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Opposition selected new parliamentary leadership, Mexico talks between govt and opposition stalled, and protests over low wages erupted across country.
Opposition elected new parliamentary leadership, exposing deep internal cleavages. After mainstream opposition late Dec dissolved so-called “interim presidency” of Juan Guaidó, opposition-led National Assembly 5 Jan voted for new leadership, comprising three women, including incoming head Dinorah Figuera from Justice First (PJ) party. All three are in exile and represent so-called “G3” – three largest parties in opposition alliance Unitary Platform – which are increasingly at odds with Popular Will (VP), Guaidó’s party. Exiled VP leader Leopoldo López 12 Jan accused several leading G3 politicians in Unitary Platform delegation to Nov Mexico City dialogue of allying with President Maduro, claiming delegation was “infiltrated”. In same briefing, López blamed PJ’s Julio Borges for failure of 2019 coup attempt, triggering prosecutors 16 Jan to issue arrest warrant for Borges. Meanwhile, opposition-led National Assembly 19 Jan named five-person executive committee to manage Venezuelan assets held abroad.
Efforts to schedule next round of Mexico talks stalled over frozen assets. Maduro govt refused to agree to schedule second meeting of renewed Mexico City talks with Unitary Platform until U.S. unfreezes funds promised under Nov agreement. Unitary Platform delegation 13 Jan met U.S. Assistant Sec State Brian Nichols in U.S. capital Washington DC to resolve issue, but returned without apparent progress. Maduro’s chief negotiator and National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez 17 Jan said there was “no reason to continue a dialogue with people who don’t keep their word”.
Fresh wave of labour unrest erupted. Demonstrations occurred throughout month as public sector wages sank further in real terms, fuelled by substantial devaluation of bolívar currency. Teachers 9 Jan began nationwide protests over wages and conditions, prompting govt-backed armed civilian groups known as colectivos in Aragua state 14 Jan to threaten consequences; National Guard 19 Jan reportedly warned protesting teachers they could face reprisals by colectivos. Union representatives at state-owned Sidor steel plant in Bolívar state said authorities 9-12 Jan arrested at least 12 workers amid labour unrest. Public sector workers 23 Jan marched in cities across country, including Maracaibo (Zulia state) and Valencia (Carabobo state).
Opposition voted to dissolve Guaidó’s interim govt amid ongoing efforts to forge united front ahead of 2024 polls; dialogue initiatives between govt and opposition remained strained.
Opposition voted to end interim govt led by Juan Guaidó. Opposition-led National Assembly 30 Dec overwhelmingly voted to dissolve Guaidó’s interim presidency, with 72 votes in favour, 29 against and eight abstentions, after opposition said interim govt was no longer “perceived as an option for real political change”; opposition parties seek united front with single candidate to run against President Maduro in 2024 polls. Guaidó 31 Dec warned that removal of interim govt would bolster Maduro’s regime. Meanwhile, opposition 21 Dec announced plans to create executive committees to manage Venezuelan assets held abroad, such as Citgo Petroleum, currently managed by interim govt.
Govt held discussions with opposition parties outside Unitary Platform. Following resumption of Norwegian-facilitated Mexico City dialogue in Nov, opposition alliance Unitary Platform 3 Dec issued statement asking govt to schedule further meeting to discuss political issues, such as electoral reform; statement came amid Maduro’s apparent reluctance to organise another meeting. Authorities 2 Dec held parallel talks with opposition parties outside platform, including several representatives of opposition coalition Democratic Alliance, while simultaneously labelling Unitary Platform members “terrorists”. Govt’s chief negotiator and National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez same day said talks would yield agreement covering social, economic, political and electoral matters “in thirty days”.
In other important developments. U.S. federal judge 23 Dec rejected attempt by close Maduro ally and businessman Alex Saab, currently detained in U.S. on money-laundering charges, to claim diplomatic immunity and avoid trial; Maduro has frequently demanded Saab’s release.
Dialogue between authorities and opposition resumed in Mexico after one year on hold as sides signed long-awaited agreement to alleviate humanitarian crisis.
Govt and opposition signed humanitarian deal during resumed Mexico talks. Govt and opposition 26 Nov re-joined Norwegian-facilitated Mexico City dialogue, suspended since Oct 2021, and signed long-awaited deal to gradually unfreeze some $3bn in Venezuelan state assets held abroad; agreement is intended to provide finance, under UN supervision, for improvements in electricity infrastructure as well as health, education and food projects, to alleviate humanitarian crisis. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 27 Nov welcomed agreement and called on parties to “remain fully engaged” in negotiations. Going forward, discussions expected to centre around resolution of underlying political conflict. U.S. 26 Nov responded to advances in negotiations by exempting oil company Chevron from sanctions, allowing it to expand oil production and sell it on U.S. market. Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami 29 Nov announced govt had signed contracts with Chevron.
Preparation for opposition primaries continued. Opposition alliance Unitary Platform 15 Nov installed commission charged with organising primaries in 2023 to select single candidate for 2024 presidential election. Commission must decide on number of contentious issues, such as whether to seek assistance from govt-controlled National Electoral Council and/or international electoral bodies, and how to ensure participation of Venezuelan diaspora, which currently numbers around 7mn. Law Professor Jesús María Casal, who chairs commission, 15 Nov said it would immediately begin consultations with political parties, potential candidates and civil society.
Colombian and Venezuelan leaders pledged cooperation during Caracas meeting. As Colombian President Petro 1 Nov conducted first official visit to capital Caracas, he and President Maduro signed joint communiqué pledging cooperation in areas such as trade, border security, consular services and transport links. Meeting however failed to produce many concrete commitments. Notably, Venezuela did not agree to return to inter-American human rights system, despite Colombian govt’s indications it would, nor did communiqué mention Venezuela’s return to Andean Community trading bloc, despite Maduro’s comments to the contrary 1 Nov.
Opposition agreed on schedule for primaries ahead of 2024 polls, govt suffered diplomatic setbacks at UN human rights council, and U.S. imposed new laws to curb Venezuelan migration.
Opposition agreed on timetable for primaries, but faced challenge at Organization of American States (OAS). Amid claims that Mexico talks between govt and opposition alliance Unitary Platform could soon resume, Platform representatives mid-Oct met in Panama with head of U.S. Venezuela Affairs Unit Ambassador James Story. According to 14 Oct report by Reuters news agency, opposition leaders agreed to hold primaries in June 2023 ahead of 2024 presidential election. However, 19 Oct communiqué outlining rules for primaries did not mention enlisting collaboration of National Electoral Council, suggesting participation could be severely curtailed due to inadequate technical capabilities; participation could also be limited as most members of Venezuelan diaspora, now around seven mn, will not be able to participate due to onerous conditions for registration and lack of access to consulates. Meanwhile, at OAS General Assembly held 5-7 Oct in Peru’s capital Lima, motion challenging status of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s representative, Gustavo Tarre, as Venezuela’s permanent representative at OAS failed to obtain required 2/3 majority. However, 19 members backed proposal to discuss removing Tarre, indicating region’s growing impatience with recognition of “interim govt”.
Internationally, govt suffered diplomatic setbacks on human rights front. UN Human Rights Council 7 Oct voted to extend mandate of Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela by two years; body, which FM Carlos Faría same day described as “designed for interventionism”, mid-Sept had reported that human rights violations have been govt policy under President Maduro since 2014. In further setback for govt, Venezuela 11 Oct lost bid for re-election to UN Human Rights Council, obtaining only 88 votes compared to Costa Rica’s 134 and Chile’s 144.
U.S. announced plans to expel Venezuelans entering U.S. illegally to Mexico. In bid to curb rising numbers of Venezuelans entering U.S., Washington 12 Oct announced it would begin applying former President Trump’s Title 42 provision of immigration law to Venezuelans, meaning those who enter U.S. without visas will be expelled to Mexico, which agreed to host them (see Mexico).
