Venezuela Weekly: Despite Stalemate, Backchannel Contact Persists

Reuters reported that allies of Maduro and Guaidó have held secret exploratory talks about the country’s future under the pressure of the COVID-19 and the economic and social crisis. The authors underlined that they did not have information on an agenda, when the talks began, where or how they are taking place, and if Guaidó and Maduro endorse them. Nevertheless, combined with reports that Norway is still in contact with both parts in Venezuela, and that there could be an humanitarian agreement, perhaps followed by a political deal later, the news generated attention.

Guaidó was swift to dismiss the report, saying only a national emergency government without drug traffickers (referring to Maduro and his inner cycle) could save Venezuela.

News of secret negotiations and Norwegian involvement periodically emerges, generating expectations. However, insiders suggest that backchannel contact between the Guaidó and Maduro governments is frequent and that Norwegian diplomats have never stopped their contact with each side, despite formal talks being suspended in September. Given the way the COVID-19 pandemic is changing conditions, contacts solidifying into talks is always a possibility.

  • David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz published a piece looking at calls for a political accord from Venezuela’s Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican, and more broadly at the Church’s potential and limitations in working for conflict resolution.

Economy

  • On top of a gasoline crisis, the Maduro government is now confronting a crash in oil prices. Venezuela’s heavy crude is trading at $1-2 a barrel, after the discounts it needs to provide because of U.S. sanctions. Venezuelan economist Asdrúbal Oliveros says the loss in income could leave the government without enough cashflow to cover imports of food, gasoline and medicines. Furthermore, it will likely need to print more Venezuelan currency to cover its expenses within Venezuela, driving inflation and the exchange rate up.
  • The US prohibited oil producer Chevron from drilling, bartering or selling oil products from or with Venezuela. Chevron had been given a license to continue operating in Venezuela, which had to be renewed every three months. This time the U.S. government gave it a license to continue to hold assets in Venezuela, but not to use them. Presumably that would put them in position to reactivate if there is a transition.

Coronavirus Crisis

  • Head of the World Food Program David Beasley, warned that the world is “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” in part due to the economic and social side-effects of COVID-19. He named Venezuela as one of the ten countries in most danger. Similarly, a study by the Global Network Against Food Crises (an alliance of UN, governmental, and non-governmental agencies), urges the countries to keep critical food supply chains operating.
  • After the appearance of 21 new cases of coronavirus in a baseball academy in the Margarita island, the Maduro government decided to impose a curfew in the municipality where the academy is located. They also blamed opposition state governor Alfredo Díaz for the situation and arrested his epidemiology coordinator. The governor blamed the central government.

Elections

  • Nicolás Maduro expressed doubts about the realization of the planned legislative elections in 2020. Maduro said that for 2020 the priority is the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, and social stability.

Human Rights

  • The Extrajudicial Killings and Arbitrary Detentions Observatory denounced that the police forces killed 125 people between January and mid-April 2020 in the eastern states of Anzoátegui, Sucre, Monagas and Nueva Esparta.

Migration

  • The International Organization for Migration is discussing the possibility of making a new international call to address the changing needs of migrants and refugees in Latin America that the COVID-19 has created.
  • Private sector donors in Peru donated food baskets that the United Nations distributed to five thousand families, most of them refugees and vulnerable migrants from Venezuela.