Venezuela is in the midst of a tense political standoff and socio-economic meltdown, with hyperinflation, violent crime, political repression and food shortages pushing nearly six million citizens to flee the country. Incumbent President Nicolás Maduro has grabbed power for the executive and dismantled democratic checks and balances, triggering moves backed by the U.S. and allies to unseat him and install an interim president. A negotiated restoration of legitimate and representative state institutions as well as urgent economic reform are vital if the country is to resolve the political crisis peacefully 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 the rule of law.
Hugo Chavez's charisma fuelled his revolution in Venezuela, but as Crisis Group expert Phil Gunson explains in this photo essay, part of a larger project on deadly violence in Latin America, part of his legacy is also rising crime and hunger.
Originally published in World Politics Review
President Maduro met with civil society platform, Mexico talks with opposition remained on hold, and two governments renewed diplomatic engagement with authorities. President Maduro 5 April received leading members of Foro Cívico civil society platform and – separately – leaders of moderate opposition Alianza Democrática; decision to meet harshly criticised by some as lending legitimacy to Maduro, questioned by some of Foro’s own members. Foro Cívico leaders insisted they did not have time to seek approval from associated organisations and therefore attended as “citizens”. Letter addressed to U.S. administration published 14 April, which called for more flexible approach to sanctions and contained some signatories linked to Foro Cívico, provoked further hostility. Meanwhile, Mexico talks still on hold by end of the month. Despite apparent disagreements within ruling party over appointment of new slimmed-down Supreme Court, ruling party-controlled National Assembly 26 April proceeded with nominations, named 20 overwhelmingly pro-govt magistrates to country’s Supreme Court (TSJ), dashing hopes on part of some in opposition for a more balanced court; TSJ judges 27 April appointed U.S.-sanctioned Gladys Gutiérrez as Court’s new president. Non-governmental organisation Foro Penal 29 April denounced detention of 240 political prisoners. International Criminal Court (ICC)’s Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan 1 April agreed to set up office in capital Caracas to resume in-country investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela since Feb 2014; 20 April announced he would seek court’s authorisation to continue investigation, despite govt’s request for deferral. Meanwhile, strategy adopted by U.S. and allies to diplomatically isolate Maduro’s govt appeared to be losing momentum. Notably, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández 18 April announced plans to restore full diplomatic relations, while Portugal’s next head of mission in Caracas will seek accreditation as ambassador, according to diplomatic sources, breaking with EU members’ policy of keeping relations at level of chargés d’affaires.
The political standoff in Venezuela continues as the country sinks deeper into socio-economic distress. Renewed talks between government and opposition – now on hold – give external partners of both sides an opening to push harder for resolution of the impasse. They should seize the opportunity.
A study of social media content shows that Venezuelan opposition figures often take harder anti-government lines if they flee abroad. Exiles’ voices are important, but those trying to end Venezuela’s crisis should listen to others as well, recalling that compromise offers the only peaceful exit.
Following legislative elections, President Nicolás Maduro controls all of Venezuela’s major political institutions. Meanwhile, the country’s crisis deepens apace. An exit remains possible if the government and opposition adjust their zero-sum thinking to admit the need for compromise. The new U.S. administration can help.
Geography, economics and migration patterns dictate that Colombia and Venezuela, which severed diplomatic ties in 2019, will confront the coronavirus pandemic together. The two countries should temporarily mend their relations, and the Venezuelan factions should pause their duel, to allow for a coordinated humanitarian response.
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.
Maduro no tiene la intención de traicionar a Putin, sino explorar qué réditos puede sacar de este acercamiento con Estados Unidos.
Maduro is very isolated internationally. It's hard for him to trade. He can't renegotiate the massive debt that Venezuela has. So he needs some relief.
Unless he [Guaidó] is able to reinvent himself in some way, I think the Guaidó plan has clearly failed.
[Venezuela's] health service had collapsed long before sanctions were imposed.
[The Venezuelan Government] want[s] to make it quite clear that Guaidó is history.
If there's mass social unrest [in Venezuela] they are not really in a position to control it and I think that's the government's nightmare scenario.
The deadlock between President Maduro's government and the opposition is generating a humanitarian emergency in Venezuela. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to maintain contact with all opposition groups, engage with the government to restore representative politics and the rule of law, support international efforts for negotiations and increase aid.
A fresh series of talks to address Venezuela’s profound political crisis are afoot in Mexico City. The discussions will likely be long and cumbersome, but there is space for partial and early agreements that could improve everyday life for Venezuelans.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Mariano de Alba talk to Venezuelan activist Roberto Patiño about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the opportunities for change and what role the European Union and the U.S. could play in a possible transition.
A series of gestures from Caracas suggests that President Nicolás Maduro’s government might be more willing to negotiate with rivals and enact partial reforms. Washington should respond in kind with phased sanctions relief and diplomatic gestures that can be reversed if Venezuela backslides.