Dialogue between authorities and opposition remained on hold, opposition started preparations ahead of 2024 polls, and restoration of diplomatic relations with Colombia proceeded apace.Mexico dialogue between govt and opposition remained stalled. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee 15 Sept held hearing on policy toward Venezuela. U.S. Assistant Sec State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols reaffirmed Biden administration’s goal of persuading Maduro govt to return to suspended negotiations in Mexico City with opposition in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Under pressure from Republican members and committee chair Senator Bob Menéndez, Nichols stressed Washington’s continued support for “interim govt” and willingness to take “comprehensive” measures if progress on talks was not achieved. Maduro same day dismissed threat, saying U.S. would never again be world’s “only empire”.Opposition made progress on preparations for primaries. Opposition alliance Unitary Platform 15 Sept announced plans to appoint special commission with members drawn from civil society, responsible for overseeing primaries to select single candidate for 2024 presidential election. Platform same day said it had reached “important agreements” with other opposition groups willing to participate, although several such groups, including breakaway faction of Acción Democrática party, have already announced their own candidates for 2024 election. In report published 20 Sept, UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela found that Venezuela’s state security agencies have committed “crimes against humanity” since 2014 as “part of a plan designed by high-level authorities to repress opponents of the Government”. Govt same day rejected “false and baseless accusations”.Authorities continued to strengthen diplomatic relations with Bogotá, reopened shared border. Colombian President Petro 12 Sept submitted formal request to Venezuela to act as guarantor in planned peace talks with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, which has substantial presence in Venezuela; President Maduro 13 Sept accepted request. Members of ELN negotiating team same day reportedly left for Caracas from Cuba’s capital Havana, where they had remained in exile since 2019 when talks with Colombian govt broke down. Marking another step forward in bilateral relations, Colombia-Venezuela border 26 Sept reopened, although anticipated meeting between Maduro and Petro did not take place.
Colombia and Venezuela restored diplomatic relations, Mexico dialogue remained on hold, and divisions within opposition over question of primaries to elect candidate for 2024 elections persisted. After govt and incoming Colombian administration late-July agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, Colombian President Petro 28 Aug sent new ambassador, Armando Benedetti, to Caracas, reversing outgoing Colombian President Duque’s confrontational policy toward Venezuela; President Maduro same day sent former FM Félix Plasencia as Venezuela's representative in Bogotá. Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaidó 12 Aug claimed there had been “informal meetings” between opposition leadership and Petro’s govt, but said he wished Petro had not so quickly recognised Maduro’s govt, which he accused of “harbouring terrorism”. Amid restoration of relations, govt 4 Aug announced it would seek extradition of leading opposition politician Julio Borges from Colombia, whom Caracas accuses of orchestrating Aug 2018 drone explosion near Maduro during military parade. Court same day sentenced Borges’ Primero Justicia party member, Juan Requesens, to eight years in prison for involvement in same drone attack; 16 others received up to 30 years. Govt’s chief negotiator Jorge Rodríguez 9 Aug said talks with opposition could not resume until Venezuelan cargo plane, held in Argentina since early-June at Washington’s request because of suspected links to Iranian Revolutionary Guard (which remains on U.S.’ terrorism blacklist), was returned; meanwhile, opposition’s Chief Negotiator Gerardo Blyde 15 Aug said there was “very high probability” that formal Mexico talks between govt and opposition would soon resume. Opposition alliance Unitary Platform remained divided over issue of primaries to select candidate for 2024 presidential election; hardliners, including Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular, want primaries held in early 2023, while moderates prefer end of next year, and some accuse rivals of being more interested in settling issue of opposition leadership than participating in 2024 elections.
Govt agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties with Colombia following election of Gustavo Petro as president, Mexico talks remained on hold, and opposition parties began preparations for “open primaries” ahead of 2024 elections. Govt and incoming Colombian administration 28 July agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations. In joint declaration, FM Carlos Faria and Alvaro Leyva, Colombia’s designated foreign minister under incoming President Petro, said both govts will appoint ambassadors to their respective capitals and work to strengthen security along their shared border. Elsewhere on diplomatic front, top govt official 25 July insisted that if U.S. wanted access to Venezuelan oil and gas, it would have to “negotiate [directly] with the Government”. FM Faria 4 July met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, where they announced further cooperation to skirt U.S. sanctions and on investment projects. Mexico talks between govt and opposition remained suspended. Meanwhile, some opposition political parties geared up for “open primaries” announced in June by opposition alliance Unitary Platform to select candidate for 2024 presidential election. Notably, Primero Justicia party (Unitary Platform member) 9 July held internal elections for over 12,000 national, regional, municipal and parish representatives, while opposition figure Henri Falcón 18 July announced his newly created Movimiento party will participate in Unitary Platform’s primaries. Security forces 4-7 July arrested trade union activists and members of left-wing anti-Maduro party Bandera Roja, charging five of them under anti-terrorist and organised crime laws. Local human rights organisation Provea 13 July said arrests followed same pattern of harassment of civil society activists documented by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in report published late June. After delegation led by U.S. President Biden’s chief hostage negotiator late June failed to secure release of two U.S. hostages, media outlet Associated Press 13 July gave details of three other unreported cases of U.S. citizens arrested in Venezuela this year who are still detained. All three – two of whom were detained after high-level U.S. delegation visited Caracas in March – were accused of illegally entering country from Colombia.
Talks about resumption of Mexico dialogue continued, govt supporters attacked opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and President Maduro embarked on international tour to strengthen foreign relations. While U.S. govt and Venezuelan opposition continued to insist during month that resumption of suspended Mexico talks between govt and opposition was imminent, series of violent attacks against opposition leader Juan Guaidó during country tour cast doubt. Chavista militants 4 June tried to prevent Guaidó from speaking in Maracaibo municipality by throwing chairs at organisers; 11 June forced Guaidó to flee meeting in Cojedes state. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 12 June and European External Action Service 15 June condemned violence. In slight easing of sanctions, U.S. State Department reportedly sent letters to European oil companies Eni and Repsol early June allowing export of sanctioned Venezuelan oil to Europe for first time in two years, in apparent move to collect billions in unpaid debt owed by govt. U.S. Treasury Department 17 June removed Carlos Malpica Flores, former national treasurer and nephew of first lady, from U.S. sanctions list. Internationally, U.S. barred Venezuela, along with Nicaragua and Cuba, from 6-10 June Americas Summit in Los Angeles, defying pressure from Mexican President López Obrador, who subsequently boycotted event. U.S. President Biden 8 June held phone conversation with opposition leader Guaidó, reaffirmed support for interim leader and need for dialogue despite not inviting him to summit. U.S. delegation 27 June visited capital Caracas in attempt to secure release of detained Americans; effort failed and delegation left country on 30 June. In apparent bid to show he is not internationally isolated, Maduro 7 June embarked on trip to Turkey, Iran, Algeria, Kuwait and Qatar. In Iran, Maduro 11 June signed 20-year cooperation plan with govt. Venezuelan govt 4 June announced it would hold “counter-summit on 28-29 June” in San Cristobal city near Colombian border to reject Madrid NATO summit, which focused on Ukraine war. Meanwhile, Colombia’s President-elect Gustavo Petro 22 June spoke with Maduro about his commitment to reopen shared border, closed since 2015; Maduro reaffirmed willingness to “re-establish normalcy” at border.
Prospects for revival of Mexico talks between govt and opposition continued to stall, and Unitary Platform took steps to unify opposition ahead of 2024 elections. To encourage resumption of suspended Mexico talks between govt and opposition, U.S. officials 17 May indicated Washington would authorise U.S. oil company Chevron Corp to negotiate directly with Maduro govt and reportedly offered to lift sanctions against relative of First Lady Cilia Flores; leaders of both sides’ negotiating teams, govt’s representative Jorge Rodríguez and Unitary Platform’s Gerardo Blyde, same day met to discuss possible return to negotiations. However, Rodríguez 19 May insisted that businessman and Maduro’s close collaborator Alex Saab, who is awaiting trial on money-laundering charges in U.S., should participate in talks. U.S. president’s top Latin America adviser Juan González 19 May said further easing of sanctions, which would allow foreign oil companies to resume production and sell on U.S. market, depended on progress toward free and fair elections in Venezuela; González added that Maduro govt would not be able to profit from oil sales and that such measures would be reversed if it reneged on commitments. News of potential sanctions relief prompted hostile response from some of Venezuelan opposition’s allies in U.S. Congress, including Senate foreign relations chair Bob Menendez; U.S. Treasury Department 27 May renewed Chevron’s licence under same restricted conditions, seemingly quashing hopes of talks resumption. Meanwhile, opposition group Unitary Platform, under pressure from Washington, took steps toward greater unity during meeting in Panama. In statement published 16 May, it announced decision to appoint former National Assembly president Omar Barboza as coordinator, introduce new decision-making process and hold primaries, possibly in early 2023, to choose presidential candidate for 2024 elections; also called for “deep consultation process with the whole country” to determine procedure for primaries. Issues such as participation in primaries of Venezuelans abroad and whether govt-dominated electoral authority should be in charge of organising primary vote still needed to be resolved by end of month. Maduro, who has consolidated political control over country and Chavista movement, 16 May reshuffled cabinet. Notably, former ambassador to Moscow Carlos Faría replaced Foreign Minister Félix Plasencia.
