Venezuela Weekly: Bachelet Gives a Glimpse of Human Rights Visit to Come

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet gave a verbal report on Venezuela to the U.N. Human Rights Council. She asserted that government authorities had criminalized protest, that security forces had repressed protest and that they were helped in doing so by armed pro-government groups. This, as well as threats to the freedom of press, have led to an overall reduction of democratic space. She also expressed concern for the collapse in basic services and access to food and medicine and hyperinflation, and criticized U.S. oil sanctions, saying they would aggravate Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis (see Efecto Cocuyo’s summary).

She also underlined that the technical team currently in Venezuela preparing for her official visit, should have unimpeded access and that the people they talk to should not be subject to retribution. This is especially relevant since Dr. Ronny Villasmil’s residence was searched a day after he denounced the conditions of public hospitals to the UN technical team.

Bachelet’s statements and her upcoming official visit have special potency because some in the opposition and apparently some in the government, consider her an ally of Chavismo. From the time an official visit was first suggested, President Nicholas Maduro has welcomed it. But after Bachelet’s statements, Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council said Bachelet was being influenced by a “false international media campaign.”

Sanctions

The U.S. has been increasing pressure through sanctions on Venezuela.

  • Shipping firm McQuilling said it will stop contracting with Venezuela’s state oil firm to avoid sanctions.
  • Venezuela has apparently stopped sending oil to India since the latter has been pressured by the U.S. to stop buying its oil. This has left PDVSA seeking to increase sales to Russia’s Rosneft. This chart depicts where Venezuela’s oil is going.
  • There has even been discussion of financial sanctions prohibiting Visa and Mastercard from processing transactions in Venezuela. This could have a devastating impact on citizens in a context where hyperinflation has made cash irrelevant and most everything gets paid for with plastic.
  • Increasing scarcities mean that inflation is occurring, even in dollars. While a year ago those receiving remittances from abroad could surf the crisis, this is no longer true. Even in dollars goods are scarce, meaning prices are increasing.
  • This has led to continued discussion of the possibility of a food-for-oil program for Venezuela. Today on this blog we ran a roundtable with Francisco Rodriguez and Dorothy Kronick on the plausibility of such a program.

Military Option Revival

After the international smack-down of a military option for Venezuela in the days after the February 23 attempt to bring aid into the country, talk of armed action was muted for a couple of weeks. But discussion is slowly reviving.

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s warm visit to Washington, which included a visit to the CIA, and meetings with Trump raised questions regarding potential Brazilian collaboration in military intervention. A piece in O Globo quotes an anonymous government sources saying Brazil would not actively participate in military action, but could provide logistical support. In a joint analysis, human rights groups Conectas and WOLA criticized that “Bolsonaro remained purposefully vague on the prospects for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.”
  • The U.S. Southern Command is also apparently increasing its collaboration with Colombia with respect to an apparently growing threat of Colombia irregular groups operating in Venezuela.
  • There have been a couple of important articulations of just what military intervention would entail. Here is the testimony of Rebecca Bill Chávez from a hearing on Venezuela held by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs – Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. And here is a piece by Frank O. Mora.

International Positioning

The United States and Guaidó government are doing all they can to boost recognition of Guaidó officials in international contexts. Some highlights include:

  • The Inter-American Development Bank has recognized Ricardo Hausmann as Venezuela’s representative. Hausmann was designated by Guaidó.
  • The U.S. has pushed for a Guaidó representative to take up the rotating presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

Geopolitics

  • The U.S. and Russia apparently made little progress on Venezuela other than more clearly understanding each others’ positions.

Migration

  • The Organization of American States Working Group on Venezuelan migrants and refugees released its first report, documenting the 3.4 migrants who have left in recent years and suggesting that by the end of 2019 the number could reach 5.9 million and by the end of 2020 between 7.5 and 8.2 million. The report does not analyze conditions, procedures or legal frameworks in receiving countries nor does it make any recommendations to them. Instead it focuses on the domestic factors motivating migrants to leave Venezuela, such as the humanitarian crisis, violence, economic collapse and the violation of human rights by the Maduro government.
  • The Fundación Carolina of Spain published a detailed working paper that critically reviews the responses of 14 countries in the region and looks at how domestic and international political considerations explain many of the deficits in response.
  • The issue of what to do with Venezuelan migrants has generated a dilemma within the Trump Administration over whether to give them “temporary protected status.” In addition to contradicting Trump’s hardened policies towards refugees, accepting refugees would contradict the administration’s desired message that the Maduro government will soon be pushed out of power. Listen here to an NPR interview with one of the Wall Street Journal article’s authors.

Maduro’s Security Forces

Since Juan Guadió assumed the interim presidency in January all eyes have been on the loyalty of Nicolás Maduro’s security forces. So far they have held fast, but there are signs their support is under pressure.

  • Colombia says 1,000 Venezuelan troops have defected and crossed the border in the past month.
  • One important general was among them. General Carlos Rotondaro defected to Colombia and said his oath of service “did not include defending a corrupt and inept government.”
  • Maduro’s incomplete trust in the armed forces are probably why he has become increasingly reliant on out-of-uniform armed actors, commonly referred to as collectives, to repress protest and intimidate dissent.

More on the Blackout

  • Some researchers using satellite imagery suggest that brush fires in the Guri electricity complex caused Venezuela’s blackout.
  • When Venezuela’s lights came back on, it became clear that second-city Maracaibo had fallen to extensive looting.

Humanitarian Emergency

  • How the Maduro government has weaponized healthcare delivery was revealed in a New York Times piece.

Crime and Violence

  • There is more evidence that Venezuela’s extraordinary levels of violence have been dropping in the midst of Venezuela’s economic collapse and political crisis.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

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