Speculation is rising that Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and her diplomats are involved in efforts to broker a solution to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The Norwegian government has been criticized for refusing to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s new president, but may have needed to remain impartial.
Søreide has explained Norway’s uncharacteristic restraint regarding the Venezuelan crisis as rooted in an alleged tradition of recognizing states, not governments. She claims Norway has always expressed support for Guaido as the elected and legitimate leader of Venezuela’s national assembly, but he hasn’t won Norway’s recognition as functioning president over the country’s sitting and embattled president, Nicolas Maduro.
Norway has thus adopted a much more careful position on the Venezuelan crisis than nearly all its closest allies, including Germany, France, Austria, Spain, Great Britain, its neighbouring Scandinavian countries Sweden and Denmark and, not least, the US. Instead, Søreide has opted to encourage “dialogue” between Guaido and Maduro and their respective supporters.
“We maintain a demand for respect for democratic rights and a new election,” Søreide declared earlier this month in a statement reported by Norwegian media. “The situation in Venezuela has become critical and we encourage the parties to establish an inclusive political process that can lead to a new election.”
Eriksen also stated at the time that “Norway has a dialogue with both sides” and had “offered assistance in beginning such a process when they so desire.”
Norway’s ‘unique position’
That’s since led to the speculation that talks are already going on behind closed doors, especially since Guaido declared himself to be acting president in January while Maduro continues to cling to power. Maduro has also rejected appeals from the European Union (EU) and countries including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay to hold a new presidential election as soon as possible.
Norway isn’t a member of the EU and also has lengthy experience in brokering peace in Venezuela’s neighbouring Colombia, which has taken in millions of Venezuelan refugees. That gives Norway, once again, a “unique position” that’s been called upon before in various conflicts from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. While Norwegian-led negotiations haven’t been entirely successful, they may strengthen Norway’s role as a broker in attempts to resolve the Venezuelan impasse.
“I think there are negotiations going on in the back room, and that Norway has a role in them,” Benedicte Bull, a professor at the University of Oslo who specializes in Latin American issues, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday.
Bull thinks Norway’s refusal to go along with all countries that have publicly supported Guaido over Maduro is part of a conscious strategy that’s probably been cleared with top US government officials. She even thinks the US is playing the role of “bad cop,” in order to facilitate secret negotiations that may resolve the crisis and allow those participating to emerge as “good cops.” US President Donald Trump delivered another verbal assault on Maduro earlier this week, and threatened the generals who still support Maduro.
An “advantage” with different roles
Bull also see similarities to Norway’s role in the peace talks in Colombia and its ability to deal with the FARC guerrilla movement, which was possible because Norway has never joined the EU. Neither the EU nor its members could negotiate because the EU had FARC on its list of terrorist organizations.
Norway’s role in Colombia has also been widely recognized in Venezuela, and may have provided Norway with a channel into Maduro’s regime. DN reported that a lid has been firmly placed on any such “back channels,” however, with no one even confirming they may exist, much less whether talks are underway.
Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized earlier this month that Norway had “weakened” the international front against Maduro and his regime that has “lost all form for democratic legitimacy.” At the same time, wrote Aftenposten, Norway must be able to make its own evaluations and appears to have wanted to keep all channels open. “In an unclear situation, it can be an advantage to have different countries playing different roles,” Aftenposten wrote.