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.
Govt pressed on with planned presidential election 20 May despite international and internal pressure to postpone and improve conditions for opposition, which remains deeply split. Opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance continued to call for election boycott, refusing to back sole opposition candidate Henri Falcón of Avanzada Progresista party. MUD and radical opposition wing Soy Venezuela 17 April briefly united around vote in opposition-led National Assembly calling for President Maduro to be tried for corruption (as proposed by exiled dissident Supreme Court judges), with 105 out of 167 legislators voting in favour of resolution, only four opposition legislators abstaining; only two legislators of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) present. Maduro 10 April announced he would not attend Summit of the Americas in Peruvian capital Lima 13 April, calling it a “waste of time”, after previously insisting he would attend despite Peruvian govt rescinding his invitation. U.S. VP Pence, attending summit in place of U.S. President Trump, called Venezuela “failed state”, said U.S. would not stand by while it collapsed. Ad hoc Lima Group of govts issued fresh communiqué reiterating calls for free and fair elections and assistance in tackling humanitarian emergency. U.S. Treasury Sec Steven Mnuchin 19 April hosted meeting of officials from sixteen European and Latin American countries who agreed to strengthen efforts to seize Venezuelan assets acquired corruptly. Govt 5 April suspended Panamanian airline Copa’s flights for three months in response to Panama’s introduction late March of sanctions banning Panamanian firms’ business with 50 Venezuelan officials including Maduro. Measure prompted Panamanian decision to suspend Venezuelan airlines from Caracas-Panama route as well; presidents 26 April agreed to restore normal aviation traffic and set up joint commission under their foreign ministers to review bilateral relations. Maduro 12 April handed Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo powers to reform energy sector, despite reported Russian and Chinese pressure to sack him.
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.
Elections scheduled for 20 May are likely to aggravate the crisis in Venezuela, which has forced 1.5 million people to flee the country in the past year and a half. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2018 – First Update early-warning report, Crisis Group urges European policy makers to expand their vital humanitarian assistance to Venezuela and work closely with the Lima Group to encourage a negotiated solution to the crisis.
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.
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.