Venezuela Weekly: Bachelet Slams Maduro Government, Talks resume in Barbados

On July 5, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet addressed the Human Rights Council, presenting the main points from the hard-hitting report issued the day before (see overview here).

Among the UNHCHR’s findings were:

Civil and Political Rights

  • The “excessive use of force and killings in the context of security operations,” carried out by Police Special Forces (FAES), as well as the manipulation of crime scenes to cover-up the killings. According to public data, 5,287 such killings happened in 2018.
  • A lack of independence and corruption of the judiciary, as well as the Attorney General’s role in human rights violations.
  • “Arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of political opponents and their relatives;” limitations and repression in the freedom of speech and expression; excessive use of police force in demonstrations, and social control in local communities exercised by armed “colectivos” (armed civilian para-police forces).
  • Access to information has been limited as official publications and statistics, “have been scarce and completely lacking in some areas, since at least 2015.”
  • Government discrimination on the basis of political preferences in access to social programs that should be universal.

Social, Economic and Cultural Rights

  • The state does not do enough to guarantee the population is free from hunger, as the social food program CLAP does not meet basic nutritional needs.
  • The government has not completed its core obligations in the health care.
  • Economic sanctions have a significant negative impact, but the economic crisis began far before the sanctions and there is an urgent need the country “to adopt structural economic reforms”.
  • The “misallocation of resources, corruption, lack of maintenance of public infrastructure, and severe underinvestment” are behind the economic and public services crisis.
  • The problems migrants confront “to obtain or legalize documentation, which infringe their right to leave their country and the right to an identity.”
  • Government policies such as mining permissions in indigenous lands have negatively affected these communities.

Bachelet urged “the government to view the opposition and human rights defenders as partners in the common cause of human rights and justice, and to plant the seeds for a durable political agreement that leads to reconciliation.”

The Maduro government’s initial response to the report was to dismiss it on technical grounds. But as days passed and the enormity of Bachelet’s criticism became clear, the government reaction became more political. Maduro demanded that Bachelet rectify the lies she told. Government strong-man Diosdado Cabello, has called for a march against the report which he claims was written by U.S. officials and signed off on by Bachelet.

Venezuelan civil society hailed the report. 190 organizations signed a declaration that support the report, its conclusions and recommendations and highlight  the importance of the UNHCHR having a permanent presence in the country.

Negotiations

On July 7, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the reestablishment of talks between representatives of the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition on the Caribbean island of Barbados. There are reports of a six point agenda: elections within a year, a new National Electoral Council, whether Maduro can be a candidate, abolishment of the National Constituent Assembly, reincorporation of Chavismo to the AN, and the lifting of sanctions.

  • In an apparent effort to appease the radical opposition before announcing resumption of talks, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó announced on Twitter that Venezuela is ready to return to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR). This move allows radicals to see the Barbados round of negotiations as a hoop to jump through before “requesting” military intervention (to get a feel for this line of thinking, see this Twitter thread from Miami-based Venezuelan journalist Ibeyise Pacheco). Nevertheless, as analysts explain the TIAR is closely tied to the UN Security Council in which Russia and China have veto power. What is more, the Venezuelan situation does not neatly fit the provisions of the agreement.
  • Maduro met with 43 pro-government National Assembly deputies to discuss their reincorporation into the legislative body. This could provide a challenge to the opposition. Given the number of opposition deputies that have been arrested, are in exile or on the run inside of Venezuela, their majority is tenuous.

More International Engagement

  • In parallel, the special envoy of the European Union (EU) for Venezuela, Enrique Iglesias, is visiting the country and held a working meeting with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.
  • The International Commission of Jurists released a report saying the rule of law has crumbled in Venezuela and calling on the Maduro government to abolish the National Constituent Assembly created in 2017.

Sanctions

  • The Financial Times Editorial Board published an opinion saying financial sanctions were not right way to pressure Maduro. They also ran a story in which former top-ranking State Department official Thomas Shannon compared the human costs of sanctions to the fire-bombing of Dresden or Tokyo. “It’s amazing that some people deny this, but it highlights first the enormity of their miscalculation when they advocated the oil and gas sanctions, and second their willingness to cause great damage to Venezuela to drive Maduro from power.”
  • Anatoly Kurmanaev published a piece showing the effects of the sanctions-exacerbated fuel crisis on agriculture.

Armed Forces

  • Maduro finally announced leadership changes in the Armed Forces on Sunday night. In an apparent attempt to maintain the stability, he ratified General Vladimir Padrino as Defense Minister, and Remigio Ceballos as head of the Strategic Command Operations of Venezuela. Both have shown themselves loyal to Maduro.
  • In an apparent effort to strengthen his own political coalition Maduro appointed a cousin of Diosdado Cabello, General Alexis Rodriguez Cabello, as the commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), replacing Major General Jesus Sanchez Chourio that rumors say that was involved in the 30th of April military uprising.

Migration

  • 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries in Buenos Aires and agreed to a “roadmap” emphasizing “cooperation, communication and coordination between migrant-receiving countries” as they address pressing issues regarding Venezuelan migrants. WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey told the VW: “the roadmap contains clearer steps than the previous Quito II declaration on issues like regional identification papers and work permits. But again it seems to all depend on the political will of the states.”
  • The Government of Japan donated 4.5 million dollars to Colombia regarding the Venezuelan migration crisis.