Venezuela Weekly: Guaidó Returns, Meets with Public Sector Employees

Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly who has assumed the interim presidency returned to Venezuela on Monday. There had been much anticipation of his return given that he had a legal prohibition on leaving the country, with speculation that he would cross the border at an unofficial crossing in Colombia or Brazil, or come in by boat. Instead he took a commercial flight from Panama and proceeded through customs without incident. Ambassadors of twelve counties arrived at the airport to accompany him, and he was given a hero’s welcome inside and outside of the airport. In Caracas he addressed a sizeable rally (see Stephen Gibbs video report here).

The ease with which Guadó returned through the front door generated enormous enthusiasm and no small amount of speculation about what had happened. Guaidó himself suggested that the “chain of command” had been broken and that customs agents greeted him with “welcome president.” The government said that there was no charges against him and he was free to circulate. Analyst Luis Vicente Leon suggested that this spectacle could only have taken place with previous, behind-the-scenes agreement between the government and the opposition, something the latter denied.

On Tuesday Guaidó met with representatives of public sector unions and announced a sequence of work stoppages. This represents a bold, new strategy of conflict for the opposition as one main source of strength of the Maduro government is precisely government employees who continue in their positions despite miserable salaries, largely because of benefits they receive, such as access to low priced food pantries. For the same reason, it will clearly be a challenge to mobilize employees who are expected to show allegiance to the government.

  • What polling is available shows Guaidó with extraordinary approval ratings of over 50% (see here and here).
  • Democrats in both houses of Congress are responding to the Trump Administrations Venezuela policy, but with a broad diversity of approaches.

Diversifying Theories of Change

A number of pieces have sought to move beyond the pressure-collapse scenario, to suggest other possibilities of for a transition back to democracy. (As a primer for this section see the solid overview of the current situation by historian Joseph S. Tulchin, as well as a wide-ranging discussion in a podcast with WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey.)

  • Francisco Rodriguez and Jeffrey Sachs have suggested a pragmatic approach “that might involve the current government continuing to control the army, while technocrats backed by the opposition take control over finances, the central bank, planning, humanitarian relief, health services, and foreign affairs. transition government in which the Maduro government controls the military and the opposition controls economic policy.”
  • Geoff Ramsey and I published a piece with the Fundación Carolina (available here in both Spanish and English) that suggests that while the International Contact Group is not currently the leading form of international engagement in Venezuela, given the implausibility of both the opposition’s and Maduro government’s current strategies, it could emerge as attractive alternative.
  • The International Crisis Group released a report arguing that the intransigence of each side “is a recipe for a stalemate that harms all sides.” They propose a transition in stages that would work towards elections, but would have a transitional government with representatives of both Chavismo and the opposition. In a piece in Foreign Affairs, one Crisis Group researcher noted pragmatism and openness to negotiations among Chavista officials.
  • Javier Corrales outlines the complexity of the military challenge in a transition insofar as the armed forces include not just professional, career soldiers, but ideologized soldiers working with Cuban intelligence, bureaucratic generals, profit-seeking soldiers, as well as “killing agents” in charge of repression. To get a handle on this in a transition “Guaidó and his international allies may have no option but to entertain an interim civilian-military partnership under some form of international tutelage.”
  • Mac Margolis of Bloomberg Opinion suggests that having the International Criminal Court issue an international arrest warrant for Nicolás Maduro could make it more likely that the UN Security Council acts with respect to Venezuela.

Humanitarian Aid Reboot

  • The EU’s International Contact Group has proposed bringing humanitarian aid into Venezuela in collaboration with the United Nations in a way that follows the principles of “neutrality, independence, impartiality, and humanity.”
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross announced it would be more than doubling its budget for operations in Venezuela, from the current $9 million to $19 million.
  • In an expert (but largely ignored) Twitter thread, former chief of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Jeremy Konyndyk argues that humanitarian principles in delivering aid are important precisely because it is often politicized. “Politicans will always be inclined to see aid as a lever in their power struggle. Neutrality/independence are central to persuading them to tolerate it anyway.”
  • Two scholars have suggested that given U.S. oil sanctions, measures are necessary to avoid a famine in Venezuela. Francisco Rodriguez called for an “oil-for-food” program as was used in Iraq. Dorothy Kronick argues that an “oil-for-essentials” (i.e. not just food but medicines) should be developed.

Russia and China

  • Vice president Delcy Rodriguez travelled to Russia and received assurance of continuing support—although it is not clear that Russia’s warm words translated into actual commitments of resources. Russia said it is willing to engage in bilateral talks with the U.S. regarding Venezuela.
  • Venezuela is moving a PDVSA office from Lisbon to Moscow, saying Europe does not provide adequate guarantees.
  • The Wilson Center released a report describing China’s uncertain support of the Maduro government.

More on Oil

Violence in the South

  • A seventh victim of military repression on the Venezuela-Brazil border has died.
  • The International Crisis Group published a report the extent to which non-state actors and the Venezuelan military are competing for access to illicit gold mining.

Migration

  • Provash Budden of Mery Corps published a piece arguing that while temporary aid for Venezuelan migrants is important, it is time to start treating the situation like a protracted refugee crisis. Longer term solutions including starting with legalization and then focusing on employment programs.

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]