Venezuela Weekly: International Contact Group Meets in Quito

Today the International Contact Group is meeting in Quito, Ecuador. Eight European countries as well as Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile, as well as the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community. Seven of the representatives will be the foreign ministers of their countries are attending. The meeting will touch on both a path towards elections as well humanitarian aid.

Miami Herald commentator Andres Oppenheimer suggests that some Lima Group countries are considering joining the initiative since their expectations that Maduro could be quickly pushed out have been disappointed. However, even in Europe the ICG confronts assumptions that the only solution is more sanctions and more pressure on Venezuela.

This past week members of the ICG met with the Maduro government in Caracas.

There have been more efforts to challenge and present an alternative to the pressure-collapse theory of change. Chris Sabatini argued that the Trump administration’s pressure-collapse strategy is flawed and should be reoriented to work with international partners. In NACLA magazine, Dimitris Pantoulas looks at the possibilities of power sharing and institutional change in a transition.

More Power Outages

  • This week saw more nationwide power outages. Measurements by Netblocks.org on the morning of the 27th showed 91% of the country without internet connectivity—given the lack of official information, this marker is now widely used to estimate a blackout’s reach.
  • The power cut left many wondering if these power cuts would become the norm.
  • Blackouts mainly make the news when they affect Caracas. But an open letter from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference points out that many communities in the interior have been without power for more than 40 days.
  • Unsurprisingly, Maduro government officials said the outage was due to an attack.
  • An op ed by Francisco Rodriguez and Jorge Alejandro Rodríguez argues that not only is corruption and lack of maintenance involved in Venezuela’s predicament, U.S. sanctions are to blame as well. The real problem is not the Guri dam but the fact that only a fifth of Venezuela’s thermal power capacity is available to kick-in when it goes down, since Venezuela has a hard time purchasing spare parts and diesel fuel. Reviewing all the evidence, however, the authors say “it is hard to conclude that sanctions were anything more than a secondary contributor to the causes of Venezuela’s electric grid failures today.”

Russian Military Planes

  • Over the weekend two Russian military planes arrived at Caracas’s international airport and unloaded 35 tones of equipment and close to a hundred men, generating considerable attention. Experts suggest they were most likely personnel Venezuela needed to help with its Russian-made S-300 air defense system—perhaps because it was damaged in the blackout or because Venezuela still does not have or has lost the qualified personnel to operate and maintain it. Russia confirmed the presence of its soldiers, saying it was part of a bilateral agreement on military cooperation and took place “in strict accordance” with the Venezuelan Constitution.
  • The Trump administration said the arrival of Russian troops amounted to a “reckless escalation.” Trump himself said Russia must leave Venezuela. When asked how this could enforce his demand, he said “all options are open.”
  • At Bloomberg Opinion Eli Lake says the importance of this Russian support is overblown and unsustainable in the long run. He argues the move is mainly symbolic as there has been no net increase in Russians in Venezuela since January.

Getting Close to Guaidó

  • Juan Guaidó’s Chief of Staff Roberto Marrero was arrested in an early-morning raid of his house late last week. Maduro government officials said Marrero was part of a terrorist cell supposedly planning acts of sabotage on the electrical system. Another activist from Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party was also arrested accused of being the financial intermediary for the plot.
  • This has led to fears that Marrero’s arrest was a sort of trial balloon to gauge international reaction before arresting Guaidó himself, and that Maduro is simply digging in to wait out the threat.
  • Breaking as we are ready to publish this edition, Venezuela’s Comptroller has electorally disqualified Juan Guaidó for 15 years because the resources with which he has paid for 91 trips abroad cannot be explained.

Migration

  • Next week Ecuador will be hosting the third meeting of the countries signing September’s Quito Declaration. The goal will be to discuss the results of the action plan approved in their November meeting.
  • Special Representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees Eduardo Stein warned that even if there were a rapid solution to Venezuela’s political crisis, the issue of migration would continue for several more years.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank has approved a billion-dollar fund for the cities most affected by Venezuelan migration.

Humanitarian Aid

  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling on USAID to put forward a strategy consistent with humanitarian principles and working with NGOs and agencies already on the ground.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]