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 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.
Govt mid-Dec launched fresh wave of judicial attacks on opposition MPs ahead of 5 Jan vote to ratify Juan Guaidó as president for next 12 months. Govt-controlled Constituent Assembly 17 Dec lifted parliamentary immunity of four MPs accused, inter alia, of treason. Police special forces (FAES) 20 Dec arrested another, Gilber Caro, without specifying charges. Guaidó 11 Dec admitted failure so far to oust Maduro, promised talks with all sectors of opposition to determine way forward; however opposition deeply divided over whether to participate in 2020 legislative elections. Guaidó and his “govt” tarnished by corruption scandals involving opposition legislators and individuals linked to his team late Nov/early Dec, including online news site exposé of eight opposition legislators allegedly involved in attempts to clear names of corrupt businessmen linked to govt’s food distribution scheme CLAP (Local Committees for Supply and Production); Guaidó ordered investigation. Lawmakers claimed Maduro govt actively seeking to corrupt members of opposition, offering individuals up to $1mn to switch sides. Likelihood of foreign military intervention receded further with passage by U.S. Congress 16 Dec of appropriations bill rejecting use of force in Venezuela and explicitly endorsing strategy of “direct, credible negotiations”; also allocates $400m for humanitarian assistance. Despite partial reactivation of economy, due to informal dollarisation, openings for foreign capital and sanctions-evasion schemes, as well as stabilisation of oil production, severe petrol shortages over Christmas/New Year brought lengthy queues. Maduro 23 Dec accused Colombia, Brazil and Peru of backing 22 Dec raid on 513 Jungle Infantry Batallion in Bolívar state in which dozens of weapons were stolen and (according to govt) one soldier killed. Govt demanded Brazil return 5 military deserters accused of attack who fled across border.
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.
A discreet Norwegian diplomatic effort represents the best hope for breaking Venezuela's political deadlock. To stop the country’s slide into humanitarian and economic catastrophe, pragmatic backers of both government and opposition should put aside empty hopes of outright victory and support a negotiated settlement.
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.
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.
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.
Talks to resolve Venezuela’s impasse collapsed on 15 September only for the government to announce a deal – with a different set of opponents. In this Q&A, Crisis Group Senior Andes Analyst Phil Gunson explains what these developments mean for the country’s political and socio-economic crisis.
The frontier between Brazil and its crisis-ridden neighbour Venezuela has become a major migration route, a hotspot for crime and a flashpoint for violence.
The frontier between Brazil and its crisis-ridden neighbour Venezuela has become a major migration route, a hotspot for crime and a flashpoint for violence. This is the first of three commentaries on Venezuela’s troubled borderlands.