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Venezuelan citizens enter Cucuta, Norte de Santander Department in Colombia, from San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, at the Simon Bolivar international bridge on 26 July 2017. AFP/Luis Acosta

遏制来自委内瑞拉的冲击

委内瑞拉社会经济体系的崩溃正在拖累邻国。数十万人已在逃离,流行病肆虐,而暴力犯罪已蔓延过边界。提供国际人道主义援助是必要的,但区域内国家也应促使委内瑞拉政府同意通过谈判达成过渡计划,包括用有针对性的制裁来对其要挟。

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概要

正当委内瑞拉总统尼古拉斯·马杜罗试图巩固其权力的时候,他的国家则日益陷入困境。恶性通货膨胀加剧了食品和药品的稀缺。原本可预防的疾病和儿童缺乏营养正导致死亡率攀升。暴力犯罪也在飙升。估计有四百万委内瑞拉人已被迫离乡,每个月都有数万人跨入哥伦比亚境内寻找安顿之所。委内瑞拉邻国之前面对其国内紧张局势只是隔岸观火,现在却面临着一场灾难发生在家门口。拉美政府、联合国、欧盟和美国必须加倍努力应对人道主义危机,包括确保委内瑞拉邻国有足够资源来应对。他们还应尽量连同中国一起游说政府同意和反对派之间谈判,通过改革实现更具代表性的政治体系和经济复苏。以进一步制裁做为要挟可有助推动政府做出让步。

2017年发生的动荡加剧了委内瑞拉人的苦难,也提升了找到解决措施的难度。尽管委内瑞拉政府平息了长达数月的内乱,剥夺了反对派掌控的国民议会的权力,成立了新制宪议会,对所有委内瑞拉机构行使权力,但该政府并没有努力去改善国内经济困境。相反,它声称保护委内瑞拉公众免受外国势力及其国内支持者的伤害,并将原本真实的人道主义危机报道斥责为谎言,称其在于促使“帝国主义势力的干预”。政府甚至阻碍其他组织提供食物和医疗的援助。

独裁主义在前总统乌戈·查韦斯的后几年以及马杜罗头执政的前几年抬头,现在已经转变为全面利用国家和司法机构强化自己的党派。挑战官方说法的信息被排斥:国家既不公布可靠的经济数据,也不提供可信的卫生统计数据。全面违约外债似乎只是时间问题。物资短缺和饥饿已导致个别抢劫行为的增加。

公共部门职能恶化对边远地区产生了深刻的影响。为了谋求硬通货,政府预留了10万多平方公里的采矿面积。但因缺乏监管而滋生了军队、犯罪团伙和哥伦比亚游击队之间的勾结。前往哥伦比亚的难民必须躲避边界地区互不相让的国家安全部队和武装非正规部队。过境之后,最贫穷的人留在哥伦比亚失业率最高的地区生活。疟疾再次变得普遍,已蔓延过边境。已经消除的疾病,如麻疹和白喉,也再次生根。

2017年12月到2018年1月期间,政府与反对派之间的谈判开始给人希望。考虑到危机的严重性,问题蔓延至邻国,及马杜罗成立制宪议会颠覆法治,拉丁美洲强国加强了介入。政府在会谈上呈现一些妥协的迹象,特别是原则上同意选举机构的改革,以及容许国际观察员参与总统选举。

但是,政府却在日期和条件上达成协议之前就宣布早期选举。这使谈判陷入僵局, 各方针锋相对,最后各自发布的决议也互相矛盾。马杜罗单方面宣布的选举受到利马组织的反对。该组织由13个拉丁美洲和加勒比地区国家及加拿大组成,旨在为委内瑞拉危机寻找解决方案。

尽管政府的经济成绩恶劣,但它仍然占据着强势地位。委内瑞拉反对派四分五裂,也没有方向。相当多的一部分选民将投票给马杜罗,要么出于忠诚,要么是因为他们依赖政府分配食品和其他补贴。选举委员会仍受到行政部门控制,而其行动也证明它会为了讨好执政党而放宽规则。有一次甚至几乎直接作弊。

反对派的强硬分派希望美国能实行石油禁运,或争取到外国干涉,采取捷径促使政权转换,但作为一个被暴力和饥饿围困的国家,它无法承受这种行动所带来的危险。反而,拉丁美洲政府应同西方和其他大国一起,利用国际社会和区域对于委内瑞拉困境的强烈共识来加大解决危机的力度。

