Venezuela Weekly: Government Seeks Renewed Dialogue, Opposition Deeply Skeptical

A planned visit by Harvard mediation expert Jim Tull stirred a familiar response among the fragmented Venezuelan opposition this week, with various individuals and sectors repeating their rejection of dialogue with the government. Yet despite the opposition’s deep internal divisions, there appears to be a quiet acceptance that renewed negotiations can have a role in resolving the crisis—provided they include strong guarantees and lead to new elections.

On Sunday, the day of Tull’s scheduled arrival, three major opposition parties (Popular Will, Justice First and Radical Cause) issued a statement in which they attested that the conditions for successful mediation do not currently exist. The parties said mediation could only occur with “guarantees that allow the immediate beginning of the democratic transition, the full restoration of constitutional order and the holding of general elections.” This position—an openness to dialogue as long as it includes free and fair elections—was actually echoed in various forms by other opposition figures throughout the week, including  by Henry Ramos Allup and Henri Falcon. In their remarks, each is adamant that meaningful dialogue cannot occur under current circumstances, but careful to make clear that conditions could shift if talks led to credible elections.

On the other side, Maduro appears increasingly interested in trying to bolster his legitimacy by entering into dialogue ahead of his January 10 inauguration date. On Monday, Reuters reported that the Maduro government has made multiple overtures to the opposition to enter into new dialogue. The opposition has rebuffed them, however, as the prospects for a democratic transition through a robust mediation effort or serious negotiations process remain dim.

Nevertheless, Sen. Bob Corker and the Boston Group’s support for initiatives like Tull’s visit are not merely aimed at supporting dialogue. Instead the group appears to be seeking to create channels of communication between stakeholders in the crisis, which may or may not lead to talks. Reuters reports that a brainstorming committee set up in Corker’s last visit is not meant to be a “tool of mediation, negotiation, arbitration or conflict resolution.” Instead, the committee “provides ideas to representatives of these processes if they were to exist.”

International Pressure and Engagement

  • Today, the White House unveiled a new Executive Order that sanctions any U.S. entity from doing business in the gold trade in Venezuela. As Bloomberg has reported, gold—often mined in illicit and environmentally detrimental conditions—is becoming an increasingly important source of revenue for the Maduro government.
  • The gold sanctions came on the same day that National security adviser John Bolton delivered a speech in Miami on the Trump Administration’s policy towards Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, which he labeled the “Troika of Tyranny.” In the same address, as Politico reports, Bolton praised Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro as a “like minded leader.” Aside from the gold sanctions announcement, the speech was light on actual substance. Washington Post Global Opinions columnist Josh Rogin writes that “it remains to be seen if the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.”
  • Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has invited Nicolas Maduro to attend his inauguration on December 1, despite outcry from opposition sectors and Maduro critics.
  • The European Parliament passed a resolution on October 25 which supports the decision by several countries to request an investigation at the ICC into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela and called for an independent investigation into the death of opposition municipal legislator Fernando Alban.
  • Representatives of the 14 countries of the Lima Group met in Bogota on Wednesday, in which they evaluated options ahead of Maduro’s January 10 inauguration. EFE reports the group will meet twice more before then, and is expected to announce a more concrete response when Maduro assumes his mandate.

Human Rights

  • Relatives of political prisoners have organized a series of demonstrations outside the UN office in Caracas, urging UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to visit the country.
  • Google has rolled out a new tool to help fight censorship of the press around the world, and is testing it first in Venezuela. The AP reports that the app Intra can help Venezuelans get around blocks against certain domains, a tactic that has been used against sites like El Pitazo and Armando.info.
  • María Corina Machado was attacked along with members of her party by a pro-government group during a rally held in Upata, Bolívar state. The incident drew widespread condemnation.

Migration

  • As Peru’s October 31 deadline for Venezuelan migrants to be eligible for temporary residency status drew near, the flow of Venezuelans crossing the northern Peruvian border surged this week. At least 6,000 were estimated to have lined up on the border Tuesday alone. According to President Martin Vizcarra, there are around half a million Venezuelans in the country in total.
  • Co-chair of the OAS working group on Venezuelan migration Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian has suggested that the region should “declare a regional refugee crisis,” hinting at a possible recommendation in the group’s forthcoming report on the situation in the coming weeks. As Efecto Cocuyo reports, however, regional differences over the definition of a refugee present an obstacle to this proposal.

Criminal Justice and Violence

  • Speaking at congress on women’s rights last week, Maduro called on the Constituent Assembly (ANC) to reform the country’s penal code. He specifically asked that the ANC raise the penalty for femicide.
  • Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that Vice Attorney General Katherine Harrington—who is responsible for prosecuting a number of high-level opposition figures—was replaced last week by Beysce Pilar Loreto Duben. On Wednesday, the government also replaced the head of the SEBIN intelligence service Gustavo Gonzalez with Army General Manuel Cristopher. The shuffle was widely perceived as linked to the Alban case.

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]