Venezuela Weekly: Border with Colombia Heats Up

The Venezuelan-Colombian border again became the focus of international attention when dissident FARC leaders issued a call to arms saying the Colombian state has not fulfilled the 2016 peace agreement. Both the Colombian and the U.S. Governments immediately responded by accusing Nicolás Maduro of giving shelter to the Colombian rebel groups in Venezuela, an affirmation the Maduro government rejected. The situation is significant insofar as the leading argument marshaled by those pushing for military intervention to dislodge Maduro is that his government is a threat to regional security.

Colombian president, Iván Duque spoke with National Assembly President Juan Guaidó and agreed to evaluate combined actions, such as intelligence collaboration and the use of satellite technology to spot illegal groups inside Venezuela. Guaidó also called on the Venezuelan Armed Forces to defend the country’s sovereignty and expel all irregular groups.

De facto Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered the Venezuelan military to prepare for an attack from Colombia, and carryout military exercises on the border. He also suggested they would deploy air defense missiles. Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo responded that the exercises are a threat to regional stability.

  • The U.S. State Department opened a representative office for Venezuela in Bogota, the Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU). James Story will head the VAU. Story was Chargé d’ Affaires at the United States Embassy in Caracas, before the U.S. suspended operations in the country last March.

Negotiations

  • Maduro said his government could return soon to negotiations with the opposition, after abandoning talks last month. For its part the opposition said it is up to the government to return to the negotiation table and discuss the central issue: free elections.
  • Elliott Abrams, the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela, told the New York Times that the U.S. government could offer Maduro amnesty if he abandons power.

Opposition

Guaidó announced the appointment of five new “presidential commissioners.” He named his political mentor, Leopoldo López, as coordinator of the cabinet, and Julio Borges will oversee foreign affairs.

The other cabinet appointments (economic development, asset recovery and human rights) represent an effort to keep the edges of his coalition on board (Alejandro Plaz, for example, has strong links with María Corina Machado).

The challenge is significant as Guaidó’s term as National Assembly president, and thereby his claim to the interim presidency ends the first week of January. Following their December 2015 agreement, in 2020 it falls to the small parties represented in the AN to choose the president and it is not yet clear whether they will support Guaidó or someone else.

Human Rights

  • The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the United States latest sanctions against Venezuela are “very harsh” and “too broad,” and may exacerbate poverty and increase migration.
  • Five human rights organizations (Acceso a la Justicia, UCAB Centro de Derechos Humanos, Civilis Derechos Humanos, Codevida and Espacio Público) joined forces and created a new initiative called AlertaVenezuela for analysis of human rights and international incidence.

Migration

  • The U.S. announced $120 million in additional aid for Venezuelan migrants during a visit to the border by U.S. officials and President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.
  • Measures restricting Venezuelan migration are having their expected impact.
    • Ecuador’s Secretary of the Presidency, Juan Sebastián Roldán, reported that the number of Venezuelans who have entered Ecuador since the visa requirement came into force last month has been reduced from 2,000 on average to 50 daily.
    • Peru’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Néstor Popolizio declared that Venezuelan migration to that country had declined by 90%

Economy

  • Reuters reported that Venezuelan oil exports fell in August to their lowest level during 2019. Venezuela exported some 770,000 barrels per day, significantly lower than June and July. The reduction can be attributed to U.S. sanctions, with Venezuela’s second bigger buyer, China’s state-run oil company halting purchases.
  • Mastercard discontinued services with two Venezuelan state banks due to U.S sanctions, including one run by the military.
  • The Venezuelan currency, the Bolívar, has depreciated significantly in the last month, losing almost half of its value. The minimum wage in Venezuela now corresponds to just two dollars per month.