UNASUR Delegation Convenes in Venezuela to Advance Dialogue

Timothy Gill

On Thursday afternoon, a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) delegation, comprised of foreign ministers from the eleven member-states of UNASUR, published a statement on their two-day visit to Venezuela. The delegation stated that they recognized “a willingness to dialogue from all sectors, who manifested a need to moderate their language, generating a peaceful environment that favors conversations between the government and the country’s various political, economic, and social actors.”  The delegation recognized a “firm rejection of the lamentable acts of recent violence by all sectors, condemning any rupture to the democratic order, and manifesting their commitment to respect all human rights.”

On the part of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the delegation stated that he displayed “an openness and willingness to accept the recommendations made, and he especially welcomes the participation of a witness of good faith to facilitate the dialogue between all parties.” The report concludes by stating that the UNASUR delegation will provide more information in the comingdays on its previous visit and additional recommendations for dialogue. Although we will not know for some time whether or not the government and opposition will come together with “a witness of good faith” or who that witness will be, UNASUR’s trip appears to have increased the prospects for dialogue between the two parties and illustrated a shared desire to end the violence.

 

On Tuesday, the UNASUR delegation arrived in Venezuela. The visit follows an UNASUR resolution approved on March 12 to visit Venezuela and “to support, accompany, and advise” the dialogue between the government and opposition. President Maduro had launched a series of National Conferences of Peace throughout the country in late February after opposition and government clashes resulted in the deaths of several individuals. The opposition, however, has not participated in the conferences and has raised issues about the Venezuelan government’s seriousness about genuine dialogue.

Although the delegation’s agenda did not initially include meeting with some parts of the opposition, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, the Secretary-General of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition including several opposition political parties, spoke for over three hours to the UNASUR delegation on late Tuesday evening. Aveledo told a press conference that the MUD “as democrats, are always prepared for a respectful dialogue, on an equal footing, which may be witnessed by the whole nation.” During the meeting, Aveledo provided a report on human rights violations to the delegation, which included “a recount of detainees, open cases, and a video and photo report of human rights abuses.” Aveledo also raised the issue of political prisoners, economic insecurity, harassment within the National Assembly, and the disarmament of groups close to the government.

Aveledo insisted that the opposition is willing to engage with the government, but it has been unwilling to participate in the National Conferences of Peace and to dialogue on the government’s terms. Instead, he stated that in order to dialogue the government and opposition must agree to an agenda that includes “the real problems that Venezuela has, with a third party of good faith that should be agreed upon by those that wish to dialogue.”

On Wednesday morning, government officials and business leaders took part in an economic roundtable discussion with the delegation, each taking turns discussing their economic visions for and perceived economic difficulties within Venezuela. Participants discussed a range of issues. While some in the business community, including Miguel Pérez Abad, President of Fedeindustria, voiced support for the government’s recent moves to control exchange rates, others stated that this new system would not solve the country’s economic issues.

On Wednesday afternoon, the delegation met with representatives from five Venezuelan non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including representatives from the Venezuelan Penal Forum (Foro Penal Venezolano), PROVEA, Fundalatin, An Alternative Look at Human Rights (Una Mirada a los Derechos Humanos), and the Center for Human Rights at the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB). A sixth NGO, Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz, was invited, but did not attend the event.

Alfredo Romero, a representative from the Venezuelan Penal Forum, presented 59 cases of torture to the delegation. Romero expressed satisfaction with the delegation’s interest in human rights, but also stated that the group would not solve the issue of human rights violations since the foreign ministers ultimately represent the interests and political positions of their governments. Rafáel Uzcátegui, a representative from PROVEA, informed the delegation that most of the protests have been peaceful, despite the government’s characterization of the entirety of the protests as violent. Antonio Gonzalez, a representative from Fundalatin, however, argued that many of the protests have involved violence and that authorities have opened investigations of all allegations of police abuse.

On Wednesday evening, the foreign ministers met with opposition and pro-government students, including the President of the Center of Students at the University of the Andes, Inder Romero, and the Mission Sucre University Representative, Daniela Urbano, in the House of the Americas in Caracas. Pro-government students expressed their desire to promote peace within Venezuela and condemned the use of violence.

Elsewhere in Caracas, at the Paseo Los Próceres, at an event to commemorate 20 years since ex-President Hugo Chávez left the Yare Prison, President Maduro continued to lambaste the opposition’s unwillingness to participate in the peace conferences, asserting that the Venezuelan right “does not want dialogue or peace.” He added that “The Conference of Peace is an open space, to demonstrate the superiority of the Constitution, to guarantee to all Venezuelans their economic, social, political, civil, and human rights, and to coexist on the basis of tolerance and respect.”  

The March 12 UNASUR resolution stipulates that “the Commission of Foreign Ministers [should] inform UNASUR’s Council of Foreign Ministers through the President Pro Tempore of its activities as soon as possible” after the conclusion of the delegation’s two-day visit. Although there are no prospects for binding decisions at this time, speculation remains surrounding UNASUR’s eventual role in mediating, or facilitating dialogue, between the government and opposition in Venezuela.