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.
Rifts widened within mainstream opposition over whether to contest legislative elections as President Maduro’s govt maintained tight control on electoral framework. Opposition led by Juan Guaidó 7 Sept reiterated decision to boycott 6 Dec legislative elections, with 37 parties signing “unity pact”; some factions, however, proceeded with election preparations; two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles registered to run again before 8 Sept deadline, said he might pull out if conditions do not improve. Guaidó 23 Sept called on UN member states to consider application of “responsibility to protect” doctrine to Venezuela, and 27 Sept announced formation of Commandos for Liberty and Free Elections, committees of local activists tasked with mobilising protests and coordinating opposition on the ground. Delays in election preparations and high rates of COVID-19 infection continued to cast doubt upon electoral calendar; independent research by Academy of Sciences 10 Sept predicted over 10,000 virus cases per day in Dec, while electoral authority yet to provide details on new electronic voting system. Head of govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello 6 Sept said body would not draft new constitution before mandate expires in Dec. Series of protests late Sept erupted across country over petrol shortages and breakdown of basic services. International actors also remained divided over electoral process. High-level EU and EU-backed International Contact Group mission to Caracas 23 Sept sought six-month postponement and improvement in election conditions, notably by allowing foreign observers, while U.S. special representative Elliott Abrams 27 Sept criticised move, saying Brussels did not consult Washington on the matter. Organization of American States Sec Gen Luis Almagro 17 Sept called those participating in elections “accomplices of dictatorship”. UN fact-finding mission 16 Sept accused security forces and intelligence agencies of “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture” amounting to crimes against humanity since 2014, argued that Maduro and several ministers “were aware of the crimes”, and called for international prosecution of those responsible; govt immediately rejected allegations, claiming mission had been bought off.
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.
[Venezuela's] health service had collapsed long before sanctions were imposed.
[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.
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.