Venezuela faces a major economic and social crisis, with hyper-inflation, acute scarcity of food, medicine and other basic goods and one of the world’s highest murder rates. There can be no return to stability and prosperity without a settlement of its chronic political conflict. But with the various branches of state refusing to recognise each other’s legitimacy, and with the timing and fairness of future elections in doubt, outside support for dialogue is vital if worsening violence is to be avoided. Crisis Group has developed policy recommendations on political and institutional reforms to restore the rule of law and judicial independence. Our aim is to engage national players and the international community to build momentum for successful third-party facilitation, including human rights and technical assistance mechanisms, and to help restore a credible and inclusive democratic system.
Two developments are propelling Venezuela faster along a route that has already led to dozens of deaths in the last few weeks: the first is an undemocratic proposal for a new constitution; the second is increasingly isolated Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organisation of American States.
Almost thirty people killed during month as security forces cracked down on growing anti-govt protests in capital and elsewhere, amid continuing deterioration in living conditions. Supreme Court (TSJ) 1 April reversed its 29 March decision to assume legislative power of National Assembly following condemnation from neighbouring countries and declaration by attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, former govt loyalist, that constitutional rule had been interrupted; Ortega’s stance marked unprecedented crack in regime unity. Despite measure’s reversal, nineteen Organization of American States (OAS) members voted 3 April for resolution declaring TSJ’s actions violation of constitutional order and urging Venezuela to restore democracy and separation of powers, and committing OAS to continue monitoring situation and seeking diplomatic solution. Comptroller general 9 April banned key opposition leader, Miranda state Governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding office for fifteen years. Opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) began series of mass rallies in capital and elsewhere, demanding dismissal of TSJ justices and holding of elections; some spontaneous protests also broke out, including 12 April in San Félix, Bolívar state, where crowd hurled objects at Maduro as he took part in commemorative act in street. Govt continued to react to demonstrations with force, using National Guard and police to disperse them with tear gas, water-cannon and plastic bullets, often fired at close range; also deployed were armed civilian para-police groups (colectivos) on motorcycles. MUD 19 April staged “mother of all marches”, calling hundreds of thousands onto streets of Caracas and provincial cities; 28 people reportedly killed in protests by end-month, reportedly mostly at hands of police and govt supporters, hundreds detained. Among the dead, at least eleven people reported killed 20 April in looting in Caracas as govt grip on poor barrios appeared to weaken. Maduro 23 April called for talks with opposition to resume; however, MUD declined to meet with international facilitator Leonel Fernández after he met with Maduro 24 April. OAS Permanent Council 26 April agreed to convene extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela; in response, Venezuela announced moves to withdraw from OAS. Govt paid out almost $3bn to service foreign debt during month as imports continued to shrink, must pay around $800m more in May.
With a collapsing health care system, sky-rocketing inflation and crippling state controls, Venezuela is beset by unprecedented social and economic crises. To end the root problem of political paralysis, the Chavista government and opposition must use outside-mediated negotiation to restore democratic and responsible economic governance.
Venezuela is in full-fledged crisis: food and medicine are scarce, violent crime is surging, and the government is blocking democratic ways forward. The international community and the Organization of American States should press for political dialogue, the opening of legal paths to a presidential recall referendum in 2016, and permission for humanitarian aid to enter the country.
After a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections, Venezuela’s Chavista government needs to move away from confrontation. The executive must join the new legislative majority in a cooperation pact that can lead the country from deadlock to open democracy, and save it from a looming economic and humanitarian disaster.
Alongside Venezuela’s growing political tension, the collapse of the country’s economy and health care system are leading to an equally dangerous social crisis. To stave off a humanitarian disaster that could well turn today’s polarisation violent, Venezuela needs an emergency program, careful reform of price controls, political consensus, and international support.
The end of street protests does not mean the end of Venezuela’s crisis. Rising economic problems and unaddressed political demands could lead to renewed violence and threaten national stability.
Failure to resolve the Venezuelan crisis could plunge the country into yet more violence, leaving it unable to address soaring criminality and economic decline and exposing the inability of regional inter-governmental bodies to manage the continent’s conflicts.
The more people die [in Venezuela], the more the anger grows and the more willing the [Venezuelan] government becomes to respond even more violently.
After years of using elections as plebiscites [...] the government [of Venezuela] can now [...] neither muster the electoral support nor find a convincing reason not to hold a vote.
The U.S. has a role to play in contributing to the international pressure [on Venezuela], but that is best done multilaterally, which is what we have seen so far.
[Venezuela's government exercises control] largely through force and the threat to deny government welfare benefits, including food.
As the saying goes, [Venezuela's military is] willing to accompany Maduro to the cemetery but not be buried with him.
[Some at the top of Venezuela's government] appear genuinely to believe that this is a revolution and the ultimate goal is the replacement of the capitalist economy with one that is entirely state-run.
Facing social and economic collapse, Venezuela is likely to continue to be Latin America's most urgent crisis in 2017. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to work closely with governments in the region, particularly Caribbean nations with close ties to Caracas, toward the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s blocking of a recall referendum on ending the presidency of Nicolás Maduro has made a peaceful solution to the country’s festering conflict harder to achieve. Vatican mediation now offers one of the few hopes of progress.
Faced with crushing economic stress, a weakening president, a constitutional stalemate and popular unrest, Venezuela’s “Chavista” government and the opposition are feeling their way towards compromise.
¿Es Nicolás Maduro quien realmente manda en Venezuela? La gran concentración de poder en manos de los militares sugiere que la estabilidad del país dependerá de la responsabilidad de sus Fuerzas Armadas.
Originally published in Semana
Nicolás Maduro was elected president of Venezuela in April 2013 by a narrow margin. His term is due to end in January 2019, unless the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance can force a recall referendum this year – and win it. But does President Maduro really run the country?