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.
The crippling blackouts across Venezuela are a grim portent of things to come as U.S. oil sanctions kick in and the country’s crisis deepens. All concerned to end Venezuelans’ suffering should vigorously pursue a negotiated transition leading to a power-sharing deal.
Turmoil continued as govt and opposition hardened their positions and clashes sparked by opposition’s attempted delivery of humanitarian aid prompted fears of further violence. Large quantities of international aid including medical supplies and food, mostly transported by U.S., arrived at Colombian border and opposition leader and regionally supported interim President Juan Guaidó announced 23 Feb as date for first aid shipment into country; govt shut all border points including main planned delivery routes; President Maduro 21 Feb called aid a “provocation” and suggested it was precursor to U.S. military invasion. Army 22 Feb opened fire on indigenous protesters attempting to keep border with Brazil open in Gran Sabana region, killing at least two. Clashes broke out as opposition activists and civilians 23 Feb attempted to bring aid across borders with Colombia and Brazil, with security forces firing teargas and rubber bullets and masked civilian paramilitaries firing live rounds; more people reported killed in Santa Elena de Uairén on Brazilian border, hundreds injured in all; over 400 members of security forces, mostly National Guard, deserted by crossing border near Cúcuta, according to Colombian govt. Armed forces mostly maintained loyalty to Maduro govt during month, although largely refrained from attacking massive opposition demonstrations taking place across country; however, severe repression continued, including police death squads’ reported use of summary executions. International opinion remained divided, with most actors rejecting military intervention. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 22 Feb met with FM Arreaza in New York, urging govt to refrain from using force against protesters, while Guaidó 25 Feb met regional members of Lima Group and U.S. VP Pence in Bogotá to discuss crisis, during which Latin American countries voiced opposition to military intervention; Pence announced further sanctions against members of govt and called on other nations to increase pressure. EU accelerated creation of International Contact Group at meeting in Uruguay 7 Feb, with stated purpose to seek path to free and fair elections under external observation. Guaidó 22 Feb left country clandestinely for Colombia, stating intention to return after visiting Brazil, Europe and U.S.
Across swathes of southern Venezuela, army units, Colombian guerrillas and crime syndicates jostle for control over gold mines funnelling hard currency to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Outside powers should stop considering military intervention and instead help broker a peaceful transition in Venezuela, lest chaos ensue.
As Venezuela’s socio-economic woes deepen, so do the fissures in the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Bridging these rifts is vital if the country’s crisis is to end through a negotiated transition. Outside powers should back opposition unity and stop hinting at military intervention.
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.
Maduro is essentially calling Trump’s bluff. Maduro has essentially concluded that the military option is a very remote possibility.
The Maduro team doesn’t want to talk to [the opposition] and doesn’t trust them. They think they will all end up in jail or strung up from lampposts.
[Miners in Venezuela] are severely at risk of being shot dead: Mining communities have phenomenally high homicide rates, even by the extraordinary high levels that we see in the rest of Venezuela.
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.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
President Trump’s tough talk and actions opened the door for change in Venezuela. Now the U.S. must avoid hardline inflexibility that could close it, ending the chance of achieving internal peace through an interim power arrangement between the country’s duelling presidents.
Bucking the U.S. and several large and influential Latin American states, Mexico has not recognised Juan Guaidó’s claim on Venezuela’s presidency, and has instead argued for negotiations to end the country’s crisis. As Crisis Group’s Senior Mexico Analyst Falko Ernst explains, this position is rooted in a new Mexican foreign policy doctrine.
Venezuela’s profound political turmoil has displaced millions and now threatens to turn into a dangerous military confrontation. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage and support a negotiated outcome to the crisis.
The Venezuelan National Assembly’s chairman, Juan Guaidó, has declared himself interim president, with the support of several foreign governments. Unless the Venezuelan military backs his move, it is unlikely to topple incumbent President Nicolás Maduro and could unleash greater repression and even outside military intervention.