首要任务是减轻民众的痛苦。马杜罗政府应该接受由人道主义团体提出的观点,组建三方小组,该小组由委内瑞拉国家代表、民间社会、联合国专门机构组成,来协调提供人道主义援助。这样一个机构应该减轻政府的忧虑,让它相信允许援助团体提供食物不会导致外来势力的干扰。联合国应与委内瑞拉邻国合作,帮助委内瑞拉人离开他们的国家。

 第二个重点是,恢复政府与反对派之间的谈判。按理想来说,政府会推迟即将举行的总统选举,但即使投选继续进行,之后优先考虑的事项应该是迅速恢复有意义的谈判。美国、加拿大和欧盟已经制裁了了马杜罗政府,一些周围地区领导人正在考虑跟随采取类似措施。这些制裁本身没有什么效,但就委内瑞拉的情况而言,进一步制裁的威胁,特别是拉美政府强加的威胁,可能会改善谈判前景。但前提是,这种威胁伴随着重启的外交努力,也与要求马杜罗政府做出的具体和实际让步挂钩。

会谈不仅应关注具体的选举改革,还应关注更广泛的过渡措施,包括反对派在主要国家机构里的代表,经济改革,以及如果现有政权高官最终落选,他们应该得到什么样的保障。尽管过去的几轮谈判失败了,马杜罗政权与反对派之间的谈判仍然是走出危机的唯一途径。该谈判应由区域或其他领导人推动,国际社会共同施压支持,旨在建立更具包容性的政治秩序,恢复给执政者设立的制衡措施。

建议

委内瑞拉国内食品、药品及其他基本货品稀缺,引发人道主义危机,随之而来的是大规模民众向邻国迁移;为了解决此类问题:

委内瑞拉政府应该协助国际人道主义组织提供食物、药品和其他用于挽救生命的重要物资,包括放松进口和外汇管制,停止迫害那些逃难的人。

委内瑞拉政府还应该同意组建由人权组织提出的三方小组,由国家代表、民间社会和联合国专门机构组成。它要建立在严格的中立原则上,其唯一目的就是协调提供人道主义援助。

联合国应继续执行秘书长安东尼奥·古特雷斯的承诺,协助委内瑞拉邻国应对难民危机。它也应在健康、福利以及社会服务等方面提供明确和公开信息。

委内瑞拉的邻国应与多边机构合作,特别是联合国,确保迁移居民的需求得到基本满足。尽可能保护妇女和女童,及其他面临被贩卖风险的人。

哥伦比亚应调整其有关难民法条,及教育和卫生服务的法规,消除难民接收类似服务时遇到的官僚阻碍。

为了帮助化解政治危机,减少进一步发生政治流血事件的风险:

利马集团(在美国和欧盟的支持下)应利用国际和地区间对这场严重危机的强烈共识,加倍努力使双方回到谈判桌上。那些已施加了制裁的政府和组织——即美国,加拿大和欧盟——可以加强对已被列入名单的个人制裁为要挟,并对更多人采取制裁。

利马集团里的拉美政府正在考虑自己的制裁措施。该地区各国政府的制裁威胁与西方大国的类似,可能包括金融限制、资产冻结和个人旅行禁令,以此对委内瑞拉政府形成几乎是史无前例的威胁。而在欧美的制裁下该政府已经显出不安。

任何制裁威胁都必须与要求委内瑞拉政府采取的切实步骤明确挂钩。只有做到这些,委内瑞拉政府才能避免制裁措施或达到令现有制裁措施取消。这些措施首先包括委内瑞拉政府恢复国际协商谈判,也可能包括其他措施,如释放政治犯,终止对其他政治领导人和政党实行的竞选禁令; 保证主要选举和司法机构的廉正中立,容许反对派在这些机构中有代表;恢复议会的权力;采取措施稳定经济。

其它国家不应实施广泛的贸易禁令,例如对石油工业施加禁运,因此举更可能会伤害到公众,而不会改变委内瑞拉领导人的意愿。

中国与利马集团的许多国家有着密切的经济联系,因此利马集团应鼓励中国利用其对马杜罗政府的影响力使其与反对派进行真正谈判。中国要使该政府明白一个缺乏广泛民意支持的政权不可能使国内实现政治和经济稳定。

政府与反对派之间的重新谈判不应只着眼于选举改革,还应着眼于过渡措施,包括让反对党参于政府机构和经济改革,同时确保在选举里失败的高层官员能得到安全保障。

外部各方都应同意尽力通过双边和多边经济援助来支持这一过渡。

                                 拉加斯/布鲁塞尔,2018321

People cook in the streets during a protest due to a lack of cash in El Pinal, Venezuela December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Venezuela: Hunger by Default

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.

