CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

In blow to prospects for competitive election, Supreme Court upheld decision banning opposition’s candidate María Corina Machado from standing for office, while authorities cracked down on armed forces and civil society. 

Supreme Court reaffirmed opposition candidate’s ban from running for office. Despite govt-opposition agreement in Barbados in Oct 2023 to improve electoral conditions, govt-controlled Supreme Court 26 Jan upheld ban on opposition leader María Corina Machado’s candidacy, meaning she cannot run in 2024 presidential poll. Opposition coalition Unitary Platform dismissed decision as illegal and in breach of Barbados deal, while platform’s chief negotiator Gerardo Blyde appealed to presidents of France, Brazil and Colombia to convince Maduro to reverse it. EU and U.S. expressed deep concern, along with many of Venezuela’s neighbours; U.S. 29 Jan announced it will begin reinstating sanctions, having eased them following Barbados; govt next day called decision “blackmail”. 

Govt clamped down on security forces and civil society. Police 17 Jan raided office of teachers’ union in Barinas state (west) and arrested union leader Victor Venegas for alleged involvement in anti-govt conspiracy. Attorney General Tarek Saab 22 Jan announced authorities had arrested at least 32 civilians and former military personnel and issued warrants against eleven others for allegedly conspiring against govt in several different plots; govt claimed plans were backed by U.S. and implicated Machado. National Assembly 23 Jan approved law that could severely curtail activity and, in some instances, lead to closure of NGOs, sparking condemnation from civil society and human rights groups. 

Opposition prepared for 2024 elections despite uncertainty. Ahead of Supreme Court announcement, Machado 23 Jan announced alliance of political parties and civil society groups to organise electoral campaign and called on govt to announce exact date of poll. 

Caracas-Georgetown talks continued over disputed region. Govt and Guyana 25 Jan agreed to continue diplomatic efforts over contested Essequibo area, oil-rich region currently administered by Guyana, during talks in Brazilian capital Brasília.

December 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Relations with Guyana remained tense after Caracas’ December referendum on disputed territory; Maduro administration continued to stall full implementation of Barbados deal with opposition.

Relations with Guyana remained tense despite agreement to avoid hostile acts. Maduro govt 3 Dec held referendum on policy toward contested Essequibo area, oil-rich region administered by Guyana, with voters answering affirmatively to all five questions on ballot, including whether they support non-recognition of International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction and creation of new Venezuelan state in disputed territory. Govt subsequently claimed binding mandate resulting from poll, ratcheting up tensions with neighbour. Maduro and Guyanese President Irfaan Ali 14 Dec met in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines under auspices of CELAC and CARICOM regional bodies and with UN, Brazilian and Colombian representatives; parties agreed not to “threaten or use force” and to establish joint commission to mutually “address matters” and report within three months. UK 24 Dec announced its warship would visit Guyana 29-31 Dec, however, prompting Venezuela 28 Dec to hold military exercises near disputed waters.

Govt-opposition tensions simmered ahead of 2024 elections. Flare-up with Guyana distracted attention from govt’s slow implementation of 17 Oct Barbados Agreement with opposition, with some progress but also attacks on opposition. Notably, Chief Prosecutor Tarek W. Saab 6 Dec announced arrest warrants for a dozen opposition activists; accused included three members of opposition presidential candidate María Corina Machado’s team and Roberto Abdul, head of NGO that Machado founded and member of opposition Primary Commission; authorities reportedly held Abdul incommunicado. In attempt to compete in next year’s polls, Machado 15 Dec appealed to govt-controlled Supreme Court to overturn ban from running for office, despite previously saying she would not.

Washington and Caracas agreed prisoner swap. U.S. official Brian Nichols 5 Dec said Washington continued to engage with Caracas and reiterated threat to reimpose sanctions if more prisoners were not released and Barbados conditions not fulfilled. Govt and U.S. 20 Dec announced prisoner swap, exchanging ten jailed Americans for Maduro ally Alex Saab, who was awaiting trial on money laundering charges; agreement also saw Abdul and twenty other Venezuelans released.

November 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Fallout from govt’s suspension of opposition primary results continued, and tensions with Guyana ran high over Caracas’ upcoming referendum on disputed territory.

