Venezuela Weekly: Bachelet Comes and Goes; All Eyes on July 5

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, concluded her three day visit in Venezuela. She held meetings with Maduro government officials, the opposition, victims of human rights violations and with numerous representatives of the civil society. Among the most important points of her official statement were:

  • That she reached an agreement with the Maduro government to open a small UN human rights office in Venezuela that will continuously monitor the human rights situation in the country and provide technical assistance and advice. This team will be able to visit detention centres and speak with the detainees.
  • An expression of concern about the country’s judicial system and request that the government “release all those in detention or otherwise deprived of their liberty for peaceful dissent.”
  • Her implicit blaming of the government for Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis, mentioning that the economic crisis has started in 2013, the year Maduro took office. But she also unequivocally said that US sanctions on oil and gold exports exacerbated the situation.
  • She manifested support for the Norway talks and similar efforts.

Many local NGOs expressed their satisfaction with Bachelet’s visit and the creation of the UNHR office in the country. Others expressed disappointment that she was not more critical.

Bachelet will present her official report on the visit on July 5.

Transition Updates

  • There have been no new announcements about further talks facilitated by Norway, but this should not surprise. Stops, starts and jostling over the shape of the process is par for the course in these types of negotiations.
  • U.S. Envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams met with the opposition negotiating team that has participated in the first two rounds of the Norwegian talks. This is an important public manifestation of U.S. support for the process. However, Abrams continues to thread the needle saying they support negotiations but see Maduro’s presence as a major obstacle.
  • Admiral Craig Faller, head of the U.S. Southern Command sent a public letter to the Venezuelan military on the 198th anniversary of Venezuela’s Carabobo Battle (recognized as the key victory in Venezuela’s war of independence), saying they know there are Venezuela officials who want to work to restore democracy.
  • The Financial Times suggested that within the U.S. administration there is a sense that the key to progress in Venezuela lies in negotiations with Cuba, Russia and China. This comes amidst reports that President Donald Trump is losing interest in Venezuela, and more suggestions that the U.S. strategy misunderstands dictatorships, and needs to be rethought.
  • Enrique Iglesias, the European Union’s special representative for Venezuela suggested their goal was to help find peace in Venezuela and support “the process of dialogue, the current negotiation process headed by the Norwegian government.” This represents a subtle expansion of vocabulary for the EU, as it previously avoided the term “dialogue,” suggesting they exclusively sought to broker new elections.
  • In an interview in Colombian daily El Tiempo, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States criticized both the Norwegian process and Bachelet’s visit, saying they strengthened Maduro. Former Spanish President Felipe Gonzalez voiced a similar view.
  • The Washington Post published an extended interview with Venezuelan General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera who was, until April 30, the director of Venezuela’s intelligence police. He confirmed details about that day suggesting the operation was moved up amidst signs that some of the key players were not longer on board.

Violence

  • Police violence and state violation of human rights continue. According to the Victims Monitor, an independent platform that collects data on homicides in Venezuela, the National Police’s Special Actions Force (FAES) is the police body with the most accusations of extrajudicial executions. The platform claims that for the period January to March 2019 FAES is responsible for 80 killings.

Humanitarian Aid.

  • Venezuela received a second shipment of Red Cross humanitarian aid, including medicine and power generators. Its aim is to alleviate the country’s crumbling hospital system. Nevertheless, the organization has made clear that aid by itself cannot fix the country’s deep crisis.

Migration

  • Peru, Ecuador,  and Chile announced new immigration measures that will make it harder for Venezuelans to get into their countries.
  • Reuters, citing Colombian army sources, reported that armed groups (guerrilla and right-wing paramilitaries) and drug trafficking organizations in the Colombian-Venezuelan border region recruit desperate Venezuelan migrants.

Economy

  • Venezuela continues to face problems selling its oil. Due to U.S. sanctions, India has further reduced its purchases from 382.000 bpd in April went down to 205.300 in May 2019.
  • Russia’s economic leverage over Venezuela is increasing. Bloomberg reports that state-oil company Rosneft signed a favourable agreement for gas production and exportation from eastern Venezuela.
  • Economic relations between Venezuela and Russia are complex and in many cases Russian state own companies “are cutting back on the business they do with the bankrupt nation to protect their bottom line,” so it is unclear if this accord will materialise or not.
  • Power outages continue across the country. Since the blackout in early March the country has suffered from 15 thousand outages according to the Venezuela Association of Engineers. Caracas is facing far fewer outages than the rest of the country.