President Maduro met with civil society platform, Mexico talks with opposition remained on hold, and two governments renewed diplomatic engagement with authorities. President Maduro 5 April received leading members of Foro Cívico civil society platform and – separately – leaders of moderate opposition Alianza Democrática; decision to meet harshly criticised by some as lending legitimacy to Maduro, questioned by some of Foro’s own members. Foro Cívico leaders insisted they did not have time to seek approval from associated organisations and therefore attended as “citizens”. Letter addressed to U.S. administration published 14 April, which called for more flexible approach to sanctions and contained some signatories linked to Foro Cívico, provoked further hostility. Meanwhile, Mexico talks still on hold by end of the month. Despite apparent disagreements within ruling party over appointment of new slimmed-down Supreme Court, ruling party-controlled National Assembly 26 April proceeded with nominations, named 20 overwhelmingly pro-govt magistrates to country’s Supreme Court (TSJ), dashing hopes on part of some in opposition for a more balanced court; TSJ judges 27 April appointed U.S.-sanctioned Gladys Gutiérrez as Court’s new president. Non-governmental organisation Foro Penal 29 April denounced detention of 240 political prisoners. International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan 1 April agreed to set up office in capital Caracas to resume in-country investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela since Feb 2014; 20 April announced he would seek court’s authorisation to continue investigation, despite govt’s request for deferral. Meanwhile, strategy adopted by U.S. and allies to diplomatically isolate Maduro’s govt appeared to be losing momentum. Notably, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández 18 April announced plans to restore full diplomatic relations, while Portugal’s next head of mission in Caracas will seek accreditation as ambassador, according to diplomatic sources, breaking with EU members’ policy of keeping relations at level of chargés d’affaires.
Following Russia’s late-Feb invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials and President Maduro’s govt held first bilateral talks in years; Mexico dialogue between authorities and opposition remained on hold. In unexpected move and for first time since 2016, senior U.S. officials 5 March travelled to capital Caracas to meet President Maduro’s govt as trip reportedly focused on assessing Maduro’s willingness to resume negotiations and release U.S. prisoners in exchange for sanctions’ relief. Following visit, Venezuelan authorities 8 March released two U.S citizens, including one of six oil executives arrested in 2017. While some U.S. officials insisted visit was primarily about prisoners’ release, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki 7 March said issue of “energy security” and need to find alternative energy sources ahead of U.S. 8 March ban on imports of Russian oil was raised. U.S. officials 10 March said any sanction relief would depend on release of more jailed U.S citizens and setting firm date for resuming negotiations with opposition. Meanwhile, authorities signalled continued ties to key ally Russia during month: notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maduro 1 March held call during which they discussed increasing strategic partnership between two countries; VP Delcy Rodriguez and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 10 March also met in Turkey to review countries’ strategic alliance and discuss “complex” international situation. While dialogue with opposition remained on hold, govt 15 March said it was launching « inclusive » national dialogue and seeking meetings with political and business groups and unions so they could join negotiations alongside opposition politicians. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó throughout month continued to push for Mexico talks to resume, while Maduro’s top negotiator, National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, 18 March said talks “had fulfilled their objectives”. Rodríguez 18 March accused Guaidó and other members of Voluntad Popular party of links to an alleged drug trafficker, said govt would no longer talk to Guaidó. UN fact-finding mission on Venezuela 18 March submitted its latest report to UN Human Rights Council, concluding govt’s effort to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of crimes remained insufficient.
Dialogue initiative between authorities and opposition in Mexico City remained stalled, while low-level violence persisted at Colombian border. Supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaidó 12 Feb held peaceful gathering to reject authoritarian rule, turned up in small numbers with mostly members of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party and representatives from minor parties. Mexico talks between opposition and authorities remained stalled; International Contact Group (with among others Chile, Ecuador, EU, France, Germany and Spain) 4 Feb urged all parties to resume dialogue. U.S., EU and 19 other countries 16 Feb seconded dialogue request, highlighting willingness to review sanctions policies. U.S. court 16 Feb revealed Maduro’s close collaborator Colombian businessman Alex Saab was cooperating source for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from 2018 and provided agents with information about bribes he paid to Venezuelan officials; Maduro has frequently demanded Saab’s release, saying he is Venezuelan diplomat whose presence is needed for Mexico talks. After govt late Jan began process of slimming down Supreme Court from 32 to 20 members, 2 Feb installed parliamentary committee to appoint new justices; following discussion with some opposition and civil society members, govt accepted five of their nominations and extended nomination period until 21 Feb. Low-intensity conflict continued in Apure state at Colombian border: Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino 11 Feb said military operations killed at least nine illegal armed groups members; shoot-out between National Liberation Army and dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as 10th Front 7 Feb killed one civilian in El Amparo. Antipersonnel mines placed by warring guerrilla groups in rural areas first week of Feb killed eight civilians, also in Apure. EU election observer mission 22 Feb presented final report on 21 Nov elections in Belgian capital Brussels, having failed to get permission to present it in Caracas; said election conditions had improved, proposed 23 recommendations for changes. After Russian deputy PM Yuri Borisov 16 Feb visited capital Caracas, Maduro expressed full support for Russian invasion of Ukraine, promised “powerful military cooperation” between two countries. Venezuela 24 Feb reopened border with Brazil which had been closed for two years due to COVID-19 crisis.
Opposition gained Barinas state, ruling socialist stronghold, in elections rerun, govt quashed attempt to trigger recall referendum against President Maduro, and violence surged at Colombian border. In Barinas (south west), opposition candidate Sergio Garrido 9 Jan secured victory with 55% of vote in rerun of gubernatorial elections, adding to three governorships previously gained by opposition in Nov elections against 19 for ruling party; result reflects govt’s loss of support in rural heartland, holds symbolic significance as state had been run by late President Hugo Chávez’s family since 1998. Opposition alliance 4 Jan extended “interim presidency” of former President of National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaidó but drastically cut accompanying bureaucratic structure. National Electoral Council (CNE) 17 Jan approved three petitions to trigger presidential recall referendum (as per constitutional provisions allowing such poll, subject to support of 20% of electorate, when president’s mandate reaches mid-term). Council 22 Jan however imposed impracticable conditions on signature collection, requesting all 4.2mn signatures be collected in one day on 26 Jan; in response, opposition figures Nicmer Evans and César Perez Vivas same day requested Supreme Tribunal to review CNE’s decision, said they would use all legal means to get referendum. CNE 27 Jan said Maduro recall could not move ahead as opponents had only gathered over 42,000 signatures. Juan Guaidó 23 Jan called for Venezuelans to organise peaceful marches on 12 Feb to demand free and fair presidential elections. Fighting between National Liberation Army guerrilla group and dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as 10th Front flared on Colombian border (see Colombia). Authorities 16 Jan announced fresh military operation in Venezuela’s Apure state to “strengthen the territorial defence system” and fight Colombian armed groups. International Criminal Court 19 Jan granted authorities three-month extension to inform court about investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in country notably during crackdown on anti-govt protests in April-July 2017.
