Venezuela Weekly: Abstention, Division…and Renewal?

On Sunday there will be nationwide elections for municipal councils. Pollsters are expecting a low turnout, probably between 10-15%. Of course municipal elections are often marked by light participation, but in this election Venezuela’s four biggest opposition parties are not participating because they were annulled during 2018 in the course of two rounds of “validation” imposed by the National Electoral Council (after the round in 2017). They are understandably calling for abstention. Primero Justicia has even said it will expel any of their members who participate in the elections. The government seems to know the optics of this are not good and is trying to, on the one hand mobilize voters, and on the other lower expectations for turnout.

Not all government opponents agree with the strategy of abstention. Leopoldo Pucci has criticized it; and parties that were not disqualified from participating are calling on citizens to vote, as are members of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

This week’s election only underlines the problems of Venezuela´s opposition. In a new report appropriately titled “Friendly Fire: Venezuela’s Opposition Turmoil” the International Crisis Group analyzes opposition factions and says that until they unify, it will be hard to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. ICG also points out how talk of foreign military intervention also divides the opposition.

The Associated Press ran an article regarding up and coming political leadership, focusing on the work of Roberto Patiño in Venezuela’s barrios.

  • New numbers from Felix Seijas show that only 27.2% of the population would agree with a foreign military intervention to overthrow Maduro. 66.9% would disagree with such an action. 60% of the population would like to see a political leader emerge outside of Chavismo. 33.5% either would like to see Nicolás Maduro continue in power or have someone who “recovers Hugo Chávez’s ideas.”

Poverty, Protest and Exchange

  • The most recent edition of the National Life Conditions Survey (ENCOVI) shows that poverty has increased from 39% to 48% over the past year. The percentage of 18-24 year olds that are studying in some way declined from 48% to 35% over the past two years.
  • Public employees protested in several parts of the country to demand salary increases. However, they have mostly met with repression. Eleven labor leaders from Ferrominera del Orinoco were jailed and apparently tortured after protesting in Caracas for wage hikes in Bolívar state. Secretary General of the Ferrominera del Orinoco union was arrested returning from a protest in Caracas. The National Assembly urged the OIT to make a statement with respect to the detention of labor leaders.
  • President Maduro announced a 150% wage increase in the face of continued hyperinflation. At the same time the government devalued the official exchange rate by approximately 40%, to 171.67 Bs. to the dollar.
  • Economist Asdrubal Oliveros argues that the government has stopped the rise of the parallel dollar in two ways: by increasing banks´ capital requirements (which have gone from 31% in March to 40% in October to 50% in December) and levying more taxes. The first measure leaves less money available for credit while the second absorbs more of companies´ liquidity, leaving less to be changed into dollars. He suggests that if the parallel dollar had kept up with the rhythm of inflation it would be at Bs. 8000 per dollar instead of 500. But he suggests these measures will only contain the rise of the parallel rate in the short term.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies has a podcast looking at how people are getting beyond Venezuela’s currency chaos using cryptocurrencies.

Policing and violence

  • Neighbors shut down the Panamerican Highway in Caracas in protest against the killing of two children by the National Police’s Special Action Forces (FAES). The 13 and 16-year-old, unarmed boys were apparently setting up the traditional Christmas nativity scene in front of their home when the FAES arrived pursuing someone else. They opened fire killing the boys and injuring several others.
  • Earlier this week, the director of the National Police, General Carlos Pérez Ampueda said that in 2018 the FAES had broken up 501 criminal gangs. He also said that 89 members of the FAES had been detained for abuses. He urged the citizenry to denounce any police officer that breaks the law.

International Support

In this section I usually outline the various measures taken by countries and multilateral agencies to pressure Venezuela to return to some semblance of democracy. But this week most of the news has been about support.

  • While attending the inauguration of new Mexican president Andres Manuel López Obrador, Maduro was received with boos and protests both from citizens outside the Legislative Palace and among Mexican legislators inside. Maduro expressed his willingness to work with the government of Mexico and reported a welcoming response from AMLO. Several analysts suggest that indeed AMLO might see himself more as a mediator than an ally. WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey argued in an op ed in Mexico’s Reforma that AMLO has a unique opportunity to contribute to a solution in Venezuela.
  • Turkish President Tecep Erdogan stopped in Venezuela on his way back from the G20 summit in Argentina and was given an official state visit. Erdogan criticized the fact that 40 countries do not recognize Maduro’s reelection and promised Turkey’s support. “We need to increase our exports. We are going to cover the majority of Venezuela’s necessities; we have that ability.”
  • Maduro subsequently traveled to Russia to shore up support from Russia. Suggesting they would be reviewing their cooperation. On Thursday Maduro reported having signed $6 billion of agreements for Russian investment in oil and gold production, as well as provision of wheat. If this is true it provides Maduro with some oxygen.
  • A joint Venture of the China National Petroleum Corp and PDVSA has been reactivated. A 400,000 barrels-per-day refinery could be online by October 2021.

HIV Crisis

  • The Global Fund’s “Master Plan” for addressing HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in Venezuela still lacks $28 million in support to address the lack of antiretrovirals in Venezuela. (See our Q&A on Venezuela’s ARV crisis here.)

Migration

  • The most recent ENCOVI survey estimates that 700,000 people have left Venezuela this year.
  • This week multiple countries and agencies have announced donations to address the crisis.
    • The Netherlands has said it would be providing the UN International Migration Organization with $4.5 million in assistance.
    • Brazil donated $4 million to The UN High Commission for Refugees to address Venezuelan migration.
    • The United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) has announced $13.6 million for Venezuelan refugees across the region.
    • The European Union announced €20 million additional aid for Venezuelans, including both refugees in host countries and the most vulnerable within Venezuela.
  • However, much more is needed. The United Nations announced it has a response plan to assist countries in the region receiving Venezuelan migrants. The plan will require $738 million. It was the first time the Venezuela crisis was included in the UN´s annual global humanitarian appeal.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]