Govt-opposition tensions simmered over ban on presidential candidate. Tensions persisted over Supreme Court’s 30 Oct decision to suspend results of opposition primary, which María Corina Machado – currently banned from running for office – won in landslide victory. Govt-controlled Supreme Court in same ruling described bans on politicians as “firm”, fuelling concerns govt will not allow fair vote in 2024 poll; U.S. official Juan González 8 Nov said in interview with Colombian television that Washington would take steps to snapback sanctions, provisionally lifted 18 Oct following govt-opposition agreement in Barbados, if Maduro administration did not lift ban by end of month; in sign of slight easing tensions, govt and opposition joint statement 30 Nov said barred candidates would be able to appeal against bans 1-15 Dec. Earlier, govt’s chief negotiator and National Assembly president Jorge Rodríguez 17 Nov said govt would not accept “ultimatums from anyone”. EU, meanwhile, 13 Nov extended individual sanctions until May 2024; Rodríguez next day said govt would not invite EU to monitor elections while sanctions persist.

Tensions with Guyana escalated over disputed region. Tensions between Georgetown and Caracas spiked as latter prepared for 3 Dec referendum on contested Essequibo area, oil-rich region currently administered by Guyana. Plebiscite will ask Venezuelans if they agree to reject International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) jurisdiction over region, create state called Guayana Esequiba and grant its population Venezuelan citizenship. Guyana continued to protest referendum, claiming Maduro govt seeks to use vote to justify region’s “annexation”. U.S. defence officials 27-28 Nov visited country to “deepen partnership”.

October 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

In crucial step toward competitive presidential poll, govt and opposition reached deal to improve electoral conditions, leading to substantial U.S. sanctions relief.

Govt and opposition struck deal to improve electoral conditions. Maduro govt and group of opposition parties known as Unitary Platform reached agreement in Barbados on minimum conditions for 2024 presidential poll. Notably, agreement fixes vote for unspecified date in second half of 2024, includes update of electoral registry and commits govt-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) to invite international ‘technical’ observation missions including from EU, UN and AU. Text says parties will promote “authorisation” of all candidates and political parties as long as they “meet requirements to participate in the presidential elections”; govt’s chief negotiator Jorge Rodríguez immediately interpreted clause as stating banned candidates cannot run, which would rule out opposition candidate (see below).

Washington provided ample sanctions relief. Welcoming agreement, U.S. 18 Oct issued broad authorisation of transactions involving Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold sectors, and removed ban on secondary trading of certain Venezuelan sovereign bonds, as well as debt and equity issued by state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela oil company. License lifting sanctions on oil and gas sector issued for six months, with Washington promising to renew it if Caracas complies with electoral agreement and releases U.S. and Venezuelan prisoners. Govt same day released five political prisoners.

María Corina Machado won opposition primary, govt later suspended results. Opposition 22 Oct held primary to select candidate for presidential election. Hardline politician María Corina Machado, currently banned from running for office, won overwhelmingly with 93% of vote after several prominent candidates pulled out of race in weeks before. Turnout was greater than expected, lending legitimacy to Machado’s candidacy for presidential election. Govt officials, however, alleged primary had been fraudulent and 24 Oct said opposition had inflated voter turnout; Attorney General Tarek William Saab next day announced criminal investigation into primary’s organisers. Govt-controlled Supreme Court 30 Oct suspended results of primary and ordered organisers to hand over all materials related to process; U.S. same day warned it would take action if govt fails to uphold commitments under electoral roadmap.

September 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Govt-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) offered support for upcoming primary, sharpening disagreements among opposition parties; govt, opposition and U.S held closed-door talks aimed at improving electoral conditions.

CNE offer to provide support for primary sowed confusion within opposition. Process for opposition primary, due to be held on 22 Oct to select single nominee for 2024 presidential election, continued to face challenges. Notably, opposition parties disagreed on how to proceed if banned candidate, such as Frontrunner María Corina Machado, wins primary; Machado continued to insist that she will not cede candidacy if victorious, raising prospect of intra-opposition squabbling over result. Former vice-president of primary commission María Carolina Uzcátegui 7 Sept said conditions were not in place for successful election and urged opposition to consider accepting CNE involvement. Adding to confusion around process, CNE 22 Sept offered to provide technical/logistical support; primary organisers 25 Sept said they would consider accepting. CNE 28 Sept proposed postponement of vote to 19 Nov. Machado and others continued to oppose idea of CNE involvement, saying it favours President Maduro; Machado also rejected delay to vote. Meanwhile, govt continued to attack primary, 7 Sept launching investigation into its financing.

Efforts to push through deal on electoral conditions continued. Amid growing concern about competitiveness of 2024 elections, several closed-door meetings between govt and opposition, closely monitored by Washington, took place during month, aimed at reaching deal on sanctions relief in exchange for improved electoral conditions. Details unclear but bans on leading opposition politicians reportedly remained key stumbling block: U.S. argues that Maduro cannot choose his electoral opponent by eliminating other candidates, while govt insists Machado’s support for U.S. intervention in Venezuela precludes her from being allowed to run.

