Venezuela is in the midst of a tense political standoff and socio-economic meltdown, with hyperinflation, rising crime and food shortages pushing some three million citizens to flee the country. Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro has grabbed power for the executive and engineered his re-election in a dubious vote, triggering moves backed by the U.S. and allies to unseat him and instal an interim president. A negotiated restoration of democracy and urgent economic reform are vital if the country is to avoid violence and reduce mass emigration. Crisis Group aims to engage national, Latin American and international players to build momentum for talks, strengthen human rights protections and help restore credible democratic and judicial systems.
Just as Venezuela’s number of COVID-19 cases topped 100, the U.S. indicted President Nicolás Maduro and others on drug trafficking charges. This ill-timed move will likely fail. The only sensible course is sanctions relief and negotiations between government and opposition over a humanitarian truce.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. charged President Maduro and several top aides with drug trafficking, opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for govt of national unity, but excluding Maduro, and Colombia closed its official border crossings with Venezuela. U.S. attorney general 26 March announced indictment of Maduro, Defence Minister Padrino López and others on drugs-related charges in major escalation of U.S. administration’s campaign to pressure Maduro to leave office. Venezuelan chief prosecutor within hours announced investigation into Guaidó in connection with arms shipment seized in Colombia two days earlier. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 31 March offered to lift sanctions in exchange for political transition; FM Jorge Arreaza immediately rejected proposal. Amid concerns over effect of coronavirus epidemic on country’s oil-dependent economy and weakened health care system, Maduro 13 March declared “state of alarm”, allowing him to restrict civil rights; govt subsequently deployed armed forces and militia members to curtail movement and suspended most international flights. International Monetary Fund (IMF) 17 March turned down Maduro’s request for $5bn to deal with COVID-19, citing lack of clarity over recognition of govt. COVID-19 spread limited opposition mobilisation; police 10 March fired tear gas to repel Guaidó’s supporters attempting to march on parliament building from which govt excluded Guaidó-aligned MPs in Jan; opposition later suspended planned demonstrations due to coronavirus. Guaidó 28 March proposed national emergency govt, excluding Maduro but with all political forces represented, to deal with epidemic. Humanitarian situation in Colombia-Venezuela border region remained dire. After Colombia 14 March closed official border crossings amid COVID-19 pandemic, VP Rodriguez described move as “grotesque irresponsibility”, accused Colombian govt of handing border control to “paramilitaries”. Previously unknown group “Venezuelan Patriot Command” claimed 7 March fire at electoral authority (CNE) warehouse in capital Caracas that destroyed voting machines for parliamentary elections due this year; CNE chairperson immediately insisted elections would go ahead; however COVID-19 emergency led to 16 March suspension of govt and opposition efforts to agree on composition of new CNE.
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.
The struggle over Venezuela’s political future will likely turn on the armed forces’ disposition: the top brass could ease or thwart a move away from President Nicolás Maduro. Sponsors of transition talks should include military representatives in the discussions sooner rather than later.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
A discreet Norwegian diplomatic effort represents the best hope for breaking Venezuela's political deadlock. To stop the country’s slide into humanitarian and economic catastrophe, pragmatic backers of both government and opposition should put aside empty hopes of outright victory and support a negotiated settlement.
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.
If you’re going to cause the collapse of [the Venezuelan] government in the middle of a pandemic, then you will be responsible for instilling chaos.
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.
The government of Nicolás Maduro has seized control of Venezuela’s parliament, robbing the opposition of its platform for negotiating a way out of the country’s political crisis. An already long, damaging conflict could drag on if outside powers cannot persuade the government to reverse course.
In Caracas, International Crisis Group asked government officials, opposition activists and political analysts alike to speak to camera about their views on how to resolve Venezuela's catastrophic political and humanitarian crisis.
Gold and migrants stream across the stretch of the Cuyuní river that marks the Guyana-Venezuela border. Guerrillas and criminal organisations control much of the flow. Their turf wars are already spilling over and could intensify if foreign powers intervene to topple Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Talks to resolve Venezuela’s impasse collapsed on 15 September only for the government to announce a deal – with a different set of opponents. In this Q&A, Crisis Group Senior Andes Analyst Phil Gunson explains what these developments mean for the country’s political and socio-economic crisis.