Appeasement: From Munich to Crimea and Caracas

As in Munich, many observers of the Venezuelan situation felt dialogue was the correct route. The Pope asked for it. So did the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry and many Latin American political leaders. MUD, echoing Chamberlain, must have felt that they were interpreting correctly the desires of the people for peaceful co-existence and for attempting to change the policies of the regime, not changing the regime.


By Gustavo Coronel l May 19, 2014

In 1937 the general mood of European democracies became one of appeasement. Britain and France had refused to get involved in the Spanish civil war. In fact, France had placed an arms embargo on the Republican government to avoid antagonizing Germany. In November 1937 Hitler had met with his military commanders and explained to them his plan for the invasion and colonization of Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union already outlined in the Mein Kampf.

By 1938, says Henry Kissinger in his book “Diplomacy,” Hitler felt strong enough to destroy the national boundaries established at Versailles, starting with Austria. This move, writes Kissinger, had “about it the sense of ambiguity” that was essential to Hitler’s early challenges. Why not Austria, where sympathy for Nazi Germany was strong? Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea has had the same sense of ambiguity.

Then Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia, in spite of the country’s military alliances with France and the Soviet Union. Trying to placate Germany, Great Britain asked for a meeting with Hitler and sent Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, already 69 years old, on a five hour flight, his first flight ever, to a remote location, Berchtesgaden, where Hitler spoke with him for seven hours. In this first meeting Chamberlain reluctantly consented to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, a position also taken by French Prime Minister Daladier in a second meeting and, finally, at Munich, in a summit with Germany, Italy, Great Britain and France. Kissinger mentions that the Czech representatives were in the anteroom but were not called into the conversations, while their fate was being discussed.

The Munich dialogue and results were met with global approval. President Roosevelt sent Chamberlain his congratulations. The Prime Minister of Canada thanked him for his service to mankind. The Australian prime Minister was grateful for his efforts to “preserve the peace.” Chamberlain returned to England claiming “to having brought peace for our time.”

Kissinger comments that Chamberlain’s reputation and credibility collapsed after it became evident that this would not happen. He says that Chamberlain had only been doing what he felt were the prevailing wishes of the majorities. These majorities, however, would turn against Chamberlain once it became apparent that appeasement and capitulation had not brought peace to his times, according to Kissinger.

It would take the abusive incorporation of non-German populations into Nazi Germany to exhaust English patience. At this point England no longer acted with political pragmatism but with a sense of moral outrage, based on Wilsonian principles rather than in realpolitik. The Second World War ensued shortly thereafter.

Then Putin quietly turned to Latin America where that sense of ambiguity created by his annexation of Crimea seems to have prompted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to say he was seeking to establish a military presence in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Clearly, President Obama’s weak response to Russian moves in Ukraine may serve as a stimulus for Putin’s further imperialistic moves elsewhere. The plan for Russian military bases in a number of foreign countries, including Venezuela and its bloc of so-called ALBA member nations like Cuba and Nicaragua, indicates Russia’s expanding geopolitical strategy against the West.

After 15 years of an abusive Venezuelan regime led by Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, with the tutorial guidance of Castro’s Cuba, the economy of the country has been run into the ground. Politically the regime has violated about every article of the long and prescriptive constitution they had imposed upon Venezuelans. And this has been taking place without a major civic upheaval.

All attempts by the opposition to dislodge the Chavez regime through electoral means has failed due to the total control of the electoral system exercised by the government. However, elections kept taking place without the opposition represented by Mesa de Unidad Democratica, MUD, ever demanding a cleanup of the electoral registry or the naming of impartial directors of the Electoral Council. After the particularly murky presidential election of April 2013, MUD took a stronger stance and did not recognize the new president, Nicolas Maduro.

Daladier and Chamberlain had also taken a strong stance against Hitler’s ambitions during the early stages of their meetings with the Fuehrer. Both stances, in Munich and Caracas, were short-lived. In the case of MUD, the strong posture evaporated in a matter of months and was transformed into a desire for dialogue. This produced a rupture of the common front of the opposition to the regime, since a group felt that enough was enough and that a strategy of confrontation, rather than dialogue and negotiation with the regime was required. This group took to the streets in a mood reminiscent of the words of William Jennings Bryan: “We have petitioned and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer. We entreat no more. We petition no more. We defy them.”

As in Munich, many observers of the Venezuelan situation felt dialogue was the correct route. The Pope asked for it. So did the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry and many Latin American political leaders. MUD, echoing Chamberlain, must have felt that they were interpreting correctly the desires of the people for peaceful co-existence and for attempting to change the policies of the regime, not changing the regime.

In their wish to adhere to this course of peaceful action MUD made concessions to the regime that many believed unacceptable. The prisoners are still in prison, the children continue to be indoctrinated, food and medicines are scarce, the oil industry is in ruins, corruption dominates bureaucracy and, worst of all, the human rights of Venezuelans are openly violated before the eyes of the world. But MUD kept negotiating with the Caracas regime, although, in the last few hours, it is finally giving signs of losing its infinite patience. England finally lost its patience with Germany.

The morals of this parallelism remind me of the saying by Spanish philosopher Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Gustavo Coronel, who served on the board of directors of Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), has had a long and distinguished career in the international petroleum industry, including in the USA, Europe, Venezuela and Indonesia. He is an author, public policy expert and contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.