Govt deepened ties with China. Maduro 8 Sept arrived in China for official visit; President Maduro and Chinese President Xi Jinping 13 Sept signed bilateral cooperation agreements in areas including economy, trade and tourism.

August 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Opposition candidates competing in Oct primary kicked off their campaigns as authorities announced new National Electoral Council; govt saw progress and setbacks in court rulings on foreign assets.

Campaigning for opposition primary kicked off. Candidates 22 Aug began campaigning for opposition primary on 22 Oct to select single nominee for 2024 presidential election. Primary process continued to encounter obstacles, however, with no clarity from govt about location of voting centres opposition will be able to use, raising concerns about voters’ ability to cast ballots. Opposition candidates also faced threats. Notably, Attorney General Tarek Saab 13 Aug launched investigation into death threats against primary candidate Delsa Solórzano, including one that referenced murdered Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio (see Ecuador); and reported govt supporters 15 Aug violently dispersed campaign event of Henrique Capriles in Apure state (west), injuring ten. Meanwhile, National Assembly 24 Aug appointed new National Electoral Council headed by govt loyalist Elvis Amoroso, which signalled govt’s unwillingness to allow competitive presidential race.

Govt won lawsuit to recover frozen assets from Portuguese bank. Govt 9 Aug announced it had won legal battle to release $1.5bn in state assets from Portuguese bank, which were frozen in 2019 following imposition by U.S. and other countries of sanctions on govt; Venezuela 16 Aug petitioned U.S. Supreme Court to overturn U.S. judge’s late July ruling, criticised by govt and opposition, which set Oct start date for auction of shares of Venezuela-owned refiner Citgo Petroleum’s parent company to pay off creditors.

Dismissal of Red Cross chief in Venezuela sparked condemnation. Supreme Court 4 Aug dismissed President of Venezuelan Red Cross Mario Enrique Villarroel and ordered organisational restructuring after VP of ruling United Socialist Party accused Villarroel of “mafia activity” and conspiring against govt; international and domestic NGOs criticised move while Red Cross 9 Aug said “any state intervention in our National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies raises serious concerns regarding their independence”. Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International 29 Aug published report accusing govt of using arbitrary detentions as tool of repression.

July 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

As Maduro govt further harmed prospects for competitive 2024 poll, international actors stepped up efforts to reach deal on improving electoral conditions in return for sanctions relief.

Trend toward unfair presidential vote in 2024 persisted. International actors continued to condemn govt’s late June announcement that opposition front runner María Corina Machado is barred from candidacy in 2024 presidential election; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 6 July said Caracas could take number of steps toward free and fair vote but that Machado’s disqualification “sends the opposite message”. In another worrying move, National Assembly president and chief govt negotiator Jorge Rodríguez 13 July said there would be no European Union (EU) electoral observation mission during polls; decision significant as EU observers’ presence was key condition for opposition’s participation in 2021 regional and local elections. Opposition Voluntad Popular party 27 July said govt confiscated passport of its candidate Freddy Superlano as he attempted to travel to Colombia.

Efforts to push through U.S.-Venezuela deal on electoral conditions ramped up. Amid growing concern about competitiveness of elections, several meetings between govt, opposition and international actors in July raised hopes of a deal that would see govt improve electoral conditions; in return, Washington would ease sanctions and provide guarantees for transfer of Venezuelan assets frozen abroad to UN-managed fund to finance improvements in public services. Opposition’s chief negotiator Gerardo Blyde 10-13 July visited U.S. to discuss deal; French President Emmanuel Macron 17 July organised meeting between Blyde and VP Delcy Rodríguez on sidelines of EU-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) summit in Brussels, attended by presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Colombia; post-meeting statement highlighted need for negotiated solution and confirmed broad details of U.S.-Venezuela deal to improve electoral conditions.

In another important development. Former head of military intelligence Hugo Carvajal 19 July arrived in U.S. to face drug charges after being extradited from Spain; Washington accuses Carvajal of trafficking along with other senior officials, including President Maduro.

June 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

In major blow to prospects for competitive 2024 presidential poll, govt announced opposition frontrunner is barred from holding public office for 15 years, meaning she is unable to participate in election; govt also moved to replace national electoral council.

