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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.

CrisisWatch Venezuela

Unchanged Situation

Diplomatic efforts resumed to resolve political crisis, and clashes erupted between military and Colombian guerrilla group at border with Colombia. Norwegian delegation 9 March arrived in capital Caracas in attempt to revive comprehensive talks between President Maduro’s govt and mainstream opposition; initiative comes as civil society organisations and opposition faction led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have been trying to negotiate with govt appointment of more inclusive National Electoral Council (CNE) ahead of regional and local elections due by late 2021. Mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó 3 March said he would support appointment of new CNE only if its members were not chosen unilaterally by govt-controlled National Assembly. National Assembly 16 March extended deadline for appointing CNE by two weeks, potentially allowing mainstream opposition to put forward candidates; but opposition did not take up opportunity. During visit to Caracas, Spanish deputy FM Cristina Gallach 28-29 March discussed political crisis with govt, opposition and business representatives. Guaidó, recognised by U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president, and U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 2 March discussed “return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections” and “urgent humanitarian needs”. UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela 10 March said police forces committed at least 200 extrajudicial killings in 2021, and UN human rights chief Bachelet next day called for “prompt and independent investigations” into ongoing “extra-judicial executions”. Clashes between military and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 20-21 March erupted in Apure border state, leaving at least two Venezuelan soldiers dead; Colombian govt 28 March said 4,700 had sought refuge in Colombia since fighting started; refugees reportedly accused Venezuelan soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians. U.S. 8 March granted Venezuelan migrants temporary protected status, allowing them to stay and work in U.S. for 18 months. Amid negotiations between govt and mainstream opposition for access to COVID-19 vaccines under World Health Organization’s COVAX mechanism, mainstream opposition 19 March said it would seek to use $30mn in govt funds – frozen in U.S. accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro’s govt – to pay for vaccines. Maduro however reiterated refusal of AstraZeneca vaccine, one of main vaccines under COVAX, citing side effects.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

7 Dec 2020
Unless he [Guaidó] is able to reinvent himself in some way, I think the Guaidó plan has clearly failed. The Guardian

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes
11 Aug 2020
[Venezuela's] health service had collapsed long before sanctions were imposed. Foreign Policy

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes
7 Jul 2020
[The Venezuelan Government] want[s] to make it quite clear that Guaidó is history. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes
12 Apr 2020
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. BBC News

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes
4 Apr 2020
What the [Venezuelan] regime is facing now is much more grave than they’ve ever faced before. BloombergQuint

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes
31 Mar 2020
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. The Guadian

Ivan Briscoe

Program Director, Latin America and Caribbean

Latest Updates

Venezuela’s Opposition Is Clinging to a Failed Strategy

Opposition politicians in Venezuela face a difficult set of choices. But the sooner they face up to them, the sooner Venezuela can begin to tackle the enormous challenges of a much-needed political transition and economic reconstruction.

Originally published in World Politics Review

Latin America’s Tough Year Ahead

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh, Richard Atwood and Ivan Briscoe, Crisis Group’s Latin America Director, talk about COVID-19’s devastation, polarisation and populism in the region, as well as the Venezuela crisis and violence in Mexico.

Podcast / United States

U.S. Sanctions: An Overused Foreign Policy Tool?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood discuss the “maximum pressure” sanctions that the U.S. has imposed upon Iran and Venezuela. Their guests are Crisis Group’s experts on these two countries, Ali Vaez and Phil Gunson.

Venezuela Court Rulings Bury Hopes of a Fair Poll

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.

Also available in Español

Our People

Phil Gunson

Senior Analyst, Andes

Mariano de Alba

Senior Advocacy Advisor