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 recent years Venezuela’s political and economic implosion has become a major headache for much of Latin America. Regional governments should seek to find common ground and coordinate their efforts with the EU’s International Contact Group to push for a negotiated transition.
Failed uprising by opposition leadership 30 April led to clashes and further polarised political standoff, increasing fears of violent domestic or international escalation in coming days and weeks amid worsening humanitarian crisis. Opposition leader and “interim President” Juan Guaidó 30 April appealed to security forces to join “final phase” to remove President Maduro, in move govt labelled “attempted coup”. Defecting soldiers and protesters clashed with pro-govt troops around military air base, leaving scores injured; pro- and anti-govt protests took place elsewhere in capital and other cities. Security forces subdued uprising, however Guaidó reiterated calls for mass nationwide demonstrations for 1 May; Maduro promised events would “not go unpunished”, leading to concerns over further outbreaks of violence. Earlier in month, International Federation of the Red Cross 16 April began first shipment of humanitarian aid intended to assist 650,000 Venezuelans, following late March agreement with govt and opposition, who both claimed credit for arrival of aid. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock 10 April told UN Security Council 7mn people needed assistance, while some local NGOs say figure is higher; Lowcock also said 1.3mn of total 1.9mn requiring food aid are children under five; further deterioration anticipated as full impact of sanctions hits. Organization of American States 9 April voted 18-9 to recognise representative of Guaidó as ambassador, unseating Maduro’s representative. Guaidó toured west of country 13-16 April, drawing large crowds despite alleged harassment by paramilitaries and authorities. Govt’s attempts to disrupt opposition continued; govt-controlled Constituent Assembly 2 April removed Guaidó’s parliamentary immunity following Supreme Court’s call for it to be lifted on grounds he defied ban on leaving country. Following Feb nationwide electricity blackouts, Information Minister 11 April alleged leading opposition members including Guaidó planned acts of sabotage against electrical grid and banking system. Govt’s international isolation continued with U.S. and Canada imposing additional sanctions against govt figures; U.S. also imposed sanctions on companies and vessels involved in shipment of oil to Cuba, and sanctioned Central Bank.
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.
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.
A failed uprising by Venezuelan National Assembly Chair Juan Guaidó has emboldened President Nicolás Maduro and deepened the country's political deadlock. However difficult, outside actors should continue to press the two sides to form a transitional cabinet, stabilise Venezuela’s economy and hold elections.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
Venezuela’s constitutional crisis continues to unfold, with the opposition amassing food and medicine on the borders with the stated intent of turning the military against President Nicolás Maduro, who is refusing the aid. In this Q&A, our Senior Analyst for Venezuela Phil Gunson explains the standoff.
President Trump’s tough talk and actions opened the door for change in Venezuela. Now the U.S. must avoid hardline inflexibility that could close it, ending the chance of achieving internal peace through an interim power arrangement between the country’s duelling presidents.