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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.

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