Political stalemate persisted as opposition remained in disarray and electoral dispute continued over recent polls in Barinas state. Following Nov win of ruling PSUV party in regional and local elections, protests 2 Dec erupted in Santa Rosalía municipality, Portuguesa state (south west) in response to disputed local election results; opposition supporters decried election fraud and demanded new elections after National Electoral Council (CNE) declared victory for ruling party candidate. Govt 3 Dec reportedly denied visa extension for EU observers, requiring them to leave on 5 Dec instead of 13 Dec as planned. In Barinas (south west), voters 4 Dec denounced Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate election results and retroactively disqualify opposition candidate Freddy Superlano from participating in new elections scheduled for 9 Jan; ruling party 5 Dec named former FM Jorge Arreaza candidate. CNE 22 Dec named six civil organisations as national observers for monitoring electoral transparency. Senior member and foreign affairs chief of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s interim govt Julio Borges 5 Dec resigned and called for dismantling of interim govt; repeated previous calls for overseas assets currently held in opposition’s name to be transferred to trust, said current management “a scandal” and that they were being used for “personal ends”. Meanwhile, Guaidó-led opposition leadership continued to resist calls for greater transparency, insisted “interim govt” must remain until free and fair presidential elections. U.S. Envoy Roger Carstens 8-11 Dec visited country to meet President Maduro and discuss welfare of detained U.S. nationals, including six jailed oil executives with no apparent breakthrough; Maduro continued to demand release of close collaborator Colombian businessman Alex Saab, recently extradited to U.S. on money-laundering charges. After govt launched legal action against Bank of England to regain $1bn in gold reserves, UK Supreme Court 20 Dec said UK “unequivocally recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president” rather than Maduro and referred case back to commercial court. Head of govt-led National Assembly 22 Dec called for session to discuss modifications to justice system, including reducing number of Supreme Court judges. Opposition-led National Assembly 27 Dec renewed its term and Guaidó’s mandate as “interim president” for one more year.
Ruling party secured sweeping victory in regional and local elections amid low turnout and international concerns over irregularities, and International Criminal Court opened formal investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela. In 21 Nov regional and local elections, ruling United Socialist Party won at least 19 out of 23 governor seats. In Barinas state, Supreme Court’s electoral branch 29 Nov retroactively disqualified opposition candidate Freddy Superlano, who was slightly leading in vote count, and ordered fresh election in Jan, sparking outcry. Results brought into sharp relief weakness and lack of unity of opposition, which participated in elections for first time since 2017; turnout of 41.8% also highlighted widespread voter disaffection. Violent incidents reported on election day in San Francisco town (Zulia state): notably, ruling party supporters known as colectivos reportedly killed man and injured two other people outside voting centre. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 22 Nov said elections “grossly skewed”, while Isabel Santos, EU observation mission’s chief observer, next day flagged irregularities including “arbitrary bans on candidates” and uneven playing field despite “better conditions” than in previous elections; in response, President Maduro 28 Nov called EU observers “enemies” and “spies”. After withdrawing from Mexico talks with opposition in Oct, Maduro 21 Nov said negotiations would not resume until Washington answered for “kidnapping” of govt envoy Alex Saab, who was extradited to U.S. by Cape Verde in Oct on money-laundering charges. After three-day visit to Venezuela, International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Prosecutor Karim Khan 3 Nov announced formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed in country since April 2017, including allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture by security forces during crackdown on anti-govt protests in April-July 2017; move marks first time Latin American country faces formal ICC scrutiny for possible crimes against humanity. Maduro immediately said his govt disagreed with decision but would collaborate with ICC; Maduro and Khan same day signed memorandum of understanding stipulating govt would “adopt all necessary measures” to ensure justice was done, and ICC would provide “support and active engagement”.
President Maduro suspended talks with opposition in protest against extradition of top ally to U.S. Cape Verde 16 Oct extradited businessman and Maduro’s close collaborator Alex Saab to U.S. on money-laundering charges. In response, govt immediately suspended talks with opposition, ahead of third round scheduled for 17-20 Oct in Mexico City; authorities same day also rearrested six oil executives, including five U.S. citizens, who had been under house arrest in capital Caracas on embezzlement charges. Opposition’s negotiating team and Norwegian facilitator 17 Oct urged govt to resume talks. Meanwhile, diplomatic spat erupted between EU and Caracas. In effort to reassure those concerned that EU election observation mission might “legitimise” regional and local elections scheduled for 21 Nov, Borrell 8 Oct said mission’s report, not its presence, would “legitimise or de-legitimise” process; govt same day condemned “interventionist” attitude and accused EU of favouring opposition. UN 14 Oct confirmed it would be sending expert panel to monitor elections. Opposition remained divided over fate of one of country’s major overseas assets, Colombia-based chemical company Monómeros, which has been under opposition control since 2019 and filed for bankruptcy in Sept. Senior member of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s interim govt, Julio Borges, 12 Oct reiterated overseas assets should be supervised by multilateral agency rather than politicians. Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party figure Leopoldo López same day insisted on extension of interim govt’s mandate when it expires in Jan 2022, arguing Maduro’s govt would otherwise regain control of overseas assets. Guaidó 12 Oct also said 2015-2021 opposition-controlled National Assembly had approved decree to designate new board of directors at Monómeros; other opposition parties however immediately rejected claim, said they had only approved establishment of commission of inquiry into Monómeros’ administration. Central Bank 1 Oct slashed six zeroes from bolívar currency to facilitate its use amid hyperinflation. Govt 5 Oct reopened border with Colombia after two-year closure due to political and diplomatic crisis. Imprisoned former Defence Minister Raul Baduel, considered political prisoner by opposition, 12 Oct died officially of COVID-19; UN and U.S. in following days called for independent investigation.
Govt and main opposition alliance reached limited agreements in Norwegian-facilitated talks, and President Maduro joined regional summit in first trip abroad in many months. Govt and opposition Unitary Platform made progress during second (3-6 Sept) and third (25-27 Sept) rounds of Norwegian-facilitated talks in Mexico City, reaching three partial agreements. First, parties reaffirmed country’s sovereignty over Essequibo region disputed with Guyana and rejected jurisdiction of International Court of Justice. Second, they agreed to set up six-person committee, National Board of Social Care, with three representatives from each side to address humanitarian crisis, including shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, and four-person working group to review problems arising from “overcompliance” with U.S. sanctions. Third, they agreed to begin process of setting up “consultation mechanisms” with “social and political actors” not represented at negotiation table. In move that threatens to stir tensions, govt 14 Sept however said it wished to include in talks businessman Alex Saab who is currently facing extradition from Cape Verde to U.S. on money-laundering charges; opposition delegation and U.S. quickly dismissed proposal. Govt delegation to talks 17 Sept publicly accused opposition of “sabotaging, conditioning and evading” terms agreed for talks; statement accused opposition leader Juan Guaidó of trying to break from his commitment to discuss return of country’s overseas assets, which have been under opposition control since 2019, to govt control. Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab 14 Sept had announced investigation into Guaidó for alleged treason and asset theft in relation to major overseas asset, Colombia-based chemical company Monómeros; opposition party Justice First 27 Sept announced it would no longer participate in Guaidó’s interim govt’s management of foreign assets. In first trip abroad since U.S. accused him of drug trafficking in early 2020, Maduro 18 Sept unexpectedly attended Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Mexico City; Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay presidents rejected his presence. UN fact-finding mission 16 Sept released new report, alleging country’s justice system does not provide protection to victims, but instead plays “significant role in the state’s repression of government opponents”. EU 29 Sept said it will send observers to regional and municipal elections set for Nov.
