Venezuela Weekly: European Union Proposes International Contact Group

On January 31st European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini announced that the EU had reached agreement on the conformation of an International Contact Group. The Terms of Reference describe a three phase plan: first, meetings among members of the group to develop a common understanding of the situation; second, outreach to relevant Venezuelan actors to understand their expectations and demands as well as promoting minimum requirements such as the release of political prisoners, recognition of the AN, and the establishment of a balanced electoral council; and third, to give backing to a credible transition process.

The initiative will consist of EU member states: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK; as well as four Latin American countries: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bolivia. There are apparently several other countries considering participation. Their first meeting will be in Montevideo on February 7.

While the announcement received howls in the Venezuelan twittersphere, and brash statements by Vice President Mike Pence that “this is no time for dialogue,” on February 5 the AN passed a resolution that kept the door open. The fourth article thanked the EU for its initiative but “requests that the Contact Group initiative has as its only objective the offering and agreeing with the usurping regime, the guaranteed and conditions for handing over power, in agreement with the Constitution.”

  • Two days before the EU’s announcement, Uruguay and Mexico announced that they would be organizing a group of neutral countries that would seek to sponsor a credible dialogue. They suggested they would be meeting on February 7. However, this seems to subsequently have been set aside since Uruguay joined the EU initiative.
  • The EU announcement came several days before the date of their ultimatum suggesting that if new elections had not been called, they would recognize National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Interim President. In her statements to the press Mogherini said that the EU did not make a practice of recognizing states and that this would be up to the individual countries–however it appears that they sought a consensus position but Italy refused. On Monday, the majority of EU countries recognized Guaidó. Other notable holdouts were Ireland and Greece. Norway, which is not an EU member, also did not recognize Guaidó.
  • The Lima Group put forward a statement that reiterated their recognition of Guaidó as interim president. Its final article states that the members “reiterate their support for a peaceful transition through political and diplomatic means without the use of force.”
  • The Pope reported that Nicolas Maduro had sent him a letter asking for his help in renewing dialogue. The Pope said he would only get involved if asked by both sides. This is unlikely since the Venezuelan opposition sees the 2016 dialogue effort facilitated by the Vatican as a failure.
  • UN Secretary General António Guterres said the UN was not participating in any of the international mediation initiatives, so that they could credibly offer “good offices,” in other words so that the UN would be in a position to facilitate the fulfillment of any agreement.
  • It seems very likely that the National Constituent Assembly will call early elections for the National Assembly. This would allow Maduro to undermine the opposition-controlled AN through elections. The optics of such elections and the opposition boycotting would be better for Maduro than just closing down the AN.
  • In his State of the Union address Donald Trump reiterated his support for the government of Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan people and used the situation to warn of the spectre of socialism haunting the U.S.

Humanitarian aid

  • Humanitarian aid has emerged as the next battle ground between Venezuela’s two presidents. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted on February 1st that following a request from Guaidó, the U.S. would be mobilizing and transporting humanitarian aid. Guaidó said the humanitarian aid would be coming through Cúcuta, Colombia, the Brazilian border and from an unspecified Caribbean island and would be enough to supply four hospitals for a month.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had talked to the US about the need for humanitarian aid “to be shielded from this political conversation.” They suggested they would only take part in an operation if it takes place “with the agreement of the authorities, whoever the authorities are.” Catholic aid agency Caritas also released a statement saying it would join the effort “only if it works with appropriate mechanisms and based on the principles of respect for human and humanitarian rights.”

Armed Forces

  • Venezuelan journalists Cesar Miguel Rondón, whose popular radio show was recently canceled, did an extended interview with Sebestiana Barraez (from 13:20 to 25:30), the closest journalistic observer of Venezuela’s Armed Forces. She describes an armed forces in which the top brass supports Maduro but the middle and lower ranks are substantially disarticulated from them. She suggests this is the reason the military has not clamped down on the opposition movement.
  • Bloomberg’s Andy Rosati and Ethan Bronner, who have broken several stories on the Venezuelan military, obtained documents showing significant deterioration at the lower levels of the armed forces even before the current crisis.

China & Russia

  • Juan Guaidó has been trying to argue to both countries that a change in government would actually favor them. So far it’s been a difficult sale.
  • Russia’s deep involvement in Venezuela via Rosneft anchors its support for Venezuela. Nevertheless, while it maintains public support for Maduro, behind the scenes Russia is hedging its bets (see Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal). Lukoil quickly cancelled contracts with PDVSA after U.S. sanctions were announced, to avoid running afoul of the U.S. financial system.
  • China has actually been more passive in its backing of Maduro, as Matt Ferchen explains here. It clearly seems to be weighing its support.

Left and Right

  • Juan Guaidó met with some dissident former ministers of Chávez on February 5 in an unprecedented meeting between opposition leaders and dissident Chavismo. Former minister Hector Navarro said that Guaidó was more legitimate than Maduro.
  • Jacobin published an extended podcast discussion with three social scientists who have done extended fieldwork in Venezuela and maintain ties to the communities and Chavista activists they worked with. They provide analysis of what this crisis looks like beyond Venezuela’s urban, middle classes and a thoughtful discussion of what type of reflection the Maduro debacle should provoke among the international left.

Sanctions and Exchange

  • United States’ oil sanctions are already causing disarray in Venezuela’s oil commercialization, with tankers waiting off the U.S. gulf coast, unable to dock and unload because of the difficulty of getting the necessary credit notes.
  • To make the Venezuelan economy even more disorienting, in an effort to raise dollars, the Maduro government raised the official exchange rate to parity with the parallel market, which subsequently dropped. The official market now pays more than the parallel rate and lines are forming at exchange houses.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]