Fifteen years ago, South America witnessed a remarkable example of how regional diplomacy can help a country overcome a profound political crisis. Polarization and consequent tensions regarding Venezuela’s political direction grew in the years after Hugo Chávez’s election in 1999. They spiked in 2002, when a group of businessmen and military leaders staged a short-lived coup d’état. Chávez returned to power within forty-eight hours. Governments in the region not only condemned the move, but also closely followed the situation and pressured both the Venezuelan government and the opposition to re-establish a dialogue in the coup’s aftermath.
How South America Let Venezuela Down
The political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves was not only entirely predictable, but could most likely have been prevented by a more assertive and imaginative regional diplomatic strategy. Yet a rare combination of factors, ranging from a power vacuum in South America, Brazil’s role as an enabler and a growing influence by extra-regional powers such as China and Russia has visibly reduced the region’s capacity to help Venezuela overcome its domestic problems.
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