Govt and main opposition alliance held Norway-facilitated talks for first time since 2019, and in major strategic shift opposition announced participation in upcoming elections. In renewed attempt to ease political stalemate, President Maduro’s govt and alliance of main opposition parties 13-15 Aug held Norway-facilitated talks in Mexico for first time since 2019; agreed to continue dialogue with view to “establishing clear rules for political and social coexistence”. To reach potential agreement, Maduro has demanded that U.S. and European sanctions be lifted, while opposition coalition has called for electoral calendar leading to anticipated presidential election, release of imprisoned activists, and humanitarian aid including COVID-19 vaccines for Venezuelans; talks set to resume 3 Sept. Authorities 15 Aug conditionally released Freddy Guevara, close ally of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, a month after he was jailed on terrorism charges following rash of gang violence in capital Caracas; Guevara may join Mexico talks in place of Guaidó’s negotiator Carlos Vecchio, whose presence Maduro objected to given Vecchio’s role as Guaidó’s U.S. representative. Meanwhile, ruling United Socialist Party 8 Aug held primary elections to select candidates for Nov elections for governors and mayors. Opposition figure and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles 11 Aug confirmed opposition party Justice First’s participation in polls; alliance of main opposition parties 31 Aug announced participation in polls, ending three-year boycott; Guevara same day called for “coexistence” with Maduro. Govt 19 Aug named country’s envoy to China Felix Plasencia as new FM in cabinet shakeup; several other ministers also replaced. Central Bank 5 Aug announced it will slash six zeroes from bolívar currency to facilitate its use amid hyperinflation. Govt telecommunications agency 3 Aug called off air radio show known for being critical of govt. After floods in Merida state (west) killed at least 20, Venezuela’s Bishops Conference 30 Aug accused “some civilian authorities” of preventing part of humanitarian aid from reaching affected population; press workers’ union same day denounced attacks by authorities against journalists covering floods.
President Maduro launched fresh crackdown on opposition in wake of deadly clashes between gangs and govt forces. Security forces 7-11 July launched offensive against organised crime gangs that control parts of capital Caracas; govt 10 July said fighting had left at least 26 dead, including four security officers and several civilians, and 38 injured; Maduro same day accused opposition and neighbouring Colombia of having armed and financed gangs to overthrow or assassinate him. Intelligence service 12 July arrested Freddy Guevara, close ally of mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó, on charges of terrorism and treason in relation to 7-11 July violence; Guaidó same day claimed armed security officers tried to detain him at his home in Caracas. Authorities in following days issued arrest warrants against several members of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party over accusations of involvement in 7-11 July gang violence and 14 July arrested three family members of one of them, Javier González, prompting party official Emilio Graterón to take refuge in Chilean embassy 17 July. Meanwhile, Maduro 13 July and 24 July said he was willing, under certain conditions, to negotiate with opposition in Aug with view to resolving political crisis. Earlier in month, police 2 July detained NGO Fundaredes Director Javier Tarazona and two other Fundaredes activists in Falcón state (north west), after NGO alleged links between govt officials and armed groups from Colombia; UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 5 July condemned “worrying example” of restriction of civil space. Washington 12 July announced minor relaxation of sanctions, allowing Venezuela to import liquid petroleum gas. EU mission 8 July arrived in Caracas to assess conditions to deploy observation mission ahead of Nov regional and local elections. Maduro 4 July gave World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccine-sharing programme “ultimatum” to send doses or return money paid by Venezuela. Following April deal with govt, UN World Food Programme 6 July began distributing meals to schoolchildren. Tensions with Colombia remained high. Bogotá 22 July said Venezuela-based Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia dissidents were behind June assassination attempt on President Duque; Duque 26 July called on EU to declare Maduro’s govt “promoter of terrorism”.
Mainstream opposition participation in upcoming elections increasingly likely; situation at Colombian border remained tense. Main opposition parties, including mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular (VP), reportedly assessing fielding some candidates in regional and local elections scheduled for Nov. VP delegation 21-25 June met with U.S. officials in U.S. capital Washington D.C. to discuss Guaidó’s efforts to establish dialogue with President Maduro; also visited Brussels and Paris 28-29 June. U.S., EU and Canada 25 June jointly said they would review sanctions policies if govt and opposition able to make “meaningful progress” toward transparent elections. Govt 28 June said they would no longer appoint so-called “protectors”, ruling-party supporters who de facto exercise same functions as elected official in opposition-led states. National Electoral Council 29 June said it would allow opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable – which had secured majority in National Assembly in 2015 – to run in next elections. Spanish newspaper El País and Venezuelan website Armando.info 13 June alleged vast international network had allowed Venezuela to escape U.S. oil sanctions. Second international donors’ conference for Venezuela 17 June raised over $1.5mn in grants and loans to help Venezuelan refugees and migrants; donation pledges up by 45% compared to last year. UN High Commissioner for Refugees 19 June said Venezuela is world’s second country most affected by forced displacement with over 5mn displaced. Displaced civilians reportedly started to return home in Apure state at border with Colombia, where armed forces have been fighting against dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as 10th Front since March. Defence Minister Gen Padrino López 1 June said eight Venezuelan soldiers who had been abducted in April by 10th Front in Apure had been rescued; independent sources however attributed their return to negotiation. NGO Fundaredes 21 June and others in following days said FARC dissidents 15 June killed six indigenous civilians in Apure. Amid slow and erratic COVID-19 vaccination program, govt 10 June blamed U.S. “blockade” for $10mn shortfall in Venezuela’s payments to World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccine-sharing program; U.S. Treasury 17 June issued new guidance to ease COVID-19-related transactions despite sanctions.
President Maduro made several gestures signalling possible willingness to negotiate with rivals, including appointment of opposition members in new electoral authority. Govt-controlled National Assembly 4 May appointed new National Electoral Council (CNE), with five-person leadership including two opposition members, strongest opposition representation in 15 years – signalling Maduro’s possible openness to further concessions. New CNE divided opposition. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó same day said new CNE was creature of “illegitimate” National Assembly and would “drag country toward greater disaster”, while former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who heads moderate opposition politicians engaged in dialogue with Maduro, 5 May welcomed “essential first step to open the constitutional and democratic reconstruction path”. Guaidó 11 May proposed “National Salvation Accord” including timetable for “free and fair” presidential, parliamentary, regional and municipal elections, release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid access in exchange for progressive lifting of international sanctions and guarantees for current govt officials. Capriles 25 May expressed support for Guaidó’s proposal, which U.S. 11 May and EU 13 May also welcomed. CNE 13 May announced regional and municipal elections for 21 Nov. In response, Guaidó next day said opposition would not “lend itself to a farce”. Meanwhile, chief prosecutor 1 May announced charges against low-ranking govt and military officials in three high-profile political killings for which govt had hitherto denied responsibility; move came day after six imprisoned oil executives, whose freedom is sought by U.S., were released into house arrest. In Apure state near border with Colombia, low-intensity conflict continued between Venezuela’s military and dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as 10th Front, with clashes leaving at least seven soldiers injured near La Victoria municipality early May. After 10th Front 15 May released video of eight soldiers reportedly taken prisoners in Apure late April, Defence Minister Gen Padrino López same day confirmed soldiers were in guerrillas’ hands. Jesús Santrich, leader of another FARC dissident faction known as “Segunda Marquetalia”, reportedly killed 17 May in Venezuela.
Deadly clashes between military and Colombian guerrilla groups in border region fuelled tensions between Caracas and Bogotá. Amid ongoing fighting between Venezuelan military and alleged dissidents of Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Apure border state, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino 5 April reported nine combatants and eight soldiers killed since violence started 21 March; 28 April reported another eight soldiers killed in renewed combat over past few days. FM Jorge Arreaza 6 April said govt was requesting UN assistance in deactivating anti-personnel mines allegedly planted by guerrilla groups on Venezuelan territory; also asked UN to investigate violence. President Maduro and other govt officials repeatedly accused Colombia’s President Duque of supporting armed groups operating along border and seeking “military escalation” between two countries. Duque 13 April decried Maduro’s leadership as “illegitimate”. NGO Human Rights Watch 26 April accused Venezuelan security forces of “egregious abuses against local residents” during operations in Apure state, including extrajudicial killings of at least four civilians – three men and a woman –, torture, arbitrary arrests and prosecution of civilians in military courts. World Food Programme (WFP) and govt 19 April reached deal over WFP’s access to Venezuela, paving way for supply of 185,000 meals for school children by end of year and up to 1.5mn in 2023. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 6 April launched broader political front, comprising his existing four-party coalition and six smaller parties; Guaidó said move would improve coordination within mainstream opposition, but some members complained about lack of consultation ahead of launch. Negotiations continued between Maduro’s govt and moderate opposition leaders notably on appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE); Guaidó-led coalition however continued to oppose talks, rejecting any CNE not appointed by “legitimate” (2015-2021) National Assembly. Maduro 18 April said govt had paid required amount to World Health Organization to access COVID-19 vaccines under COVAX mechanism. Meanwhile, in parallel move, Guaidó-led National Assembly 22 April approved use of additional $100mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.