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  • What happened?  On 14 November, credit ratings agencies declared Venezuela in partial default on its foreign debt, after the country failed to meet a $200 million payment to bondholders.
     
  • Why did it happen?  Economic mismanagement and corruption have reduced Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves to under $10 billion. Its dollar earnings have fallen dramatically due to a sharp decline in the oil price. Heavily dependent on imports, it must also pay billions every year to service huge liabilities, acquired at very high interest rates, during the oil boom.
     
  • Why does it matter?  The Venezuelan economy is in free-fall amid a protracted political crisis, which saw dozens killed on the streets earlier this year. It faces a likely presidential election in 2018. A full-blown default could add an escalating humanitarian emergency to this economic and political crisis.
     
  • What should be done?  The government should restore powers to the opposition-led parliament and seek its approval for a restructuring package. But this must form part of a full-scale political negotiation, with international supervision, including agreement on the appointment of an autonomous Supreme Court and Electoral Council and guarantees of a free and fair presidential election.

I. Overview

The financial markets have long regarded Venezuela’s default as probable, and have charged the country accordingly. Already by mid-2017, the implied risk of default within twelve months was over 50 per cent, while the risk over the subsequent five years was above 90 per cent. As of today, Venezuela is technically in default on part of its debt, raising the possibility that creditors at any moment could move to recover the full amount owed. That would total some $60 billion in bonds issued by the government and by the state oil corporation, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, although the total foreign debt is generally thought to be around $150 billion, of which two thirds could be subject to immediate demand.

The last major default in Latin America was that of Argentina, which ceased payment on most of its $132 billion foreign debt in 2001 amid a severe economic and political crisis. It took Argentina fifteen years to reach a final settlement with “hold-out” creditors and restore its access to financial markets. A Venezuelan debt crisis is likely to be even more complex and cause more political and social damage. First, an orderly restructuring of the debt is all but impossible: the government not only lacks a credible economic and financial recovery plan, it also faces sanctions, which could expose those providing the country with fresh loans to criminal prosecution. Furthermore, the government is likely to maintain its rigid and economically harmful controls over currency exchange and access to U.S. dollars.

The disruption of oil exports could trigger a humanitarian emergency in a country that is already suffering severe shortages of food, medicines and other vital goods.

Moreover, while Argentina is one of a handful of countries that are self-sufficient in food, Venezuela has a declining food and agriculture sector and malnutrition is rampant. Some 96 per cent of its foreign earnings come from the oil industry, whose overseas assets may be vulnerable to seizure by creditors. The disruption of oil exports could trigger a humanitarian emergency in a country that is already suffering severe shortages of food, medicines and other vital goods. Politically, Venezuela is increasingly isolated: all major countries in the hemisphere, as well as the EU, have joined in demanding a restoration of democracy. Adding to the instability is a presidential election due to take place next year. The issue of who will be the official candidate has yet to be resolved.

II. Default

On 2 November, President Maduro announced his decision to “decree a refinancing and restructuring” of Venezuela’s foreign debt. Although the government insists it has no intention of defaulting, it subsequently failed to make several debt payments within contractual time-limits, leading ratings agencies to downgrade its debt to the “selective default” category. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) – a market association that decides whether to trigger insurance payments on bad debt – declared a technical default.

On 13 November, the government hosted a meeting in Caracas with bondholders, ostensibly to launch the restructuring/refinancing process. Maduro put Vice President Tareck el Aissami in charge, causing many bondholders to stay away because Aissami and another commission member (Finance Minister Simón Zerpa) face U.S. Treasury Department sanctions. Although the department ruled that merely attending the meeting was not a violation of U.S. law, negotiating with these individuals clearly would be. Moreover, U.S. sanctions prohibit issuing any new debt to Venezuela, unless it is approved by parliament,[fn]The opposition-controlled National Assembly has for all practical purposes been replaced by the National Constituent Assembly, elected in July, which has no opposition members. See Crisis Group Commentary, “Venezuela’s Last Flickers of Democracy”, 3 August 2017. In August, the U.S. government imposed sanctions restricting loans to Venezuela. Ann Gearan & Anthony Faiola, “Trump tightens Venezuela’s access to U.S. financial system”, Washington Post, 23 August 2017.Hide Footnote rendering the process futile without a political agreement.

