Venezuela Weekly: Diplomatic Efforts to Resolve the Crisis Have Learned From the Past

As the international community ramps up efforts to find a peaceful, diplomatic solution to Venezuela’s crisis, both Norwegian mediation efforts and the International Contact Group (ICG) have demonstrated a clear understanding of the pitfalls of previous negotiations efforts–and are navigating them accordingly.

Last week, Reuters confirmed rumors that Norway hosted exploratory talks in Oslo with delegations of the opposition and the government on May 15. Little is known publicly about the agenda in Oslo, but sources close to the process have said that the opposing sides received separate invitations from the Norwegian government, and that they met separately with Norwegian mediators and not with each other.

In the days since the talks, both parties have predictably tried to frame them within their particular narratives. In remarks to reporters on May 16, National Assembly President Juan Guaido confirmed that the talks occurred but emphasized that “there were no negotiations,” insisting that the opposition remains committed to its roadmap. Maduro also confirmed the talks, but framed them as “conversations to advance peace agreements,” largely painting the Oslo process as part of his near-constant calls for hollow dialogue since 2013.

Indeed, as WOLA has written, Maduro is a serial abuser of dialogue and has exploited talks by using them to publicly divide the opposition while refusing to make major concessions. But it appears the Norwegians are well aware of this dynamic. Unlike the media circus around the 2017-2018 talks in the Dominican Republic or the 2016 Vatican efforts, the substance of the Oslo conversations has been kept in private, with the Norwegian foreign ministry only issuing a brief statement that it “commends the parties for their efforts.”

The ICG has avoided falling into this “dialogue trap” as well, and is moving forward by insisting on new elections while at the same time being transparent about Maduro’s resistance. On May 16-17, the ICG sent a delegation to Caracas composed by representatives of the EU External Action Service, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. In meetings with both Maduro and Guaido, the representatives presented concrete proposals for an electoral solution.

As expected, Maduro has shown an initial refusal of new elections. This was detailed by Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Merlo, who participated in the ICG mission. Merlo told Argentine paper Clarin that Maduro spoke for an hour in his meeting with the ICG representatives but left just 30 minutes to hear from them. According to Merlo, “I saw Maduro with many doubts about being able to reach free elections.” Yet In the face of this the ICG has stood firm in making clear that elections are the only path forward. In a statement following the visit, the ICG stressed that it will “intensify” its work, but that “further commitment to a results-oriented political process is still needed.”

International Response

  • Yesterday the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved an amended version of the VERDAD Act, a broad bipartisan bill that–while it contains a mix of language that appeals to elements across the political spectrum, fully endorses a strategy of nonviolent diplomatic pressure over the use of force. The fact that this bill was supported by Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio is a telling sign of Washington’s rejection of military intervention. Indeed, VERDAD highlights the work of the International Contact Group, and specifically states that “It is the policy of the United States to support diplomatic engagement in order to advance a negotiated and peaceful solution to Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis.” The act goes further to stress that “direct, credible negotiations” led by Guaido “represent the best opportunity to reach 14 a solution to the Venezuelan crisis.” The bill also codifies existing sanctions, and earmarks $200 million each for the internal humanitarian crisis and for the response to refugees.

Human Rights

  • In its recent report, Hungry for Justice: Crimes against Humanity in Venezuela, Amnesty International discusses the violence caused by the police and military in Venezuela, specifically in relation to the events of January 2019. This report denounces selective extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and deaths or injuries to civilians caused by the use of excessive force, all of which have been common and of a systemic nature since at least 2017. This Amnesty International report declares that these crimes, committed under the government of Nicolas Maduro, likely constitute crimes against humanity.
  • In the context of a failed April 30 uprising in Venezuela, the Maduro government is cracking down on opposition lawmakers. On May 8, Venezuelan intelligence arrested Edgar Zambrano, the first Vice-President of the National Assembly, and in the days since Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) has stripped 12 other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity among accusations of treason and conspiracy. Among them is Miguel Pizarro, who heads the National Assembly’s Humanitarian Aid Committee and has been coordinating with the Red Cross, United Nations, and NGO actors on the ground in support of humanitarian assistance programs. As Efecto Cocuyo reports, there are now a total of 19 opposition legislators who have been left unable to represent their constituents due to repression.

Humanitarian Aid

  • The Red Cross estimates that it has distributed 80 percent of the first shipment of medical aid that arrived to Venezuela, with most of it  successfully distributed to hospitals in the Caracas area. Non-governmental organization Espacio Público published a new piece addressing the question: How is humanitarian aid being organized in Venezuela? The article discusses Articles 51 and 143 of the Venezuelan Constitution, both of which allude to the specific guidelines by which any and all international aid must abide for it to be considered for entry into Venezuela.

Violence and Insecurity

  • In a new report, children’s rights group CECODAP revealed that 287 children and adolescents were killed at the hands of Venezuelan police in 2018, all characterized as “resisting authority” by security forces. This indicates a 265% increase between 2017 and 2018, when only 108 cases were registered.