The Parable of the Bear

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John J Mearsheimer
John J Mearsheimer

John Mearsheimer, a realistic internationalist who was my professor at the University of Chicago many years ago, I’m willing to admit, argues that the international crisis caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine was in very large part the result is the somewhat irrational desire to deal a geostrategic blow to Russia. Attempting to bring Ukraine into the sphere of influence of the United States and Western Europe created a deep sense of insecurity in Russia, which that country had to contend with at the end of a military invasion.

Mearsheimer says that if you start poking the bear with a stick until it upsets or causes pain, the bear always ends up reacting violently. Therefore, it is better to leave the bear alone. When it comes to putting him off, it’s best not to intimidate him or make him feel insecure. You have to resort to other types of mechanisms. And more importantly, if the desire is to keep him from being a threat, cornering him is in no way a good idea. It is best to always give him the opportunity to voluntarily and gracefully exit the critical situation he is in.

The parable of the bear has an equally interesting correlate in our neighborhood. The government of Iván Duque tried to get the bear out (the Maduro government in Venezuela) the hard way, with the help of neighbors (the Lima Group and the United States), unsafe and trying to corner him to drive. On this occasion, the bear chose a different strategy from Putin’s, but one that worked very well for him: he sat, waited, let the time pass, and finally stood in the garden, where he calmly and coercively sipped the contents of the picnic basket ate Duke to lock himself in his house in shame.

Iván Duque questioned the possibility of opening talks with Venezuela while Maduro is in power.  Photos: REUTERS (Hannah McKay) / EFE (Rayner Peña)
Iván Duque questioned the possibility of opening talks with Venezuela while Maduro is in power. Photos: REUTERS (Hannah McKay) / EFE (Rayner Peña)

Today things are very different. Maduro has the opportunity to present himself as a regional leader and protagonist of the end of the multifaceted and complicated Colombian conflict. Participating in the peace process with the ELN provides him with the perfect framework to end his government with a positive legacy after significantly deteriorating his country’s democratic regime and economy. With these negotiations and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Petro government is opening a great and dignified door for the transfer of power in Venezuela to take place through free and democratic elections.

At the same time, the Colombian government has an opportunity to present itself to the international community as the great architect of change in Venezuela, the incarnation of a new left committed to democracy at home and in the neighborhood. Ready to achieve through political negotiations what many have tried unsuccessfully.

If your government achieves peace in Colombia and can also become a facilitator in the process that would lead to a change of government in Caracas, Chavismo would become the competing political force that it was and always should have been, and that Venezuela will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, then both countries have achieved their goals. It’s a win-win situation that depends on the political will to help each other and clear objectives, diplomatic filigree characterized by discretion and extreme prudence, and of course a bit of luck.

Archive photo.  Guerrillas from the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rest in front of a house in the jungle of Chocó department, Colombia, August 30, 2017 REUTERS/Federico Ríos
Archive photo. Guerrillas from the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rest in front of a house in the jungle of Chocó department, Colombia, August 30, 2017 REUTERS/Federico Ríos

For Petro and Maduro, making the change and coming back through the front door to the community of democratic nations would be the most important achievement of their political careers for Venezuela. For Petro in particular, achieving peace and participating decisively in the Venezuelan process could be the first step in cementing himself as the regional and even international leader of a renewed, modern left committed to the rule of law.

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