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.
The Maduro government’s latest power play – in which loyalist judges appointed the board that will oversee end-of-year elections – is evidence to many in the Venezuelan opposition that talking is fruitless. But negotiations remain the only route to a stable outcome for the country’s protracted crisis.
Political crisis escalated further as President Maduro’s govt took series of steps to strengthen control over electoral framework and silence opposition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. After talks between govt and opposition led by Juan Guaidó over composition of new electoral authority (CNE) broke down early June, govt-controlled Supreme Court 12 June appointed new CNE with absolute majority for Maduro allies and no seat for Guaidó-led opposition; Supreme Court also ordered changes to electoral law expanding seats in National Assembly from 167 to over 200, increasing number of lawmakers elected through party list rather than individually and modifying method for electing legislators representing indigenous communities; opposition leaders including Guaidó immediately rejected ruling, insisted only National Assembly is constitutionally allowed to elect CNE members. In following days, Supreme Court named new leaders, representing dissident factions more lenient toward govt, for two out of four parties that compose mainstream opposition – Acción Democrática 15 June and Primero Justicia 16 June – and 17 June threatened third party Un Nuevo Tiempo with same fate; Supreme Court also reportedly looked to dissolve fourth party, Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular. International actors including EU, U.S., regional body Lima Group and EU/Uruguay-led International Contact Group mid-June condemned recent moves as further deterioration of political crisis. After EU 29 June imposed sanctions on 11 senior officials for “undermining democracy and rule of law”, Maduro same day ordered EU ambassador to leave country within 72 hours. Previously, govt and opposition 2 June said they had reached agreement with Pan American Health Organization to cooperate to raise funds to address COVID-19 pandemic; humanitarian organisations celebrated move as precedent that could allow broader agreements.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Venezuela has so far been spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the global economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus, on top of the existing humanitarian emergency and the impact of U.S. sanctions, threatens to produce a catastrophe. In this excerpt from the Spring Edition of our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support a resolution of the political crisis and to take measures to alleviate the humanitarian emergency.
As Venezuela’s economy plumbs the depths of collapse, a new cohort of refugees is trekking across parched landscapes to Colombia. It consists of the most vulnerable, including poor expectant mothers, unaccompanied children and the sick, people with no defence against the predations of armed bands.
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.