A series of gestures from Caracas suggests that President Nicolás Maduro’s government might be more willing to negotiate with rivals and enact partial reforms. Washington should respond in kind with phased sanctions relief and diplomatic gestures that can be reversed if Venezuela backslides.
Deadly clashes between military and Colombian guerrilla groups in border region fuelled tensions between Caracas and Bogotá. Amid ongoing fighting between Venezuelan military and alleged dissidents of Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Apure border state, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino 5 April reported nine combatants and eight soldiers killed since violence started 21 March; 28 April reported another eight soldiers killed in renewed combat over past few days. FM Jorge Arreaza 6 April said govt was requesting UN assistance in deactivating anti-personnel mines allegedly planted by guerrilla groups on Venezuelan territory; also asked UN to investigate violence. President Maduro and other govt officials repeatedly accused Colombia’s President Duque of supporting armed groups operating along border and seeking “military escalation” between two countries. Duque 13 April decried Maduro’s leadership as “illegitimate”. NGO Human Rights Watch 26 April accused Venezuelan security forces of “egregious abuses against local residents” during operations in Apure state, including extrajudicial killings of at least four civilians – three men and a woman –, torture, arbitrary arrests and prosecution of civilians in military courts. World Food Programme (WFP) and govt 19 April reached deal over WFP’s access to Venezuela, paving way for supply of 185,000 meals for school children by end of year and up to 1.5mn in 2023. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 6 April launched broader political front, comprising his existing four-party coalition and six smaller parties; Guaidó said move would improve coordination within mainstream opposition, but some members complained about lack of consultation ahead of launch. Negotiations continued between Maduro’s govt and moderate opposition leaders notably on appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE); Guaidó-led coalition however continued to oppose talks, rejecting any CNE not appointed by “legitimate” (2015-2021) National Assembly. Maduro 18 April said govt had paid required amount to World Health Organization to access COVID-19 vaccines under COVAX mechanism. Meanwhile, in parallel move, Guaidó-led National Assembly 22 April approved use of additional $100mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.
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.
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.