Diplomatic efforts resumed to resolve political crisis, and clashes erupted between military and Colombian guerrilla group at border with Colombia. Norwegian delegation 9 March arrived in capital Caracas in attempt to revive comprehensive talks between President Maduro’s govt and mainstream opposition; initiative comes as civil society organisations and opposition faction led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have been trying to negotiate with govt appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE) ahead of regional and local elections due by late 2021. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 3 March said he would support appointment of new CNE only if its members were not chosen unilaterally by govt-controlled National Assembly. National Assembly 16 March extended deadline for appointing CNE by two weeks, potentially allowing mainstream opposition to put forward candidates; but opposition did not take up opportunity. During visit to Caracas, Spanish deputy FM Cristina Gallach 28-29 March discussed political crisis with govt, opposition and business representatives. Guaidó, recognised by U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 2 March discussed “return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections” and “urgent humanitarian needs”. UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela 10 March said police forces committed at least 200 extrajudicial killings in 2021, and UN human rights chief Bachelet next day called for “prompt and independent investigations” into ongoing “extra-judicial executions”. Clashes between military and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 20-21 March erupted in Apure border state, leaving at least two Venezuelan soldiers dead; Colombian govt 28 March said 4,700 had sought refuge in Colombia since fighting started; refugees reportedly accused Venezuelan soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians. U.S. 8 March granted Venezuelan migrants temporary protected status, allowing them to stay and work in U.S. for 18 months. Amid negotiations between govt and mainstream opposition for access to COVID-19 vaccines under World Health Organization’s COVAX mechanism, mainstream opposition 19 March said it would seek to use $30mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to pay for vaccines. Maduro however reiterated refusal of AstraZeneca vaccine, one of main vaccines under COVAX, citing side effects.
Amid enduring political crisis, civil society created coalition to address tensions and mainstream opposition remained divided over strategy. Large group of civil society organisations, including NGOs, religious bodies, trade unions and country’s main business union Fedecámaras 5 Feb launched platform Foro Cívico Nacional (FNC) in bid to establish counterweight to both govt and opposition, and contribute to solving social and political crisis. FCN’s intention to seek partial, sectoral agreements with govt on economic and humanitarian relief sparked heated debate in opposition circles, with some arguing that approach undermines possibility of full-scale negotiation on “re-institutionalisation”. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 3 Feb rejected idea of participating in regional elections due this year, even as some parties that compose mainstream opposition prepared to take part; National Assembly next day set up committee in charge of processing applications for new National Electoral Council, expected to be appointed in early April. In positive step, govt and Guaidó-led opposition, in collaboration with Pan American Health Organization and UN children’s fund (UNICEF), 11 Feb agreed to cooperate to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines for 6mn people; opposition health policy advisers and govt representatives subsequently met to discuss distribution and oversight, and created joint technical team. Following two-week visit to Venezuela, UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, 12 Feb urged U.S., EU and other states to drop sanctions, citing “dramatic” effects on population. Guaidó-led opposition same day accused Douhan of falling into President Maduro’s “propaganda”, said economic collapse began before imposition of economic sanctions. EU Council 22 Feb imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 19 high-level officials accused of undermining democracy or violating human rights; in response, govt 24 Feb declared head of EU delegation in Caracas Isabel Brilhante “persona non grata”, giving her 72 hours to leave country. EU next day responded with reciprocal measure. Colombian President Duque 8 Feb granted ten-year protection status to about 1mn undocumented Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to work and to access health and education services.
President Maduro consolidated power with inauguration of new National Assembly. Newly-elected lawmakers – in their vast majority supporters of ruling socialist party – 5 Jan took office and elected Maduro’s key ally Jorge Rodríguez as assembly’s president. Assembly 7 Jan approved creation of special commission for dialogue, peace and national reconciliation, along with another special commission in charge of investigating alleged wrongdoing by 2016-2021 National Assembly headed by Juan Guaidó. Ruling-party legislators late Jan asked attorney general to prohibit Guaidó and 20 other opposition leaders from leaving country. Disagreements over strategy and decision-making continued to plague mainstream opposition. In virtual plenary of 2016-2021 assembly 5 Jan, Democratic Action, largest party in Guaidó’s coalition, opposed creation of Political Council to oversee Delegate Commission, made up of 20 legislators in charge of assembly’s functions; Democratic Action had abstained from approving creation of Delegate Commission in Dec. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 6 Jan rejected newly-elected assembly, but stopped short of endorsing opposition’s argument that Guaidó-led assembly remains country’s legitimate parliament; while European Parliament 21 Jan issued resolution calling on EU Council to recognise Guaidó as country’s legitimate interim president, EU member states 25 Jan said Guaidó was part of democratic opposition. Outgoing U.S. administration 19 Jan imposed sanctions on three individuals, 14 entities and six vessels for contributing “to evade U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector”; same day deferred for 18 months removal of Venezuelan nationals from U.S. Following U.S. President Biden’s inauguration 20 Jan, Maduro 23 Jan called for “new path” in Venezuela-U.S. relations. Meanwhile, govt stepped up harassment of independent media and NGOs. Notably, pro-govt media and authorities early Jan accused journalists of news website Efecto Cocuyo and others of taking money from UK govt to act as anti-govt “mercenaries”; authorities 12 Jan arrested five employees of HIV-prevention NGO Blue Positive on charges of criminal association and money laundering. Tensions flared up with Guyana over disputed oil-rich maritime territory (see Guyana).
President Maduro secured vast parliamentary majority, regaining control of last branch of power outside his grasp. In 6 Dec legislative elections, ruling coalition won over 90% of 277 seats in National Assembly; electoral authority same day reported turnout of 30.5%. Main opposition parties boycotted polls, saying conditions for free and fair vote were not met. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 8 Dec said outgoing opposition-controlled National Assembly would remain only legitimate legislature until free and fair elections are held. In bid to demonstrate retained support from electorate, mainstream opposition 7-12 Dec held “popular consultation”, inviting participants to declare new legislature illegitimate and repudiate Maduro’s “usurpation” of presidency; organising committee 13 Dec said more than 6.4mn voted, but later reduced figure by around 670,000, citing technical difficulties. Guaidó 13 Dec called for nationwide demonstrations on 5 Jan to reject inauguration of new National Assembly. Guaidó-led assembly 26 Dec extended its term – due to expire 4 Jan – for another year and delegated assembly’s functions to small group of legislators, although largest party in Guaido’s coalition, Democratic Action, abstained. Maduro 28 Dec called move “unconstitutional”, and Supreme Court 30 Dec ruled term extension invalid. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 7 Dec said Washington would continue to recognise Guaidó-led assembly as only legitimate legislature; U.S. Treasury 18 Dec issued new round of financial sanctions on several individuals and company for abetting “fraudulent” elections. Office of International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor 14 Dec reiterated there was “reasonable basis” to believe crimes against humanity had been perpetrated in Venezuela since 2017 anti-govt protests, committing to determine in 2021 whether to open full investigation.
Govt pressed ahead with preparations for 6 Dec legislative elections amid opposition’s boycott calls. Campaign for legislative elections started 3 Nov with little popular interest as non-participation of opposition parties grossly limited political options, guaranteeing govt candidates would prevail. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s team 13 Nov said “popular consultation” on rejection of 6 Dec vote as sham and approval of opposition’s strategy of “national and international pressure” on President Maduro would take place virtually 7-12 Dec and in person 12 Dec. Following U.S. presidential election 3 Nov, both Maduro and Guaidó 7 Nov congratulated President-elect Joe Biden; Maduro expressed hope of resuming dialogue with U.S., while Guaidó called on Biden to help restore “democracy and freedom” in Venezuela. Biden, who will take office in Jan, vowed during campaign to set aside incumbent President Trump’s hardline approach of isolating Maduro and allies, including implicit threat of possible military intervention, known as “maximum pressure” policy. Court 26 Nov sentenced five U.S. nationals and another individual working for U.S. oil company CITGO – who have been imprisoned in Venezuela for three years – to between ten and 13 years in prison on corruption charges; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo next day criticised move and called for immediate release of jailed individuals. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda 4 Nov said there was “a reasonable basis” to believe crimes falling under court’s jurisdiction had been committed in Venezuela since 2017 anti-govt protests, requested information on legal proceedings undertaken in Venezuela against alleged perpetrators. Amid COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, social unrest persisted over access to basic commodities, notably gas, electricity and drinking water. Hundreds of teachers and health workers 4 Nov protested in capital Caracas to demand better wages and working conditions.