Key opposition figure banned from running in presidential election. 14 candidates officially registered by 24 June deadline to enter race for opposition primary election, scheduled for Oct to select single candidate for 2024 presidential election. Yet in worrying challenge to free elections in Venezuela, govt-controlled Comptroller General’s Office 30 June said sanction imposed against frontrunner María Corina Machado in 2015 prevents her from holding public office for 15 years, meaning she is banned from running in presidential election. In rare show of unity, opposition candidates immediately rejected Machado’s disqualification, as did other govts such as Colombia and U.S., who said ban “deprives the Venezuelan people of basic political rights”.

Govt kickstarted process to appoint new electoral council. Govt-controlled National Assembly 15 June voted to replace National Electoral Council’s (CNE) 15-member board (five principal members and ten substitutes), claiming they had resigned en masse, even though the two independent principals did not step down until 19, 20 June. Despite its pro-govt majority, reports suggested govt did not trust CNE to do its bidding unconditionally in 2024 presidential poll. Legislators same day formed commission, most of whose 11 members belong to ruling party, to appoint new CNE. NGO Human Rights Watch 22 June said govt’s decision “increases concerns for the prospect of free and fair presidential election” in 2024. In response, opposition Unitary Platform’s National Primary Commission 16 June said it would not seek CNE assistance for primary election; commission had wanted assistance with voting centres and use of official polling machines to expand scale of vote and help bolster credibility of election outcome.

In other important developments. UN refugee agency 14 June announced Venezuelan asylum applications had increased 186% in 2022 to 264,000. International Criminal Court 27 June ruled prosecutors can resume investigation into potential crimes against humanity in Venezuela after concluding govt’s enquiry was insufficient; prosecutor had paused initial investigation in April 2022, deferring to govt request to conduct its own probe.

May 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Opposition issued regulations for primary vote in Oct, govt introduced new law to protect foreign assets, and Brazil’s president held talks with Maduro.

Electoral commission published regulations for opposition primaries. Independent commission charged by opposition coalition Unitary Platform with organising primary election in October to choose presidential candidate for 2024 poll 7 May published regulations for process. These include online procedure enabling Venezuelans abroad to vote, provided they are already registered to vote in Venezuela. Commission plans to set up polling stations in 80 cities in 31 countries, where voting will be manual; it has yet to decide whether to ask govt-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) for assistance in facilitating automated process in Venezuela using official polling stations, amid fears CNE involvement would compromise election’s integrity and deter many people from voting.

Govt introduced legislation to protect foreign assets. U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control 1 May decided to no longer protect Venezuelan state-owned oil refiner Citgo, based in U.S. and managed by opposition, from negotiations over its future, potentially paving way for sale of Citgo shares to pay off creditors; President Maduro same day condemned move. Govt 16 May introduced draft legislation threatening lengthy prison sentences and confiscation of assets for anyone “directly or indirectly” involved in what it terms “theft” of Venezuelan assets abroad; Maduro 22 May signed bill into law.

Brazil’s leader launched efforts to bolster ties with Maduro. Brazilian President “Lula” da Silva 29 May held talks with Maduro in Brazil’s capital in push to strengthen relations. Lula called for free elections in Venezuela, condemned U.S. sanctions and invited Maduro to fight against narrative of anti-democracy and authoritarianism “built against Venezuela”. Chilean President Boric and Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou criticised Lula’s choice of words, highlighting Maduro’s responsibility in Venezuela’s crisis. Meanwhile, exiled opposition leader Juan Guaidó 14 May announced tour of European capitals to urge govts against normalising relations with Maduro.

April 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Colombia hosted international summit to reactivate talks between govt and opposition, and Maduro floated prospect of early presidential poll without proposals to improve election conditions.

Conference on Venezuela took place in Colombia. Colombian President Petro 25 April hosted international conference on Venezuela in Colombian capital Bogotá, aimed at prompting resumption of talks between Maduro govt and opposition. Representatives from 19 countries and EU attended. Petro did not invite Venezuelan parties, though his govt 17, 22 April held meetings with President Maduro and representatives of opposition alliance Unitary Platform; both endorsed initiative. U.S. President Biden 20 April also expressed cautious support during meeting with Petro in U.S. capital Washington, while insisting that only substantial steps to restore democracy would lead to lifting of sanctions.

Participants urged sides to resume talks and improve electoral conditions. Following conference, Colombian FM 25 April said participants had agreed on need for return to Mexico City negotiating process and steps toward free elections in return for gradual lifting of U.S. sanctions. Maduro same day reiterated his support for dialogue but conditioned on release of some $3bn in Venezuelan state assets held abroad and lifting of sanctions; President of National Assembly Jorge Rodríguez same day also demanded that International Criminal Court suspend its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela and that U.S. release businessman and close govt ally Alex Saab.

