The Estrada doctrine is obsolete

It is reasonable to suspect that neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence has even heard about the Estrada Doctrine, formally adopted by the United States and other nations in 1980.

According to this doctrine, the recognition of a government must be based upon its de facto existence rather than its legitimacy. It was proclaimed in 1930 by Mexico’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Don Genero Estrada. Since that time, it has confirmed the principles of non-intervention, peaceful resolution of disputes and self-determination for all nations. The Venezuelan crisis has not brought about an unsustainable situation insofar as the United States appears inclined to violate that doctrine with another military intervention in Latin America, against the will of Mexico and other countries that invoke instead a political and diplomatic solution of the crisis. In historical terms, the Estrada Doctrine articulates the position that Mexico does not judge positively or negatively foreign governments or changes of government in other countries as such action would violate the principle of sovereignty. The Estrada Doctrine has not amounted to a large influence outside Mexico and Latin American countries, but its enunciation was then and remains today a reaction to the overwhelming criteria of recognition set by the United States. The problem here is that in a real sense the Estrada Doctrine is obsolete. In fact, its application in the case of Venezuela is somewhat deficient and controversial.

This grave crisis, however, threatens to be resolved by another doctrine that bears the name of James Monroe, the American president who enunciated it in 1823 with the purpose of protecting the western hemisphere from the interference and intrigues of European powers. The Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States would consider as “hostile” any European attempt to oppress and control any nation in the western hemisphere. The introduction of the Monroe Doctrine was practically ignored in Europe until President Polk invoked it to warn Spain and England from acting on their claims over Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. The validity of the Monroe Doctrine was finally put to the test by President Theodore Roosevelt when he stated that if a despotic regime were to be imposed in chaotic conditions in a Latin American country, the United States would intervene to re-establish order and democracy. It was the birth of the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine that history later registered as Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick.” Since that time, the cases of intervention by the United States in the western hemisphere are abundant, from Cuba to Panama, from Haiti to Grenada. Among them, only Panama and Grenada can be considered more or less successful.

Now, the world is facing the case of Venezuela, where the regime of Nicolas Maduro, the heir of the movement led by Hugo Chavez, has suffocated the opposition and plunged into misery a country that not long ago boasted a wealthy economy, built upon the base of its large petroleum reserves. The recent re-election of Maduro lacks legitimacy while the proclamation of the interim presidency of the young parliamentarian Juan Guaido by the opposition is somewhat irregular. The United States, however, has immediately recognized Guaido as the anointed president of Venezuela. Several Latin American countries have lined up with Washington while the European countries supported Guaido in less explicit terms and called for immediate elections. Not surprisingly, Mexico stuck to the Estrada Doctrine and denied recognition.

In short, the Trump administration faces the problem of applying the Roosevelt Corollary with a military intervention. Venezuela is not a third world country and cannot be regarded as a strategic interest of the United States, comparable to countries such as Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea. The oil produced by Venezuela is of the heavy variety and destined almost exclusively to refineries in the U.S. Furthermore, the United States has reached energy independence. China is obviously interested in importing Venezuelan oil to the point that it keeps afloat the disastrous budget of Caracas.

The ongoing developments confirm the extreme difficulty of starting a diplomatic dialogue aimed at a negotiated solution of the crisis. The Latin American nations are divided and the hemispheric forum of the Organization of American States lacks the ability to serve as a mediator. In fact, President Trump has complicated such mission by following a disruptive policy vis-à-vis international organizations and agreements. If external intervention may appear justified by the lasting bloody conflict in Venezuela and the prospect of a civil war, it is also evident that the same Latin American nations are against a military action by the United States. The Estrada Doctrine does not pass unanimous approval but neither does the Roosevelt Corollary. They both belong to the past. In their stead, there is another way to judge internal conflict such as the one on Venezuela, that of waiting for the emergence of a winner. The arbiter of such a fateful clash is the military leadership that at the moment is still backing Maduro. In the end, however, the military will have to choose. There is a strong belief shaping up that the choice will not favor Maduro, who will have no other option than to fly out of Caracas with the destination of Cuba.

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