse, outside of war, in human history.
So what comes next? If this is the reestablishment of democracy in Venezuela, what happens now?
The first thing is that the armed forces have to ask Maduro to leave. There is massive domestic support, there is massive international support, so there’s political institutional support. What’s lacking is an armed force that, up to now, has been willing to keep Maduro in power while he was ruling the country in an unconstitutional way. That’s the next shoe that has to drop.
Once Guaidó is in power, he has to organize a broad-based government. This broad-based government has two tasks: First they need to stabilize the country, stop the humanitarian crisis, and [then] organize free and fair elections.
The Venezuelan opposition united to get rid of Maduro; once rid of Maduro, I’m sure there will be very, very vigorous competition. There is diversity of views in the Venezuelan opposition; it’s reflected in the political parties in the National Assembly, it’s reflected in different policy priorities — like in any democracy. We need to get back to that.
You mentioned that the military has to ask Maduro to leave. Is there any fear of a civil war?
I don’t see the Venezuelan opposition having arms. The Venezuelan opposition is not an armed opposition. Historically in Venezuela, when there have been military problems, the military has resolved it without shooting each other.
This is a dangerous moment, it’s clearly a dangerous moment. You never know what these criminal gangs are going to do with Maduro. Let’s understand: Two nephews of Maduro are in a US jail for having attempted to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine. Billions of dollars of Maduro’s people have been seized by the United States.
This is not a left-wing romantic, this is a criminal organization that has taken over a country.
You’ve mentioned that Venezuela will need massive international support to stop both the economic and humanitarian crises. Is there any concern that other nations, like the United States, might want to exert power over Venezuela in exchange for assistance?
Venezuela will have to protect its national interest, but I don’t see that as a particularly complicated thing to manage. I think that everybody understands that.
What did the international community do during any other crisis? It’s typically [that] they protect their national interests, and the national interests of the United States, Canada, Latin America, is the recovery of the Venezuelan economy. So I think it will be a very constructive relationship.