Maduro dangled prospect of early polls amid concern about election conditions. At rally to celebrate 21st anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s return to power following coup, Maduro 13 April once again insisted that presidential election slated for 2024 could be brought forward to 2023, but has yet to announce timetable, adding to uncertainty regarding electoral process. Meanwhile, govt-controlled National Electoral Council 18 April announced it would not grant requests from opposition’s primary election Commission regarding conditions for October primary, which commission has been tasked with organising. In particular, council refused to eliminate use of fingerprinting machines, which are likely to reduce voter turnout and exacerbate divisions within opposition over Electoral Council’s involvement.

March 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Several candidates announced bids for opposition primaries as debate about involving govt-controlled Electoral Council continued; corruption case revealed factional fighting in ruling party.

Opposition parties ramped up their campaigns ahead of Oct primaries. After winning landslide victory in Primero Justicia party’s internal elections late Feb, Henrique Capriles 10 March launched candidacy for opposition primaries scheduled for Oct 2023 in bid to become opposition’s candidate in 2024 presidential race; Capriles is barred from standing for elected office and it is unclear what would become of his candidacy should he win primaries. Another leading contender, Maria Corina Machado, also barred from running for office, has already begun campaigning on a stridently anti-socialist ticket. Notably, Machado 5 March said public companies, including state-owned oil company PDVSA, should be privatised; Capriles 1o March criticised Machado’s comments. Meanwhile, Popular Will, party of ousted opposition leader Juan Guaidó, 7 March announced it had selected Guaidó to run in Oct.

Disagreements around involving National Electoral Council in primaries persisted. Independent Commission set up by opposition coalition Unitary Platform to organise primaries 8 March began talks with govt-controlled National Electoral Council to clarify what technical assistance council could provide. Some continued to oppose council’s involvement, arguing state participation would limit number of people willing to vote and facilitate govt interference, but Commission sources told Crisis Group turnout could be cut in half without official polling stations.

Factional fighting within ruling party surfaced. Battles within ruling party came to light when authorities 17-19 March arrested around two dozen people, half of them officials reportedly linked to Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami. Arrests appear linked to disappearance of at least $3bn in oil revenues, which VP Delcy Rodríguez and her brother Jorge Rodríguez, president of National Assembly and govt’s chief negotiator, reportedly blame on Aissami, who is head of rival chavista faction. Aissami 20 March tendered his resignation, Maduro next day appointed PDVSA President Pedro Tellechea as oil minister.

In other important developments. Colombian President Petro 28 March announced govt will host international conference in Colombia’s capital Bogotá to support dialogue between “Venezuelan opposition, civil society […] and the Venezuelan government”.

February 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

Preparation for opposition primaries in October continued, but internal divisions persisted; Mexico talks remained stalled.

Opposition announced schedule for primaries amid internal disputes. Independent commission, set up by opposition coalition Unitary Platform to organise election for single candidate to run in 2024 poll, 15 Feb announced timetable for process, which will culminate in vote 22 Oct. Unresolved issues remain, however. Notably, opposition is divided over whether to request logistical support from govt-controlled National Electoral Council. Some potential candidates reject its involvement, including front runner María Corina Machado, who 15 Feb claimed it was an “instrument” President Maduro could use to sabotage process; commission’s president, Jesús María Casal, 16 Feb reiterated that eschewing use of official polling stations would vastly increase cost of election and reduce voter participation. Controversy also persisted over diaspora vote. Of around 3mn Venezuelans living abroad, just over 100,000 are registered to vote; hardliners claim they are essential to process, but govt has little incentive to register them since most are likely opposition voters, and commission has limited capacity to do so.

Mexico talks between govt and opposition remained stalled. Despite Maduro govt’s refusal to schedule another official round of talks with Unitary Platform in Mexico, informal discussions continued early month in capital Caracas. In televised comments, however, Maduro 15 Feb accused opposition of failing to fulfil its commitment under Nov humanitarian agreement to transfer frozen funds to UN for infrastructural and other projects in Venezuela, claiming govt has no motive “to sit down again with that group”. Informal talks have not resumed since.

In other important developments. U.S. 6 Feb assumed control of Venezuelan diplomatic properties in Washington and New York in response to mainstream opposition’s decision to dissolve “interim presidency” of Juan Guaidó; opposition envoys 8 Feb were denied entry. Colombian President Petro and Maduro 16 Feb met at shared border to sign trade agreement.

January 2023

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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).

December 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

November 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

October 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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).

September 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

August 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

July 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

June 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

May 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

April 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

March 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

February 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

January 2022

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

December 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

November 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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”.

October 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

September 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

August 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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.

July 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela

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”.

June 2021

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela