Venezuela Weekly: Lima Group Meeting Suggests a Regional Diplomatic Break is Unlikely

As President Nicolás Maduro prepares to assume a new six-year mandate on January 10, recent days have given some clarity to the coming regional response: a collective Lima Group decision to completely end diplomatic relations with Venezuela is unlikely, though some countries may individually scale back their diplomatic presence in Caracas.

On December 19, deputy foreign ministers and representatives of the 14 Lima Group countries met in Bogota to lay the groundwork for a foreign ministers’ meeting that will take place on January 4. Those in attendance gave few details about the content of the declaration that will emerge from the upcoming foreign ministers’ meeting. Peru’s representative told Spanish news agency EFE that the meeting highlighted the consensus that there has been a break in democratic order in Venezuela, and pointed out that the group had already rejected the legitimacy of Venezuela’s May elections.

However, there have been some signs that suggest that despite the efforts of the Peruvian government, the Lima Group will not issue a consensus declaration that supports breaking off diplomatic relations with the Venezuelan government. Presidents Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Ivan Duque of Colombia, for instance, have only talked about reducing relations or withdrawing ambassadors, with Duque recognizing that “we have to manage the consular and business relationship.” Notably, however, the websites of the Argentine and Colombian embassies in Caracas suggest that neither currently has an ambassador, just chargés d’affaires.

The presence of a Mexican representative in Bogota was particularly noteworthy. It suggests that Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has decided that his country will continue to participate in the Lima Group, even as it retains bilateral relations with Venezuela and rejects intervention. In doing so Lopez Obrador may be adopting a similar position as Jamaica, which also sent a representative to this week’s meeting (and has participated in past meetings but never signed a declaration).  Neither country is likely to support scaling back relations. Just as Mexico’s president met with Maduro at his inauguration earlier this month, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness met with Maduro on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

Importantly, continuing diplomatic relations has support among members of the opposition in Venezuela. Efecto Cocuyo reports that the head of the foreign relations commission of the National Assembly, Fernando Sucre, describes closing embassies in Caracas as counterproductive, as an international presence in the country helps serve as a “containment wall” against repression.

Opposition

  • Just as the international community is evaluating its options for January 10, so is the domestic opposition. During its final session of 2018 last week, members of the National Assembly agreed upon the next leaders of the legislative body. NTN24 reports that as of January 5, Juan Guaidó (of Voluntad Popular), Edgar Zambrano (of Accion Democratica), and Stalin González (of Un Nuevo Tiempo) will be president, first vice president, and second vice president, respectively, of the National Assembly. Whether this new leadership will back calls for the legislature to name a parallel government remains unclear. According to Efecto Cocuyo there is considerable rejection of this proposal among lawmakers.
  • In a meeting last week, the Frente Amplio Venezuela Libre (FAVL) adopted a resolution to begin a series of nonviolent protests beginning on January 10. In a statement, the coalition said it “does not recognize that there is an elected president” and “will initiate, starting on January 10, a process of growing civic disobedience, peaceful, planned and responsible, within the framework of constitutional rights.”

International Pressure

  • On December 12, Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio sent a letter to President Trump requesting that he “formally recognize the Venezuelan National Assembly as the only legitimate democratic institution remaining in the country’s national government.” It is notable that the senators do not, however, suggest that the U.S. government recognize the National Assembly as a parallel government. This may be a sign of how the White House could seek to find a happy medium between support for the National Assembly and backing a government in exile.
  • The International Crisis Group has issued an analysis of dynamics in Venezuela, noting that breaking relations or closing embassies would make it “harder to achieve [a] negotiated transition,” and suggesting that countries back EU efforts to create a Contact Group to support negotiations instead.

Migration

  • On December 14 UNHCR and IOM, along with 95 partner organizations, launched the regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP). The plan lays out a blueprint for the regional response in terms of policies and humanitarian projects needed on the ground, as well as the resources needed to implement them. A humanitarian response to the continued flow of migrants and refugees will not be cheap: the RMRP includes a $738 million appeal to address ongoing displacement in 2019 alone, and UNHCR and IOM estimate that the total number of Venezuelans who have fled the country could reach 5 million in the next 14 months. More info can be found on the regional interagency platform here.

Media and Information

  • Opposition newspaper El Nacional printed its last paper edition on December 14, as it exhausted currency reserves to buy paper on the international market. While its print edition will no longer continue, the paper’s digital version will.
  • According to an analysis in Prodavinci.com by the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), there were at least 90 print media outlets in circulation in 20 states of the country five years ago. Today there are just 27, a 68% decrease. The IPYS lists causes for their closure as the controls related to the sale and distribution of paper, hyperinflation, economic contraction and access to equipment such as plates and inks.

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]