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 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.
President Maduro’s govt continued to tighten control on electoral framework ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. Newly appointed electoral authority (CNE) 1 July said parliamentary elections would take place 6 Dec. On occasion of Independence Day 5 July, Defence Minister Padrino López delivered hardline speech describing mainstream opposition led by Juan Guaidó as “bunch of crooks” who will “never exercise power” as long as army remains “anti-imperialist, Bolivarian and revolutionary”. Supreme Court 7 July transferred command of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party to ad hoc committee led by José Gregorio Noriega, previously expelled from party over allegations of corruption but recognised by govt as National Assembly VP; decision followed similar moves against two other mainstream opposition parties in June. Opposition continued to reject govt-controlled Supreme Court changes to electoral law announced in June – which resulted notably in increase in number of National Assembly seats from 167 to 277, and in number of MPs elected by party list rather than individually – saying they have no legal basis. In interview with Tal Cual newspaper 13 July, CNE board member Rafael Simón Jiménez admitted CNE, despite being officially independent, executes decisions taken by National Dialogue Roundtable – govt-led dialogue initiative involving minority opposition parties. Following call between EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell and FM Jorge Arreaza, govt 2 July rescinded its late June decision to expel EU representative from country; expulsion came in response to EU imposition of sanctions on individuals for “undermining democracy and rule of law” following appointment of new CNE earlier in June. Borrell 13 July proposed ministerial-level meeting of EU/Uruguay-led International Contact Group “with all the key players” of Venezuelan political crisis to discuss conditions for Dec elections. Opposition 24 July reiterated that Norway-sponsored govt-opposition talks were over after Norwegian govt representatives said they would visit capital Caracas late July to assess political and humanitarian situation. Amid dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, concerns persisted over health system capacity, while several high-level officials tested positive for virus.
Geography, economics and migration patterns dictate that Colombia and Venezuela, which severed diplomatic ties in 2019, will confront the coronavirus pandemic together. The two countries should temporarily mend their relations, and the Venezuelan factions should pause their duel, to allow for a coordinated humanitarian response.
Venezuela’s political showdown appears deadlocked. President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in place over a year after the opposition behind Juan Guaidó mounted its campaign to supplant him. The gap between the sides is wide, but conversations with pragmatists reveal the outlines of a potential compromise.
Power in Venezuela is slipping away from state institutions and concentrating in the hands of criminals, guerrillas and other non-state actors. Any new negotiations between government and opposition must consider how to defang these armed irregulars, who might otherwise scuttle an eventual settlement.
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.
[The Venezuelan Government] want[s] to make it quite clear that Guaidó is history.
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.
What the [Venezuelan] regime is facing now is much more grave than they’ve ever faced before.
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.
If you’re going to cause the collapse of [the Venezuelan] government in the middle of a pandemic, then you will be responsible for instilling chaos.
Maduro is essentially calling Trump’s bluff. Maduro has essentially concluded that the military option is a very remote possibility.
Venezuela has so far been spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the global economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus, on top of the existing humanitarian emergency and the impact of U.S. sanctions, threatens to produce a catastrophe. In this excerpt from the Spring Edition of our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support a resolution of the political crisis and to take measures to alleviate the humanitarian emergency.
As Venezuela’s economy plumbs the depths of collapse, a new cohort of refugees is trekking across parched landscapes to Colombia. It consists of the most vulnerable, including poor expectant mothers, unaccompanied children and the sick, people with no defence against the predations of armed bands.
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.