Venezuela Weekly: Negotiation, Conversation, and (the Chimera of) Betrayal

Closed door conversations in multiple spaces and with multiple logics—sometimes mutually-reinforcing, sometimes at cross-purposes—are taking place among the main actors in the Venezuela conflict, national and international.

The Norwegian government sent diplomats to Caracas last week, in order to get the negotiations restarted. People close to the talks suggest that the Norwegians met in separate with both parts. The government has said they want negotiations to continue but under a new mechanism that will “guarantee peace and coexistence.”

The international character of the conflict has been more evident than ever in the past week. The opposition negotiating team is visiting Washington D.C. apparently to discuss with the U.S. government negotiations progress and the possibility of a new presidential election. Reuters reports that the Maduro government has agreed to a new presidential election if: the U.S. first lifts the sanctions against the government, Maduro is allowed to run, and the vote is held in a year. For its part, the opposition and the U.S. government, appear to endorse elections in a shorter time frame (6-9 months), with significant institutional changes beforehand, and most importantly without Maduro being a candidate.

The Maduro government is also consulting with its allies. Last week, Venezuelan Defense Minister and key actor inside the Venezuelan Armed Forces, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, visited Russia where he met with the Russian Minister of Defense Serguéi Shoigú and signed some minor agreements. This week, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez together with the minister of finance, the vice-president of Central Bank also went to Moscow.

The Associated Press revealed that the U.S. has managed to talk with the Socialist Party strongman and president of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello. Cabello tepidly rejected the information regarding the meetings, saying he would only meet with “the owners of the circus, not the clowns,” and only after Maduro has authorized him. The same day, Maduro recognized that members of his government have been meeting with U.S. officials for months, as did U.S. President Donald Trump. National Security Advisor John Bolton emphasized that meetings were taking place behind Maduro’s back.

It is important to remember that backchannel meetings have been occurring throughout this crisis (see this story from February). The fact that they have been made public in the current context should be read as continuing attempts by the U.S. to generated a collapse of Maduro’s coalition by sowing divisions, given their skepticism regarding the Norwegian-mediated negotiations.

Migration

  • The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched a new humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Venezuela that aims to assist 2.6 million people in need in the country. OCHA said that it needs $223 million in donations to carry it out. Over of 100 Venezuelan organizations published a statement expressing doubts about the financing, efficiency, scope, and implementation.  It should be noted that international aid for the Venezuela migration crisis has been underfunded, with countries like Colombia registering their disappointment.
  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that at least 514 people died so far this year in the Americas trying to migrate to other countries, an increase of just over one-third from last year. The organization highlighted an important increase in the deaths of Venezuelans (89). Venezuelan now leads the list.

Human Rights

  • One hundred civil society organizations, including trade unions and human rights organizations, release a statement denouncing a military court’s decision to sentence the union-organizer Ruben González to serve a prison sentence of 5 years and 9 months for supposedly assaulting the Armed Forces and the National Guard.
  • The Human Rights NGO, Provea, denounced that the Special Action Forces (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) apply “a plan of social cleansing” throughout the country, but especially in the state of Lara, where 238 people have been killed this year.

Economy

  • The Maduro government suffered to significant blows to its ability to navigate U.S. sanctions. The biggest bank in Turkey, Ziraat Bank, stopped offering services to the Central Bank of Venezuela. And, the China National Petroleum Corp stopped buying Venezuelan oil in August. Both moves came out of fear that business with Venezuela could subject them to U.S. secondary sanctions.