Venezuela faces a major economic and social crisis, with hyper-inflation, acute scarcity of food, medicine and other basic goods and one of the world’s highest murder rates. There can be no return to stability and prosperity without a settlement of its chronic political conflict. But with the various branches of state refusing to recognise each other’s legitimacy, and with the timing and fairness of future elections in doubt, outside support for dialogue is vital if worsening violence is to be avoided. Crisis Group has developed policy recommendations on political and institutional reforms to restore the rule of law and judicial independence. Our aim is to engage national players and the international community to build momentum for successful third-party facilitation, including human rights and technical assistance mechanisms, and to help restore a credible and inclusive democratic system.
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.
Opposition maintained refusal to take part in 30 July election for controversial constituent assembly (ANC), said it will continue street demonstrations until govt abandons plan and negotiates in good faith return to democracy; warned of worsening protests if election goes ahead. President Maduro warned that people attempting to disrupt voting will be dealt with severely. Death toll from street protests continued to rise, surpassing 80 by late-June: security forces reportedly employing increasingly repressive tactics, with reports of detainees being tortured, security forces and civilian gunmen conducting searches without warrants, destroying property, making arbitrary arrests. Opposition-dominated parliament proceeded with appointment of Supreme Court (TSJ) justices to replace those it considers illegitimate, and drafting legal framework for transition to democracy, including transitional justice scheme. Dissident voices on govt side continue to emerge; Gen. Alexis López, secretary of National Defence Council, stepped down early June citing opposition to ANC. Attorney General (AG) Luisa Ortega continued to challenge govt, presenting prosecutors’ conclusions regarding deaths of demonstrators that contradict government versions, challenging both president’s proposed ANC election for and legitimacy of so-called “express justices” appointed to TSJ. TSJ 7 and 14 June rejected her petitions on these issues, 20 June said it had approved request to lift her immunity from prosecution for alleged “serious errors”; 29 June banned her from leaving country and froze her assets. Govt continued to insist it will contemplate “dialogue” only within framework of its bid to completely restructure state, close down parliament and remove AG. Organization of American States (OAS) failed to reach consensus on Venezuela at OAS General Assembly 19-21 June. MPs besieged in parliament for five hours 27 June by govt supporters; followed clashes between MPs and National Guard contingent supposed to protect them, prompted by introduction by Guards of election material into parliament building. Simultaneously, alleged “coup attempt” occurred involving theft of police helicopter from which grenades were reportedly hurled at TSJ building; ex-police inspector Oscar Pérez claimed responsibility in videos calling on army, police to act against govt; opposition accused govt of being behind incident.
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.
Alongside Venezuela’s growing political tension, the collapse of the country’s economy and health care system are leading to an equally dangerous social crisis. To stave off a humanitarian disaster that could well turn today’s polarisation violent, Venezuela needs an emergency program, careful reform of price controls, political consensus, and international support.
The end of street protests does not mean the end of Venezuela’s crisis. Rising economic problems and unaddressed political demands could lead to renewed violence and threaten national stability.
But so far that discontent [within Venezuela's armed forces] has not translated into a split in the armed forces, and this is clearly what everybody's waiting for.
The opposition [in Venezuela] knows perfectly well that they would lose a violent struggle. If they start shooting back, everything is over. So the violence on the opposition side is reactive.
The election [of Venezuela's Constitutional Assembly] planned for July 30 could be a trigger point leading to a sharp escalation of violence.
The more people die [in Venezuela], the more the anger grows and the more willing the [Venezuelan] government becomes to respond even more violently.
After years of using elections as plebiscites [...] the government [of Venezuela] can now [...] neither muster the electoral support nor find a convincing reason not to hold a vote.
The U.S. has a role to play in contributing to the international pressure [on Venezuela], but that is best done multilaterally, which is what we have seen so far.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2017 includes entries on Nigeria, Qatar, Thailand and Venezuela. These early-warning publications identify conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Facing social and economic collapse, Venezuela is likely to continue to be Latin America's most urgent crisis in 2017. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to work closely with governments in the region, particularly Caribbean nations with close ties to Caracas, toward the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
Beset by relentless hyperinflation, collapsing public services and increasingly dictatorial rule, Venezuela is at risk of becoming a failed state. The best hope for change lies with neighbouring countries, which must sustain pressure to find a solution.
Venezuela’s blocking of a recall referendum on ending the presidency of Nicolás Maduro has made a peaceful solution to the country’s festering conflict harder to achieve. Vatican mediation now offers one of the few hopes of progress.