Venezuela Weekly: Government Doubles-down on Effort to Gain National Assembly Control

On Wednesday, January 15 National Assembly President Juan Guaidó tried to hold a session the Legislative Palace but lawmakers were prevented from entering by armed government supporters. The legislators subsequently held session in El Hatillo a far Southeast municipality of Caracas.

The attack on the deputies suggests the government is not going to pull back on its push to take over the National Assembly. The Supreme Court’s (TSJ) request that Luis Parra, the deputy who was declared AN President in the December 5 session, produce a list of the deputies that had voted for him had generated speculation that Chavismo would roll back a takeover that had received broad international condemnation.

But instead, a multi-faceted push appears to be underway to consolidate their control.

  • On January 14, President of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello announced the “permanent use” of the Federal Legislative Palace, presumably to complicate any attempt by Guiadó and his legislators to return.
  • One of the sharpest points of criticism of the January 5 events was the fact that the National Guard prevented some legislators from entering the Legislative Palace, which is not one of their legal functions. This time around the government called on armed civilians to impede access. The Maduro government has long used civilians for paramilitary functions, i.e. to do things they do not want their military or police forces to be blamed for.
  • On Thursday, January 16, several of the dissident legislators that support the Luis Parra directorate of the National Assembly went to the TSJ to demand they be reinstated and that the TSJ order elections within the First Justice party (PJ). They were thrown out of PJ in December because of a corruption scandal (see last weeks’ VW as well as this one from early December). The TSJ could conceivably force PJ to have elections that, depending on how they happened, could give Parra or Brito control of the party.

Even if the National Assembly conflict is not resolved, the confusion that is created works for the government. It has already suggested that the Supreme Court (TSJ) could appoint the new rectors of the National Electoral Council (CNE) due to “legislative omission” in the National Assembly. This would likely lead to a new CNE that is just as controlled by Maduro as the current CNE.

What is more, the government’s assault on the National Assembly has strengthened the anti-political stance of opposition radicals, reducing the likelihood that the opposition will participate in the legislative elections mandated for 2020. This will pave the way for the government to dispossess them of their one institutional space.

International Pressure and support

  • The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell said recent events in Venezuela have further deteriorated the political crisis, and suggested that the International Contact Group would continue its work.
  • The United States sanctioned the seven former-opposition deputies who have aligned with Maduro’s government and participated in Chavismo’s National Assembly’s take over. The Maduro government was swift to condemn the move.
  • Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza will pay a four-day visit to China, where he will have high meetings with the Chinese government’s officials. The Chinese government said this visit is “a major event in China-Venezuela exchange in 2020.” This development appears to contradict what the U.S. government special representative on Venezuela, Eliots Abrams has said about China-Venezuela relations. Abrams claimed “China’s economic support and involvement in Venezuela are “diminishing, not growing” due to Maduro’s economic mismanagement and corruption.

Negotiations

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said “a swift negotiated transition to democracy is the most effective and sustainable route to peace and prosperity in Venezuela” and that the U.S. will support “a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections.”
  • In a carefully-worded statement, the Guaidó-led opposition announced that they had been informed of a visit by Norwegian diplomats but “would not be participating in a meeting.” This was clearly a play to their ever-stronger radical wing. However, it is not clear if they actually did meet with the diplomats behind closed doors.

Church

  • The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela refused a visit when he and others in his coalition tried to meet with the Bishops.

Human Rights

  • Seventy-four civil society organizations signed a statement rejecting the attempt to take over the National Assembly. They advocated for an “inclusive political agreement that would allow the recovery of institutions, the democratic functioning of the State, national governance, and the respect for human rights.”
  • In the first ten days of 2020, 8 femicides occurred. Human rights organizations are demanding action.
  • Maduro’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, stated that opposition’s National Assembly deputy, Gilbert Caro, is under arrest and is not missing as the opposition and his defense have denounced.
  • There are denunciations that some 120 Yukpa indigenous inhabitants in Zulia state have malaria. They often do not have the resources to get to urban care centers and receive proper health treatment.

Migration

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and World Vision, will implement a program to support Venezuelan migrants and refugees, returning Colombians and vulnerable Colombians, with flexible cash and nutritional support.

Economy

  • The president of National Assembly Juan Guaidó recently asked the European Union to label as “blood gold” the government’s exports of gold, a move similar to the campaign of “blood diamonds” in Africa in recent decades.
  • The Maduro government continues to find ways to export Venezuelan oil to international markets. In one of its latest moves, the government is using oil companies that operate in Venezuela in joint ventures with PDVSA and sells oil through them. This would not violate sanctions as long as sales are used for paying off the partners’ debts.