In the event, the meeting lasted a mere half-hour. Aissami read a communiqué devoted mainly to blaming U.S. sanctions for payment delays and offered few clues as to what the government would do. Some bondholders who attended said they were asked to pressure the Trump administration to lift sanctions. As long as the government continues to pay, albeit belatedly, creditors are likely to hold off taking action that would trigger a full-scale default. However, that may change, especially if it becomes clear the government is taking steps to safeguard assets that would be potential targets for seizure in the event of default.

III. Economic Freefall

The Maduro government boasts that it has disbursed more than $71 billion in debt repayments over the past four years. During the same period, imports have fallen from over $45 billion in 2012 to under $20 billion this year. The country’s health service is close to collapse and most vital medicines have vanished from pharmacies. In October, for the first time, the monthly consumer price rise exceeded 50 per cent, often regarded as the threshold for hyperinflation. Food prices are rising even faster, yet wages are not indexed to prices. Millions of households rely at least partially on a government program to distribute cheap food to the poor, but the food has to be imported with oil dollars. The Catholic charity Caritas declared an emergency earlier this year when moderate to severe malnutrition among under-five year olds surpassed 10 per cent.

The surrounding region is already suffering the consequences of Venezuela’s crisis, from declining trade to spreading epidemics and an expansion of organised crime.

In 2018, debt servicing is likely to consume around a third of oil revenues, even if the present price recovery continues. Some economists have argued that it is immoral to pay bondholders while Venezuelans die from malnutrition and preventable diseases. Default – especially a simple cessation of payment, with no restructuring or refinancing deal in place – could leave the country even less able to pay its bills, however. This is not merely because it would further reduce Venezuela’s access to credit, but also because bondholders could attempt to seize its significant oil industry-related overseas assets, potentially paralysing an industry on which the entire economy depends. These include not only physical assets, such as refineries, but also pending oil payments. Any attempt to confiscate these holdings is likely to result in drawn-out legal battles over the distinction between sovereign debt (which enjoys immunity from asset seizure) and that of PDVSA, whose sole shareholder is the Venezuelan state.

The surrounding region is already suffering the consequences of Venezuela’s crisis, from declining trade to spreading epidemics and an expansion of organised crime. Middle-class professionals are no longer the only ones leaving. Colombia alone has received at least 470,000 Venezuelans,[fn]Over half of these immigrants are clandestine, according to official Colombian migration figures. “¿Cuántos venezolanos hay en Colombia?”, El Colombiano, 27 October 2017.Hide Footnote many of them poor, placing welfare services under severe strain, especially in border areas.

IV. Democratic Meltdown

Venezuela has been sliding toward dictatorship for years. The trend accelerated after the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance won control of the National Assembly (parliament) two years ago. The government used its control of the Supreme Court to block all parliamentary initiatives and strip the assembly of its powers, including control of the budget and the issuance of foreign debt. It has used the National Electoral Council (CNE) to block a recall referendum against President Maduro, schedule elections at the ruling party’s convenience and tilt the electoral playing field against the opposition. From April to July this year, the opposition demanded a return to democracy in almost daily mass demonstrations that were met with violence by security forces. More than 120 people died.

On 30 July, the government held an election to a National Constituent Assembly (ANC), ostensibly tasked with reforming the 1999 constitution. The opposition alliance boycotted the poll, arguing that the election was unconstitutional and violated the principle of one-person-one-vote. There is evidence the government falsified turnout figures. The 545-member assembly, composed exclusively of government supporters, was installed on 4 August. Two weeks later, after parliament refused to recognise the Constituent Assembly, the latter assumed legislative powers by decree. However, this new legislature is regarded as spurious by many foreign governments, including the twelve-member Lima Group of countries, mainly from Latin America, the U.S. and the European Union (EU), which continue to recognise the National Assembly’s authority.

With the Constituent Assembly in place, the government called elections for state governors, which should have been held in December 2016. Polls showed the Democratic Unity alliance was likely to win more than half the 23 states, but the electoral council resorted to measures clearly aimed at depressing the opposition vote, such as relocating voting centres at the last minute. In the event, the government claimed eighteen governorships. Evidence of fraudulent vote counting emerged in one state – Bolívar – but overall the government appears to have out-manoeuvred the opposition.[fn]Anatoly Kurmanaev, “How hundreds of mysterious votes flipped a Venezuelan election”, Wall Street Journal, 2 November 2017.Hide Footnote It continues to enjoy the support of up to a quarter of the electorate and has also refined a system which makes access to food and other services conditional on political loyalty.

