A study of social media content shows that Venezuelan opposition figures often take harder anti-government lines if they flee abroad. Exiles’ voices are important, but those trying to end Venezuela’s crisis should listen to others as well, recalling that compromise offers the only peaceful exit.
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).
Following legislative elections, President Nicolás Maduro controls all of Venezuela’s major political institutions. Meanwhile, the country’s crisis deepens apace. An exit remains possible if the government and opposition adjust their zero-sum thinking to admit the need for compromise. The new U.S. administration can help.
Geography, economics and migration patterns dictate that Colombia and Venezuela, which severed diplomatic ties in 2019, will confront the coronavirus pandemic together. The two countries should temporarily mend their relations, and the Venezuelan factions should pause their duel, to allow for a coordinated humanitarian response.
Venezuela’s political showdown appears deadlocked. President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in place over a year after the opposition behind Juan Guaidó mounted its campaign to supplant him. The gap between the sides is wide, but conversations with pragmatists reveal the outlines of a potential compromise.
Power in Venezuela is slipping away from state institutions and concentrating in the hands of criminals, guerrillas and other non-state actors. Any new negotiations between government and opposition must consider how to defang these armed irregulars, who might otherwise scuttle an eventual settlement.
The standoff between Venezuela’s government and opposition has reached a worrying juncture, with negotiations falling apart, side deals emerging and regional states rolling out new sanctions on Caracas. Resuming the talks is the safest path to an exit from the country’s ever deepening crisis.
Unless he [Guaidó] is able to reinvent himself in some way, I think the Guaidó plan has clearly failed.
[Venezuela's] health service had collapsed long before sanctions were imposed.
[The Venezuelan Government] want[s] to make it quite clear that Guaidó is history.
If there's mass social unrest [in Venezuela] they are not really in a position to control it and I think that's the government's nightmare scenario.
What the [Venezuelan] regime is facing now is much more grave than they’ve ever faced before.
If the virus were to take off in Venezuela, and the country were not to receive a huge injection of international support, it would face an absolute disaster.
Opposition politicians in Venezuela face a difficult set of choices. But the sooner they face up to them, the sooner Venezuela can begin to tackle the enormous challenges of a much-needed political transition and economic reconstruction.
Originally published in World Politics Review
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh, Richard Atwood and Ivan Briscoe, Crisis Group’s Latin America Director, talk about COVID-19’s devastation, polarisation and populism in the region, as well as the Venezuela crisis and violence in Mexico.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood discuss the “maximum pressure” sanctions that the U.S. has imposed upon Iran and Venezuela. Their guests are Crisis Group’s experts on these two countries, Ali Vaez and Phil Gunson.
The Maduro government’s latest power play – in which loyalist judges appointed the board that will oversee end-of-year elections – is evidence to many in the Venezuelan opposition that talking is fruitless. But negotiations remain the only route to a stable outcome for the country’s protracted crisis.