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.
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.
Govt-opposition talks suspended, while relations with Colombia continued to deteriorate. Following govt’s suspension of Norwegian-mediated talks in Barbados in Aug, opposition led by “interim President” Juan Guaidó 15 Sept announced it was pulling out of dialogue, saying “Barbados mechanism is exhausted”. Opposition next day revealed plan proposed to govt which included President Maduro and Guaidó stepping down from posts while a govt council – including opposition, govt and armed forces representatives – presided over free presidential elections; opposition stated lack of govt response prevented return to negotiations. Govt next day announced it had been talking secretly and separately to group of minor opposition parties, including Avanzada Progresista led by former governor and 2018 presidential candidate Henri Falcón, and had reached initial agreement; agreement would see pro-govt MPs return to parliament, new electoral authority formed and release of some political prisoners. Day after 16 Sept public signing of agreement, govt released National Assembly (AN) VP Edgar Zambrano from military prison; pro-govt MPs returned to AN 24 Sept. Guaidó-led opposition dismissed agreement as “pantomime”, accusing Maduro of negotiating in bad faith; AN 17 Sept passed motion ratifying Guaidó as “interim President” until free elections are held. Relations with Colombia deteriorated over alleged Venezuelan support for Colombian guerrillas, while govt accused Colombia of trying to recruit Venezuelan soldiers to sabotage air defence system, reportedly responding with military drills at border since 10 Sept (see Colombia). Govt accused Guaidó of links to Colombian paramilitaries after photos were published of him 12 Sept with “Rastrojos” gang leaders. Organization of American States Permanent Council 11 Sept agreed to activation of regional defence Rio Treaty, with FMs from eighteen signatory countries 23 Sept meeting in New York; resolution focused on capture/extradition/punishment of regime associates involved in terrorism and/or organised crime. International Contact Group met same day. UN Human Rights Council 27 Sept voted to send “international-fact finding mission” to country to “investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances” and other human rights abuses since 2014.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
Originally published in The Guardian