Venezuela Weekly: Guaidó Returns, Challenges Loom

National Assembly president and opposition leader Juan Guaidó finally returned to Venezuela on a flight from Portugal, after more than three weeks abroad. The Maduro government chose not to arrest him but rather to mobilize supporters to harass him and the opposition deputies that had gone to the airport to meet him, as well as journalists that were covering the events. Government supporters, including workers for the recently sanctioned state airline Conviasa, booed, taunted, shouted “traitor” and threw water at Guaidó with the apparent complicity of airport security. Journalists fared worse, suffering outright physical aggression. Guaidó’s uncle, who also arrived on the flight from Lisbon, was detained and accused of carrying “hazardous material.”

These tactics are similar to the “spontaneous” actos de repudio that the Cuban government has used against dissidents for decades. They are at a low enough level to avoid strong international condemnation, but have been remarkably effective at keeping activists isolated and off balance (see Sweig p.149).

  • The National Press Workers Union (SNTP) denounced the aggression and went to the Public Ministry to demand that it be investigated. The Association of Foreign Press Workers joined the denunciation. (See the NY Times Anatoly Kurmanaev’s Twitter thread.)

It is clear that Guaidó’s international trip boosted his political capital within Venezuela. However, numerous analysts have suggested that the real challenge is yet to come, with the need to develop a strategy to confront legislative elections this year. What is more, the political capital that Guaidó gained in meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump would seem more valuable for radical strategies of boycotting and calling for intervention, than fighting to preserve the National Assembly.

Geopolitics

  • The U.S. government sanctioned Venezuela’s state-owned airline CONVIASA, a move that appears to be part of the increasing international pressure strategy against Maduro that Guaidó has mentioned.
  • Also, the role of Russia in Venezuela is gaining attention in U.S. policy cycles. The White House is highlighting Russia’s involvement in Venezuela’s internal affairs, and hinting that international oil companies that continue to operate in Venezuela may suffer consequences, including the Russian energy giant Rosneft.
  • The Kremlin rejected U.S. threats to impose sanctions against Russian companies.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Venezuela during his three-country trip to Latin America (including Mexico and Cuba). Venezuela was high on Lavrov’s agenda; he mentioned the country during his Mexico visit saying both Mexico and Russia are categorically opposing any possible military intervention in Venezuela. During his stay in Venezuela, he held meetings with the Chavista leadership and with the minority parties that are negotiating with the Maduro government.

Civil Society

  • Members of the Social Dialogue initiative demanded an electoral solution to the crisis and reiterated their call to all parties and political actors to strike a national agreement towards this direction.
  • For its part, the National Assembly announced that the Venezuelan civil society is participating actively in the proceedings to select new authorities for the National Electoral Council as the Venezuelan constitution requires.

Migration

  • Venezuela’s economic liberalization along with migration restrictions and xenophobic incidences abroad, have impacted migration trends according to a Bloomberg article that mention that of those “who’ve emigrated in the past five years, 17%, or about 1 million, have returned over the same period, the data show.” However, it is too early to claim a reversal of flows since emigration continues apace.
  • Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno asked the National Assembly to approve a proposed reform of the current migration laws that would allow Ecuador to quickly deport foreigners that commit crimes in the country quickly. The U.N. office in Ecuador expressed its concerns about xenophobia and discrimination incidents in the country.
  • For several days there were protests in Pacaraima the main entry point for Venezuelans crossing in to Brazil. Protestors pointed to the increase in violence in the city, after a Venezuelan allegedly raped a young local woman. The protesters tried to knock down the mobile classrooms that built the Brazilian government for the Venezuelan children.
  • A recent study says that at least 4,911 people were killed in the last seven years on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. A number of non-state armed groups operate along the border and fight for the control of it. 378 Venezuelan migrants were murdered between 2017 and 2019.
  • The Trump administration’s changes to migration and refugee policies are affecting Venezuelans asylum seekers in the U.S.

Humanitarian Emergency

  • Infant mortality rates are rising due to deprivation and malnutrition.