Venezuela faces a major political, economic and social crisis, with hyperinflation, acute scarcity of food, medicine and other basic goods and one of the world’s highest murder rates. The opposition has been staging widespread protests against the increasingly totalitarian policies enacted by Maduro’s government. Dozens of demonstrators have been killed. The July 2017 election of an all-powerful Constituent Assembly closed down almost all remaining democratic spaces, sparking widespread condemnation in the region and around the world. A negotiated restoration of democracy is vital if violence is to be avoided. Crisis Group aims to engage national players and the international community to build momentum for credible negotiations. We work to encourage successful third-party facilitation, including human rights and technical assistance mechanisms, and to help restore credible democratic and judicial systems.
As tens of thousands of Venezuelans stream into neighbouring countries, President Nicolás Maduro appears set to win elections on 20 May. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for the Andes Phil Gunson looks ahead to the vote and its aftermath and explains why the crisis is likely to deepen.
Fallout from 20 May election continued as opposition and foreign govts maintained refusal to recognise President Maduro’s victory. Supreme Court (SC) 13 June refused to admit losing candidate Henri Falcón’s claim that election should be nullified because of multiple irregularities including vote-buying, saying Falcón offered no proof. Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly 5 June passed resolution stating election failed to comply with international standards and lacked legitimacy; called for negotiations leading to a free and fair election, and for member states to take political, economic and financial measures to assist in restoration of democracy in Venezuela; although supported by nineteen countries, resolution fell short of 24 votes needed to suspend Venezuela’s membership. EU 25 June imposed sanctions on eleven govt officials, including members of electoral authority. UN high commissioner for human rights 22 June accused security forces in Operation for the Liberation of the People, ostensibly a series of crime-reduction operations, of over 500 extrajudicial killings July 2015-March 2017. Govt conditionally released several dozen political prisoners, from various groups, beginning 2 June; however hundreds remained in jail. Dozens are military officers, some convicted of involvement in May 2018 coup plot which, according to a report by Bloomberg, was foiled. President Maduro 14 June announced cabinet changes including replacement of VP El Aissami with Delcy Rodríguez, previously head of controversial pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly (ANC); Maduro moved El Aissami to head new Ministry of Industries and National Production, Diosdado Cabello was chosen to head ANC. Reshuffle also significantly reduced number of military members of cabinet. Amid ongoing hyperinflation crisis, ANC appointed Calixto Ortega Sánchez as president of Central Bank, despite his lack of prior experience in role. Opposition remained divided; Falcón 30 May announced creation of “new opposition platform” Concertación para el Cambio, based around parties that supported his candidacy.
Venezuela’s socio-economic implosion is dragging in neighbours as hundreds of thousands of people flee the country, epidemics spread and violent crime spills over borders. International humanitarian support is needed and regional powers should push for a negotiated transition, including through threats of targeted sanctions.
Economic mismanagement, corruption and dwindling reserves have forced Venezuela into penury and now into missed payments and partial default on its debts. Full-scale, internationally supervised negotiations involving a restored parliament are essential to pave the way to a debt restructuring and a free, fair presidential election.
Violence is escalating in Venezuela, killing 70 people in over two months of ever-angrier popular protests against a government that is abandoning representative democracy. Regional states should avert a humanitarian catastrophe by pressuring the Maduro regime to withdraw plans to elect a phony constituent assembly on 30 July.
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.
People [in Venezuela] are moving to the countryside because you can more or less survive if you have a small plot of land and access to your own produce.
Increased prices can be charged to [Venezuelan] migrants because of their sheer desire to cross [the border to reach Colombia].
The prognosis [for Venezuela in] 2018 is further deterioration, humanitarian emergency, and an increased exodus of Venezuelans. Sustained domestic and international pressure will be required.
Venezuela is in a very, very deep economic hole. Hyperinflation is around 2,000%. Foreign reserves are well below $10 billion, and the productive economy is virtually in pieces.
The [Venezuelan] military needs [President] Maduro because they would rather not rule themselves. He makes life good for them. If you are a general and play by the rules you can make a lot of money.
The least you can ask of [Venezuelan] opposition is that it shows up and puts up a fight. There [aren't] many instances in history where governments have been brought down by electoral boycotts.
Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Originally published in Asia Times
Crisis Group's Andes Senior Analyst Phil Gunson explains how Venezuela’s socio-economic implosion is dragging in neighbours as hundreds of thousands of people flee the country, epidemics spread and violent crime spills over borders.
The Venezuelan government has dissolved the elected, opposition-led parliament and initiated de facto rule. Foreign governments and multilateral organisations should regard all government actions carried out in contravention of the 1999 constitution as invalid and press the government to take urgent steps toward the restoration of democracy.
Venezuela’s political crisis took another fateful turn on Sunday 30 July with the rigged election of an all-powerful assembly mandated to rewrite the constitution. In this Q&A, Senior Analyst for the Andes Phil Gunson says Sunday’s vote represents the end of what little democratic space still existed and takes the country on the path to dictatorship.