Govt remained on course to hold legislative elections 6 Dec and regain control of National Assembly, as mainstream opposition reiterated boycott strategy. Opposition-led National Assembly 1 Oct approved “consultation” of electorate, to take place around election date, over current strategy of “national and international pressure” on President Maduro’s govt and rejection of any vote held before conditions for free election are in place. Following 30 Sept announcement he would not present candidates for 6 Dec elections, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, formally a member of mainstream opposition, early Oct said he would continue to pursue electoral solution to political crisis. Govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly 9 Oct approved “Anti-blockade Law” enabling Maduro govt to avoid legal obstacles to international trade and investment and budgetary oversight of ensuing proceeds; legislation ostensibly aimed at circumventing U.S. sanctions. Bogotá-based U.S. Chargé d’Affaires for Venezuela Jimmy Story 15 Oct said Washington would continue to recognise mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president until free elections were held. Organization of American States 21 Oct passed resolution “affirming its profound concern at and rejection of the maneuvers to secure control by the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro”. Intelligence agency SEBIN 20 Oct raided media outlet Correo del Caroni in eastern Puerto Ordaz city, seized equipment and detained two staff members. Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party figure and former political prisoner Leopoldo López 23 Oct fled his hideout in Spanish ambassador’s residence and was reunited with his family in Spain’s capital Madrid next day; Venezuelan FM 25 Oct accused Spain of complicity in escape of “dangerous criminal”. Chief prosecutor 27 Oct announced “terrorist financing” charges against Voluntad Popular coordinator Roland Carreno days after he was arrested by security forces. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, Maduro 18 Oct announced reopening of number of govt offices, as well as tourist facilities and other economic sectors, arguing number of cases is steadily decreasing, despite doubts expressed by independent doctors.
Rifts widened within mainstream opposition over whether to contest legislative elections as President Maduro’s govt maintained tight control on electoral framework. Opposition led by Juan Guaidó 7 Sept reiterated decision to boycott 6 Dec legislative elections, with 37 parties signing “unity pact”; some factions, however, proceeded with election preparations; two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles registered candidates before 8 Sept deadline, said he might pull out if conditions do not improve. Guaidó 23 Sept called on UN member states to consider application of “responsibility to protect” doctrine to Venezuela, and 27 Sept announced formation of Commandos for Liberty and Free Elections, committees of local activists tasked with mobilising protests and coordinating opposition on the ground. Delays in election preparations and high rates of COVID-19 infection continued to cast doubt upon electoral calendar; independent research by Academy of Sciences 10 Sept predicted over 10,000 virus cases per day in Dec, while electoral authority yet to provide details on new electronic voting system. Head of govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello 6 Sept said body would not draft new constitution before mandate expires in Dec. Series of protests late Sept erupted across country over petrol shortages and breakdown of basic services. International actors also remained divided over electoral process. High-level EU and EU-backed International Contact Group mission to Caracas 23 Sept sought six-month postponement and improvement in election conditions, notably by allowing foreign observers, while U.S. special representative Elliott Abrams 27 Sept criticised move, saying Brussels did not consult Washington on the matter. Organization of American States Sec Gen Luis Almagro 17 Sept called those participating in elections “accomplices of dictatorship”. UN fact-finding mission 16 Sept accused security forces and intelligence agencies of “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture” amounting to crimes against humanity since 2014, argued that Maduro and several ministers “were aware of the crimes”, and called for international prosecution of those responsible; govt immediately rejected allegations, claiming mission had been bought off.
Govt continued to press for legislative elections in Dec despite widespread domestic and international concerns over fair conditions and inclusive vote. In statement issued 2 Aug, 26 mainstream opposition parties led by Juan Guaidó confirmed refusal to participate in legislative elections scheduled for 6 Dec, said vote would be rigged and taking part would amount to “collaborating with the dictatorship’s strategy”. Episcopal Conference of Venezuela 11 Aug warned abstention could lead to demobilisation of opposition and called on it to adopt clear strategy. Guaidó 19 Aug called on opposition and civil society leaders to sign up to Unity Pact as pledge of support to existing strategy. Two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, formally a member of mainstream opposition, did not rule out electoral participation; govt twice put back deadline for candidates to register, apparently to accommodate him. VP of electoral authority Rafael Simón Jiménez – linked to minority opposition parties taking part in govt-led National Dialogue – 6 Aug resigned, arguing he was unable to maintain neutral stance; govt immediately replaced Jiménez with senior member of National Dialogue party, breaching law on appointments to body. EU foreign policy chief Borrell 11 Aug said govt had failed to compromise on electoral framework and conditions for “transparent, inclusive, free and fair” election did not exist, pledged to convene ministerial-level meeting of EU-backed International Contact Group to consider next steps. Group of 30 countries including U.S., UK, some small EU states and members of regional body Lima Group 14 Aug issued joint statement calling for “inclusive transitional govt” to lead country into “free and fair presidential elections”. Maduro 17 Aug said govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC) would close down when its mandate expires in Dec; ANC was created in 2017, supposedly to reform constitution, but has so far failed to deliver on its mandate. Govt 31 Aug pardoned over 110 people including opposition politicians; Guaidó immediately said move was govt ploy to legitimate elections and institutional reform was only route to “reconciliation”. Amid exponential increase in COVID-19 cases, concerns persisted over govt and health system’s capacity to respond to crisis.
President Maduro’s govt continued to tighten control on electoral framework ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. Newly appointed electoral authority (CNE) 1 July said parliamentary elections would take place 6 Dec. On occasion of Independence Day 5 July, Defence Minister Padrino López delivered hardline speech describing mainstream opposition led by Juan Guaidó as “bunch of crooks” who will “never exercise power” as long as army remains “anti-imperialist, Bolivarian and revolutionary”. Supreme Court 7 July transferred command of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party to ad hoc committee led by José Gregorio Noriega, previously expelled from party over allegations of corruption but recognised by govt as National Assembly VP; decision followed similar moves against two other mainstream opposition parties in June. Opposition continued to reject govt-controlled Supreme Court changes to electoral law announced in June – which resulted notably in increase in number of National Assembly seats from 167 to 277, and in number of MPs elected by party list rather than individually – saying they have no legal basis. In interview with Tal Cual newspaper 13 July, CNE board member Rafael Simón Jiménez admitted CNE, despite being officially independent, executes decisions taken by National Dialogue Roundtable – govt-led dialogue initiative involving minority opposition parties. Following call between EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell and FM Jorge Arreaza, govt 2 July rescinded its late June decision to expel EU representative from country; expulsion came in response to EU imposition of sanctions on individuals for “undermining democracy and rule of law” following appointment of new CNE earlier in June. Borrell 13 July proposed ministerial-level meeting of EU/Uruguay-led International Contact Group “with all the key players” of Venezuelan political crisis to discuss conditions for Dec elections. Opposition 24 July reiterated that Norway-sponsored govt-opposition talks were over after Norwegian govt representatives said they would visit capital Caracas late July to assess political and humanitarian situation. Amid dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, concerns persisted over health system capacity, while several high-level officials tested positive for virus.
