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.
In Venezuela, the lights go off nearly every day, and there is little for most families to put on the dinner table. Amid the growing misery, will the government’s social base abandon it for the opposition challenger? And will the government itself crack under pressure?
Govt and opposition maintained hardline stances amid ongoing international efforts to end political crisis, while nationwide electricity blackouts signalled devastating effects of failing to resolve it. Opposition leader and “interim President” Juan Guaidó, recognised by U.S. and allies, returned to Venezuela 4 March following regional tour, arriving at Caracas airport despite speculation he would be arrested. Police 21 March arrested Guaidó’s chief of staff Roberto Marrero, later charged in connection with alleged “terrorist plot”; U.S. Sec State Pompeo warned of “consequences”, although U.S. officials downplayed likelihood of military intervention. Massive electric grid failure 7 March left around 90% of country without power, with Caracas suffering blackout for two days and other areas for over a week; blackout led to cut-off in water supplies and communications, unknown number of deaths in hospitals as back-generators failed, and outbreaks of looting, particularly in Maracaibo city (north west). President Maduro’s govt blamed sabotage by U.S. and local allies, although experts reportedly blamed fire underneath power lines and faulty maintenance. Widespread and lengthy blackouts returned 25 March, which this time govt blamed on “sniper”, and again 29 March. Two Russian military planes landed 23 March, reportedly carrying military equipment and dozens of troops; Russia cited fulfilment of existing military contracts, but U.S. President Trump 27 March said Russia must “get out”. International Federation of the Red Cross 29 March said it had reached agreement with govt and opposition to begin mass aid relief mid-April. Amid increasing tensions with international actors backing Guaidó, govt 6 March declared German ambassador (who accompanied Guaidó on his return from airport in official vehicle) persona non grata, giving him 48 hours to leave. U.S. 14 March removed last diplomats from Venezuela and closed embassy; FM Arreaza said govt expelled them while Pompeo said their presence had been “constraint” on U.S. policy. International Contact Group, headed by EU and Uruguay, met at ministerial level in Quito, Ecuador 28 March, sent mission to Caracas mid-March primarily to discuss humanitarian assistance; Contact Group has given itself until May to determine whether mediated settlement is possible.
Across swathes of southern Venezuela, army units, Colombian guerrillas and crime syndicates jostle for control over gold mines funnelling hard currency to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Outside powers should stop considering military intervention and instead help broker a peaceful transition in Venezuela, lest chaos ensue.
As Venezuela’s socio-economic woes deepen, so do the fissures in the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Bridging these rifts is vital if the country’s crisis is to end through a negotiated transition. Outside powers should back opposition unity and stop hinting at military intervention.
Venezuela’s socio-economic implosion is dragging in neighbours as hundreds of thousands of people flee the country, epidemics spread and violent crime spills over borders. International humanitarian support is needed and regional powers should push for a negotiated transition, including through threats of targeted sanctions.
Economic mismanagement, corruption and dwindling reserves have forced Venezuela into penury and now into missed payments and partial default on its debts. Full-scale, internationally supervised negotiations involving a restored parliament are essential to pave the way to a debt restructuring and a free, fair presidential election.
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.
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.
[Miners in Venezuela] are severely at risk of being shot dead: Mining communities have phenomenally high homicide rates, even by the extraordinary high levels that we see in the rest of Venezuela.
People [in Venezuela] are moving to the countryside because you can more or less survive if you have a small plot of land and access to your own produce.
Increased prices can be charged to [Venezuelan] migrants because of their sheer desire to cross [the border to reach Colombia].
The prognosis [for Venezuela in] 2018 is further deterioration, humanitarian emergency, and an increased exodus of Venezuelans. Sustained domestic and international pressure will be required.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
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