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.
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.
Amid COVID-19 crisis, protests and looting erupted over lack of food and fuel, several journalists critical of govt response arrested, and U.S. pressure on President Maduro to force him to leave office continued. Maduro 11 April extended countrywide COVID-19 lockdown for further 30 days. Security forces throughout month reportedly detained several medical personnel and journalists who questioned govt’s claim it had “contained” spread of virus, charging some with “spreading hate”. Notably, press association 18 April reported seven arbitrary arrests of journalists 1-15 April. Isolated protests and lootings erupted in several areas, especially in east, over lack of food and fuel amid COVID-19 pandemic and collapse of oil industry; notably, man was reportedly shot dead 23 April during looting in Upata town. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó 21 April denied media report of secret exploratory talks between his and Maduro’s allies. Lack of clarity persisted over whether parliamentary elections, due this year, could take place in light of COVID-19 crisis; Maduro mid-April said he was unsure if vote would proceed. Despite FM Jorge Arreaza’s 31 March rejection of U.S. offer to lift sanctions in exchange for political transition – whereby Maduro and Guaidó would step aside and executive power be held by “Council of State”, nominated by govt and opposition, until presidential election – govt in subsequent days reportedly showed willingness to consider proposal. Following March indictment of Maduro and others on drugs-related charges, U.S. continued to escalate pressure on govt. U.S. 1 April said that its forthcoming, large-scale anti-drugs operation in southern Caribbean, which will double its naval presence in region, will also serve declared aim of cutting off resources to Maduro govt; govt immediately accused Washington of “slander and threats”. UN Security Council (UNSC) 22 April debated Venezuela at virtual “closed door” session, for first time in a year, at request of Russia, which criticised U.S. policy; UNSC met again 28 April to discuss humanitarian crisis in country.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Caracas, International Crisis Group asked government officials, opposition activists and political analysts alike to speak to camera about their views on how to resolve Venezuela's catastrophic political and humanitarian crisis.
Gold and migrants stream across the stretch of the Cuyuní river that marks the Guyana-Venezuela border. Guerrillas and criminal organisations control much of the flow. Their turf wars are already spilling over and could intensify if foreign powers intervene to topple Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.