To Save Venezuela, Give Maduro an Exit Strategy

Hopes for regime change in Venezuela have surged in recent weeks, the result of a coalescing political opposition and apparent divisions within President Nicolás Maduro’s ruling socialist party ahead of July 28 elections.

While there are reasons to be more optimistic, and change requires doing exactly what the opposition is doing, there is no point in getting too upbeat until we have a clearer solution to this story’s biggest conundrum: what to do with Maduro and his allies to guarantee a political transition. Let me explain.

The candidacy of Edmundo González Urrutia has unified the opposition behind a respectable, consensus-building figure. Maduro’s government has so far accepted his nomination after blocking previous attempts to pick a presidential contender, most notably María Corina Machado, the wildly popular winner of the October opposition primary. Polls indicate that González Urrutia, a soft-spoken career diplomat, is ahead in voters’ preferences and in position to beat Maduro in the election.

If that’s the case, the optimistic argument goes, a huge turnout in his favor and Venezuelans’ irresistible desire for change will be enough to overcome attempts by the Maduro government to rig the vote as it did in 2018. The eventual presence of election observers and pressure from key international countries, particularly neighbors Brazil and Colombia, could make the process more transparent; overwhelmed by bigger-than-expected popular fervor, the regime will have no choice but to sit down with the opposition and agree to a transition.

Investors are also sniffing the winds of change. In late April, Venezuela’s defaulted bonds touched the highest levels in three months amid signs the government might become more open to restructuring $154 billion in unpaid securities.