Political crisis escalated further as President Maduro’s govt took series of steps to strengthen control over electoral framework and silence opposition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. After talks between govt and opposition led by Juan Guaidó over composition of new electoral authority (CNE) broke down early June, govt-controlled Supreme Court 12 June appointed new CNE with absolute majority for Maduro allies and no seat for Guaidó-led opposition; Supreme Court also ordered changes to electoral law expanding seats in National Assembly from 167 to over 200, increasing number of lawmakers elected through party list rather than individually and modifying method for electing legislators representing indigenous communities; opposition leaders including Guaidó immediately rejected ruling, insisted only National Assembly is constitutionally allowed to elect CNE members. In following days, Supreme Court named new leaders, representing dissident factions more lenient toward govt, for two out of four parties that compose mainstream opposition – Acción Democrática 15 June and Primero Justicia 16 June – and 17 June threatened third party Un Nuevo Tiempo with same fate; Supreme Court also reportedly looked to dissolve fourth party, Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular. International actors including EU, U.S., regional body Lima Group and EU/Uruguay-led International Contact Group mid-June condemned recent moves as further deterioration of political crisis. After EU 29 June imposed sanctions on 11 senior officials for “undermining democracy and rule of law”, Maduro same day ordered EU ambassador to leave country within 72 hours. Previously, govt and opposition 2 June said they had reached agreement with Pan American Health Organization to cooperate to raise funds to address COVID-19 pandemic; humanitarian organisations celebrated move as precedent that could allow broader agreements.
Following foiled armed incursion by sea, reportedly attempting to topple President Maduro, authorities detained dozens suspected of involvement and further suppressed opposition. Govt 3 May said it had prevented group of former soldiers planning to capture Maduro from landing at seaside town of Macuto near capital Caracas same day, killing eight and arresting two; within hours, former National Guard Captain Javier Nieto and Jordan Goudreau, ex-U.S. special forces and head of U.S. private security company Silvercorp, claimed responsibility; Goudreau said he had obtained initial contract for operation signed by two members of strategic committee established by opposition leader Juan Guaidó in 2019; opposition leadership next day said meetings with Silvercorp were exploratory and soon dropped. In following days, security forces detained dozens for alleged involvement in plot, including two U.S. nationals; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 6 May denied “direct” U.S. involvement. Authorities late month moved to crack down further on opposition. Attorney general 25 May asked Supreme Court to declare Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party “terrorist organisation”. Supreme Court 27 May formally recognised MP and President Maduro ally Luis Parra, who pro-govt lawmakers declared head of National Assembly (AN) during Jan session which security forces prevented opposition from attending, as AN chair instead of Guaidó; next day, AN defied ruling and ratified Guaidó as head. Authorities reportedly arrested more than two dozen opposition supporters 18-24 May. Amid COVID-19 crisis, riot 1 May erupted in Llanos prison near Guanare city (west) over ban on outside visits, leaving over 40 prisoners dead. Maduro 12 May announced 30-day extension of countrywide lockdown as widespread protests over petrol, water and food shortages continued. Despite U.S. warning against Iranian assistance and shipments of fuel to Venezuela, first of five Iranian tankers arrived in Venezuelan waters 24 May. In virtual meeting of external actors including U.S. and Russia convened by Sweden 13 May, broad consensus reportedly emerged on need for negotiated solution to political crisis using basis of Norwegian-facilitated opposition-govt talks suspended in Aug 2019, though no formal agreement reached.
Amid COVID-19 crisis, protests and looting erupted over lack of food and fuel, several journalists critical of govt response arrested, and U.S. pressure on President Maduro to force him to leave office continued. Maduro 11 April extended countrywide COVID-19 lockdown for further 30 days. Security forces throughout month reportedly detained several medical personnel and journalists who questioned govt’s claim it had “contained” spread of virus, charging some with “spreading hate”. Notably, press association 18 April reported seven arbitrary arrests of journalists 1-15 April. Isolated protests and lootings erupted in several areas, especially in east, over lack of food and fuel amid COVID-19 pandemic and collapse of oil industry; notably, man was reportedly shot dead 23 April during looting in Upata town. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó 21 April denied media report of secret exploratory talks between his and Maduro’s allies. Lack of clarity persisted over whether parliamentary elections, due this year, could take place in light of COVID-19 crisis; Maduro mid-April said he was unsure if vote would proceed. Despite FM Jorge Arreaza’s 31 March rejection of U.S. offer to lift sanctions in exchange for political transition – whereby Maduro and Guaidó would step aside and executive power be held by “Council of State”, nominated by govt and opposition, until presidential election – govt in subsequent days reportedly showed willingness to consider proposal. Following March indictment of Maduro and others on drugs-related charges, U.S. continued to escalate pressure on govt. U.S. 1 April said that its forthcoming, large-scale anti-drugs operation in southern Caribbean, which will double its naval presence in region, will also serve declared aim of cutting off resources to Maduro govt; govt immediately accused Washington of “slander and threats”. UN Security Council (UNSC) 22 April debated Venezuela at virtual “closed door” session, for first time in a year, at request of Russia, which criticised U.S. policy; UNSC met again 28 April to discuss humanitarian crisis in country.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. charged President Maduro and several top aides with drug trafficking, opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for govt of national unity, but excluding Maduro, and Colombia closed its official border crossings with Venezuela. U.S. attorney general 26 March announced indictment of Maduro, Defence Minister Padrino López and others on drugs-related charges in major escalation of U.S. administration’s campaign to pressure Maduro to leave office. Venezuelan chief prosecutor within hours announced investigation into Guaidó in connection with arms shipment seized in Colombia two days earlier. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 31 March offered to lift sanctions in exchange for political transition; FM Jorge Arreaza immediately rejected proposal. Amid concerns over effect of coronavirus epidemic on country’s oil-dependent economy and weakened health care system, Maduro 13 March declared “state of alarm”, allowing him to restrict civil rights; govt subsequently deployed armed forces and militia members to curtail movement and suspended most international flights. International Monetary Fund (IMF) 17 March turned down Maduro’s request for $5bn to deal with COVID-19, citing lack of clarity over recognition of govt. COVID-19 spread limited opposition mobilisation; police 10 March fired tear gas to repel Guaidó’s supporters attempting to march on parliament building from which govt excluded Guaidó-aligned MPs in Jan; opposition later suspended planned demonstrations due to coronavirus. Guaidó 28 March proposed national emergency govt, excluding Maduro but with all political forces represented, to deal with epidemic. Humanitarian situation in Colombia-Venezuela border region remained dire. After Colombia 14 March closed official border crossings amid COVID-19 pandemic, VP Rodriguez described move as “grotesque irresponsibility”, accused Colombian govt of handing border control to “paramilitaries”. Previously unknown group “Venezuelan Patriot Command” claimed 7 March fire at electoral authority (CNE) warehouse in capital Caracas that destroyed voting machines for parliamentary elections due this year; CNE chairperson immediately insisted elections would go ahead; however COVID-19 emergency led to 16 March suspension of govt and opposition efforts to agree on composition of new CNE.
Political standoff continued as opposition leader Juan Guaidó consolidated international standing and govt held military drills, while U.S. launched new sanctions targeting govt. Guaidó 11 Feb returned from foreign tour in which leaders of Colombia, UK, France, Germany, U.S. and EU foreign policy chief received him as head of state; security forces did not arrest Guaidó although he had left country in defiance of travel ban, but anti-Guaidó demonstrators at airport beat and robbed journalists trying to cover his return, authorities arrested Guaidó’s uncle – who was travelling with him – on accusations of bringing explosives into country and 17 Feb suspended operations in country of airline which had carried him home on same accusations. Govt 15-16 Feb held nationwide military exercises involving both army and civilian militia, volunteer reservist force created by former President Chavez and formally incorporated to regular forces in early Feb, with President Maduro claiming involvement of 2.3mn troops, while security forces deployed Russian-built surface-to-air missiles near Caracas international airport and at eastern Caracas air base; Maduro 17 Feb said exercises would continue indefinitely. U.S. 7 Feb announced sanctions against state-run airline Conviasa and 17 Feb against trading arm of Russian state-linked oil company Rosneft, reportedly responsible for 70% of Venezuela’s oil exports and supplying govt with oil products; in response, Maduro 18 Feb declared oil industry emergency and named presidential commission headed by former VP Tareck El Aissami to restructure sector. Authorities late Feb announced they would allow companies to raise capital in foreign currency as Maduro liberalises economy. Despite ongoing disagreement on who presides National Assembly, govt and opposition 26 Feb agreed on composition of parliamentary committee to propose new members of electoral authority.