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.
The Venezuelan government has dissolved the elected, opposition-led parliament and initiated de facto rule. Foreign governments and multilateral organisations should regard all government actions carried out in contravention of the 1999 constitution as invalid and press the government to take urgent steps toward the restoration of democracy.
Month dominated by long-postponed elections for state governors 15 Oct, which under constitution should have been held Dec 2016. Govt continued to insist that participation as candidates in state governor elections amounted to recognising Constituent Assembly (ANC)’s legitimacy and authority to swear in elected candidates; opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD) rejected terms but persisted with taking part in elections, amid predictions that its candidates could win in as many as eighteen out of 23 states, compared with three seats held before election. Electoral authority (CNE) 15 Oct announced landslide victory for govt candidates: eighteen states, including key opposition stronghold Miranda, went to govt, five won by opposition (including four by Acción Democrática (AD)). MUD rejected results, called for complete nationwide audit of election process with independent, international verification. U.S., Canada, EU and twelve-country Lima Group formed to press for restoration of democracy echoed calls; govt said it would only publish vote tallies. During campaign, govt hampered opposition efforts to mobilise supporters and ensure effective vote by keeping names of MUD candidates who pulled out after losing in primaries on ballot to confuse voters, and reassigned over 700,000 voters from opposition strongholds to alternative polling stations. In south-eastern Bolívar state, announcement of results was delayed amid three consecutive days of street protests; after authorities declared govt candidate winner, MUD produced paper vote tallies contradicting official count. AD governors agreed to be sworn in before ANC, whereupon party leader Henry Ramos said they had “excluded themselves” from party. Juan Pablo Guanipa of Primero Justicia, winner in Zulia state, refused; govt called fresh election in Zulia. MUD’s participation in elections, and governors’ swearing-in, fomented further division within opposition ranks, as vocal minority accused MUD leadership of treachery. Govt called delayed municipal elections for Dec, provoking opposition debate over whether to take part.
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.
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.
There is malaria now even in urban areas [of Venezuela]. The government's anti-malaria programme has effectively been dismantled.
It’s very hard to create critical mass [in Venezuela] without being found out. In an era of instant digital communications, authorities can be alerted to the risk of destabilization very quickly.
Should [violent] events recur, Venezuela’s political conflict could morph into a low-intensity civil war.
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.
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.
Two developments are propelling Venezuela faster along a route that has already led to dozens of deaths in the last few weeks: the first is an undemocratic proposal for a new constitution; the second is increasingly isolated Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organisation of American States.
Venezuela’s neighbours are at last contemplating tougher measures to counter its dangerous and undemocratic behaviour. The government, helped by outsiders, should now negotiate with the opposition on a transitional regime to lead the country out of its grave social, economic and political crisis.
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.