Venezuela Weekly: Maduro Continues Promoting Parallel Dialogue, Legislative Elections

As efforts to negotiate a political solution to Venezuela’s crisis through the Norwegian mediation process remain on standby, the Maduro government continues promoting a parallel dialogue and raising the prospects of legislative elections in the next year. On October 17, Maduro’s attorney general Tarek William Saab announced the release of 24 political prisoners. However, as of the morning of October 18 Foro Penal announced that only 18 of these had actually been released, and stressed that over 400 individuals on its list of political prisoners remain in detention

The government has linked the releases to the “national dialogue” that Maduro convened with representatives of a handful of minority opposition parties one month ago. It is notable, though, that the number of releases falls short of what the participating opposition sector appears to have sought. Timeoteo Zambrano, for instance, announced in late September that the dialogue was working from a list of 60 political prisoners. This may be a sign that more releases are to come.

The government is also using the dialogue as a justification for moves on the electoral front. The day before the releases, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told reporters that the parties participating in the dialogue were creating a “complementary electoral roundtable” which would be tasked with naming a new National Electoral Council (CNE). 

On October 12 Maduro urged the PSUV to “begin campaigning right now” for the upcoming elections and called for Chavismo to “rescue” the National Assembly (AN) from the opposition. The current Assembly’s term ends in December 2020, and elections can take place anytime during 2020 according to the country’s electoral system, even though elections traditionally take place in the last quarter of the year and require several months for their organization.  

The biggest parties of the opposition have not taken a clear position on participation in National Assembly elections, but representatives of the smaller parties engaged in the dialogue have expressed some willingness to participate. When asked what the opposition would do in the event of new legislative elections in an October 11 interview, Guaido said that such a move would be a “disaster” for Maduro but did not elaborate on what a strategy would look like in response. Instead he and other opposition voiced have focused on the need for new presidential elections

International Pressure

  • Maduro’s government denied entrance to Guatemala’s president-elect Alejandro Giammattei (he takes office in January) that tried to visit Venezuela and hold meetings with Guaidó and the Venezuelan opposition. For its part, the Maduro government argued that denied entrance to Giammattei because he did not have an official invitation, and because he tried to enter Venezuela with an Italian passport and not with the official Guatemalan one.  
  • The recent protests in Ecuador produced tensions between the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador. The Ecuadorian government has accused both Nicolas Maduro and the ex-president of Ecuador Rafael Correa that motivated and financed the protests against Lenin Moreno’s austerity package (seven states of the region have issued a statement rejecting any attempt by Maduro to destabilize the region). The Venezuelan opposition held a similar position and said that Maduro and the Cuban government are behind the recent protests in Ecuador and Colombia so they can divert attention from their regimes. Maduro for his part denied any connection to the protests and has argued that people protest against the IMF and the Ecuadorian government because of their austerity policies (when Moreno announced that the proposed austerity measures would be revised, Maduro congratulated the Ecuadorian people for their historic victory against the IMF). 

Sanctions

  • Venezuelan opposition leaders made a concerted effort to applaud Switzerland for imposing new sanctions on Venezuelan officials over suspected human rights violations this week. But while the opposition characterized these sanctions as against 25 individuals, in reality Switzerland was merely adopting the recently announced EU sanctions against 7 individuals. The remaining 18 had already been sanctioned, as the WOLA Targeted Sanctions Database illustrates.
  • After Adobe’s decision last week to stop providing services in Venezuela, more IT companies followed suit. Oracle, one of the larger providers of database software in the world, said it will stop working with its Venezuelan partners due to the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela, according to the technology specialized publication BleepingComputer. On the other hand, the company WeTransfer announced it would offer a free year of its premium services to  Venezuelans that were affected by Adobe’s decision.

Human Rights 

  • On October 17, Venezuela won a contested seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite a campaign by over 50 regional human rights organisations and diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and Lima Group countries. 
  • The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict  (OVCS) documented 12,591 protests in Venezuela during the first nine months of this year. During September 2019 there were 708 protests, almost one third less than the protests during September 2018 (980). 

Crime and Violence

  • During a forum about extrajudicial executions and the state, local NGOs and experts denounced that extrajudicial police executions continue in Venezuela, affecting mostly young male citizens in the urban slums. Experts also emphasized the negative psychological toll of these killings on the families and the communities of the executed. 
  • Maduro’s Minister for Internal Relations, Néstor Reverol, informed that the crime rate in Venezuela is reduced by 35.8% in the last year. Reverol said that crime in the country is in continuous decline since 2016.  

Humanitarian Aid

  • The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Francesco Rocca, said that international humanitarian aid to Venezuela has been insufficient so far and that the Red Cross and UN humanitarian agencies will deepen their appeals to the international community. According to Rocca, the Red Cross has provided assistance to just 600,000 individuals inside Venezuela compared with an estimated 13 million in need of aid.

Migration

  • The National Assembly (AN) approved a resolution  that requests that the international community and the countries of the region afford refugee status to Venezuelans that forced to leave their country. 
  • The organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Doctors Without Borders) stated that the Venezuelan migrants that get to Colombia in recent months are poorer and much more vulnerable from the first wave of migration since they are mostly older adults and single mothers with young children and infants. The organization argues that the policies and resources destined to this population should not take into the account only the number of the people but also their different needs. 

Economy

  • Maduro’s government announced the rise of the monthly minimum wage from 40,000 BS ($2.00) to 150,000 BS ($7.50). Together with the food bonus that the workers receive monthly in Venezuela, the minimum income is set to $15 per month. This is the third raise that the government has announced this year.