Venezuela Weekly: Coronavirus Leads to Multiple Pushes for Political Accord

A multitude of voices have suggested the need for sanctions relief or international support for Venezuela, given the vulnerability of its population and health system to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for a suspension of the sanctions against countries that are battling with the new coronavirus.
  • Head of European Union’s Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said the EU should ensure that countries like Venezuela or Iran have access to International Monetary Fund assistance.
  • WOLA released a statement calling for sanctions relief and a humanitarian agreement.
  • The office of Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy is circulating for signatures a letter calling for sanctions relief.

Of course, either of these measures would require some sort of political agreement within Venezuela as Francisco Rodriguez argues in this piece on the WOLA blog. There have been multiple statements from within Venezuela calling for an accord:

  • In an opinion piece Luz Mely Reyes, points out that Venezuela will only survive the coronavirus pandemic if its political leaders urgently work together and manage to persuade the IMF to grant the resources.
  • Opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, said the country would need to tap international funds to confront the crisis of coronavirus in Venezuela and called Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, led by Juan Guaidó to work together.
  • Human rights activist Feliciano Reyna proposed the creation of a high-level interdisciplinary and independent group that could provide real evidence of the country’s needs and would guarantee the transparency in the use of the international funds.
  • Electoral observation group, Observatorio Electoral de Venezuela says that the political and social forces of the country should unite in search of international financing, and the opening of a humanitarian channel.
  • Economist Victor Alvarez has argued that international organizations such as the UN could manage a loan from the IMF or other international financial institutions, as local politicians have a negative record in corruption and lack of transparency.
  • Twice presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski asked the two sides “is it that difficult to come to an agreement? Really?”
  • The Venezuelan group “We All Fit Here” is also circulating a statement for sign-ons.

For its part, Nicolas Maduro said “this is not the time for fights between the government and the opposition, we must recognize each other, respect each other. It is time to join forces and move forward.” But so far, the government has not made any tangible moves to work with the opposition.

National Assembly (AN) President Juan Guaidó says that the first step the Maduro government should take is recognize the AN and that it could then engage the countries and institutions that do not recognize Maduro. Guaidó also said that the problem is not sanctions, because they have exceptions for food and medicines. But as Francisco Rodriguez and Jeff Sachs argue in a recent piece, the real problem is lost income. That is “like telling someone who has just lost their job and income that they can still go to a store and buy whatever they want.”

Opposition politicians abroad are taking a harder line.

  • David Smolansky, said that financial sanctions are the right approach against Nicolás Maduro’s “mafia,” and that without them Maduro would “loot everything.”
  • Guaidó’s ambassador in the US, Carlos Vecchio, argues that Maduro’s intention is simply to blame others for problems in Venezuela. This view appears to be shared by the US government.

There is a current of opposition thinking that sees the pandemic possibly spurring a transition, either because it brings the military to step in, or because, without the possibility of emigration due to closed borders, people in misery will rise up.

Addressing Coronavirus

  • In the latest briefing, Maduro announced 91 confirmed cases, but no deaths. Over half of the cases have been reported in metropolitan Caracas. Journalists have pointed out that there are inconsistencies in the government’s data.
  • Maduro announced a package of economic measures in an attempt to mitigate the consequences, including the freezing of rents and credit payments for six months; a monetary bonus to millions of workers; protection against layoffs for a year; no cut offs of basic services. Paradoxically, but perhaps pointing out the governments tenuous resource base, the measures do not include suspension of tax collection or any other tax incentives.
  • Various business associations criticized Maduro’s measures, with the country’s main business confederation presenting a 21 point economic plan that could be implemented in the next three months.
  • The opposition presented five economic proposals that the government could carry-out in the short term. The policies are related to tax incentives and direct subsidize to a large part of the population.
  • The Maduro government received a relatively small humanitarian aid shipment from Russia last week, inluding just 10,000 detection tests.
  • Maduro also said that the UN offered health and infrastructure help.

Press Freedom

  • The Special Action Forces of the national police (FAES) arrested journalist Darvinson Rojas. Rojas first was interrogated about the sources of his reporting on COVID-19 cases in the state of Miranda, and then charged with “incitement to hatred” and “public instigation.” A series of international and local press freedoms organizations have demanded his release.
  • Similarly, Venezuelan authorities have called the director of the newspaper La Verdad de Vargas, Beatriz Rodríguez, to give explanations about its coverage of the coronavirus.

Beyond Coronavirus

  • A New York Times report looks at one negative consequence of Venezuela’s forced migration crisis–the hundreds of thousands of children that Venezuelan migrants have left in the country under the care of families and friends.
  • Venezuela is facing an ever worsening gas shortage. This time shortages appear even in the capital Caracas that is normally well supplied.
  • Recent reports mention that Venezuela’s oil production is tumbling, with oil production falling to around 500,000 barrels per day, as the country struggles with low international market oil prices.