This political setback left the opposition severely weakened and more divided than ever over strategy. Pro-government factions are also vulnerable to divisions, which could be further exacerbated in the event of default and likely pressures to dismantle the system of currency controls. A significant portion of the sovereign and PDVSA bonds are reportedly held by government leaders and supporters.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Venezuelan economist, 22 November 2017.Hide Footnote

V. International Sanctions

On 26 August, President Trump issued a ban to prevent any individual or corporation in the U.S. or subject to U.S. jurisdiction (which includes most of Venezuela’s major creditors) from financing the state oil company for more than 90 days or the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for more than 30. This allows trading to take place but rules out long-term finance. Moreover, since the debt is in U.S. dollars, any renegotiation would inevitably involve the U.S. financial system. Thus, there is little prospect of a viable refinancing plan unless sanctions are lifted. In addition, President Maduro and many other senior government figures are subject to individual U.S. sanctions, which make it a crime for anyone subject to U.S. jurisdiction to have dealings with them. Vice President Tareck el Aissami is also accused by U.S. authorities of links to drug trafficking.[fn]For the details of what U.S. sanctions mean in practice, see “Frequently Asked Questions on Venezuela-related Sanctions”, U.S. Treasury Department. For the Canadian sanctions, see “Canadian Sanctions Related to Venezuela”, Global Affairs Canada. Regarding the EU, see Michael O’Kane, “EU imposes arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Venezuela”, in europeansanctions.com blog, 13 November 2017.Hide Footnote Canada has also imposed individual sanctions, while the EU has approved a legal framework for travel bans and asset seizure.

Venezuela’s exclusion from the dollar-based financial system is driving it to seek closer ties with Russia and China, both of which have rejected what they consider Western interventionism and shown far greater flexibility in renegotiating their own bilateral debt. These two countries are believed to hold some $30 billion in Venezuelan debt.

VI. Talks Offer Slim Hope

On 1 December, the government will once again sit down for talks with some leading opposition members in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. However, the two sides have very different agendas. The government wants the opposition to recognise the Constituent Assembly, call for an end to sanctions and promise to secure parliament’s approval to issue more debt. The opposition’s principal demand is free and fair elections, which it believes would remove the present government from power. Previous rounds of talks have led nowhere. The main difference on this occasion appears to be the presence of Latin American foreign ministers acting as “guarantors” for the negotiations.

Past talks foundered partly because the government used them to buy time and to divide and disparage the opposition. This task was made easier by opposition politicians who failed to agree on a unified strategy and by international facilitators who did not insist on a solid framework for negotiation and guarantees of compliance. The opposition remains fractured, with only seven of its two dozen parties agreeing to attend the talks, though this round will be preceded by a wider consultation process, including talks with civil society organisations.

Venezuela’s dire economic, financial, social and political crisis cannot be resolved piecemeal.

Venezuela’s dire economic, financial, social and political crisis cannot be resolved piecemeal. The government will only be able to manage the debt crisis by de-coupling sovereign debt from PDVSA debt to avoid asset seizure and by working out a refinancing agreement with bondholders. But it cannot do this without also making significant concessions in return for the National Assembly’s approval of fresh debt and an agreement to call for the gradual lifting of sanctions.

Government concessions would have to include giving up monopoly control over the Supreme Court and Electoral Council and agreeing to hold free elections under international supervision. It would also have to produce an economic reform package, including dismantling distortionary exchange and price controls and agreeing to a unified exchange rate.[fn]Venezuela introduced exchange controls in 2003 and price controls have been steadily ratcheted up over the same period. The main official rate (for “essential imports”) is currently set at 10 bolívars to the U.S. dollar, while the black-market rate recently passed 80,000 bolívars to the dollar. In theory, dollars can be obtained by citizens and the private sector at a third rate (currently 3,345 bolívars) but the system of so-called currency auctions has been suspended for the past two months. Independent economists attribute severe price distortions and other economic ills in Venezuela to the byzantine system of controls, which has also helped foment corruption.Hide Footnote Such a package likely would be credible to investors only if announced by a completely fresh economic team incorporating independent experts. Any agreement should also include an emergency social program, financed in part by money freed up by debt relief, and incorporating aid from foreign governments and NGOs.

The prospects for agreement are slender, however. Therefore, the international community needs to prepare for a significant deterioration in the humanitarian crisis by increasing assistance to neighbouring countries to meet the needs of destitute migrants, and continuing to press the Venezuelan government to allow humanitarian aid deliveries inside the country. It should also address the reasons for the repeated failure of talks to produce a solution. This means devising a credible and workable procedure for negotiations, and applying sufficient pressure through allies of Venezuela’s government and opposition to induce both parties to accept it.

Caracas/Bogotá/Brussels, 23 November 2017