Venezuela Weekly: Negotiation Role Reversal

In the span of twenty-four hours, Venezuela’s political conflict went from a configuration in which the opposition was dedicated to a negotiation that the Maduro government rejected, to one in which the Maduro government was dedicated to a negotiation that the Guaidó-led opposition rejected.

On Sunday, September 15, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó tweeted a statement saying “the Barbados mechanism has been exhausted,” pointing out that the Maduro regime had refused to return to the table for 40 days, and it was no longer worth continuing. The next day he revealed the content of the proposal they had presented to the government.

Among the points discussed was the creation of a transitional government council with representatives from the opposition, the government and the armed forces. Its main purpose would have been to lead the country to free and fair presidential elections as soon as possible. Guaidó said that the agreement required both Maduro and himself to resign from their positions during this period.

Having revealed these proposals, in and of itself, broke with the agreement the Norwegian mediation was built upon which requires absolute confidentiality regarding what is discussed by the parts. As such it represented the symbolic end of this round of negotiations.

But, less than twenty-four hours later, the Maduro government announced the installation of a new National Dialogue Table with representatives of the government and the opposition in a nationally televised meeting. They even rolled out a number of agreements already reached, including the reincorporation of the Socialist Party (PSUV) into the National Assembly, the naming of a new National Electoral Council (CNE), and work towards an oil-for-food program. Maduro essentially made an end run around Guaidó’s withdrawal and grabbed the initiative with new negotiations.

The Guaidó-led opposition immediately rejected this effort, saying “these false negotiations” seek to give legitimacy to the government and help it escape from the hard negotiation process that was taking place in Oslo and Barbados. The European Union shared these views, saying that in order to succeed a politically negotiated solution needs to be politically representative, have the backing of the National Assembly, and a clear plan for a credible presidential election. The EU expressed its support for negotiations that are “inclusive, serious and results oriented” such as those undertaken by Norway. The U.S. State Department suggested that the course of events confirmed that the Maduro government uses negotiations as a delay tactic and their new initiative is simply an attempt to take over the National Assembly.

Indeed the “opposition” involved in these negotiations amounts to only 8 deputies (less than 10% of the opposition AN coalition) none of whom have been elected to leadership positions. And while the preliminary agreements have some interesting points they studiously avoid the elephant in the room: how and when to resolve the dispute over presidential power.

Now the Guaidó-led opposition will head to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), opening today in New York, as well as the meeting of the Rio Treaty countries that will piggy-back on UNGA, to garner support for more robust international pressure on the Maduro government, including multilateral sanctions and even military intervention (see last week’s VW). But if, as opposition leaders claimed (see Emilio Graterón here), the Barbados negotiations had “worked” and had put the government on the ropes, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Guaidó gave away a strong hand by following Maduro out of the Barbados round of negotiations and letting him take the initiative.

In any case, it is premature to assume that the Norwegian-mediated negotiations are over. Guaidó’s statement on Sunday said it was the “Barbados mechanism” that had been exhausted, not the Norwegian mediation in general. On Monday, Maduro himself suggested a willingness to continue negotiation with Norwegian mediation. It is also important to realize that the Norwegians themselves never speak of a “mechanism” which denotes a temporally defined technique. The term emerged from the participants and became a sort of shorthand to refer to the effort. But the Norwegian negotiators always speak of a process and emphasize that it is temporally unpredictable. They expressed their willingness to continue when the parties consider it helpful.

Opposition

  • Juan Guaidó faces significant questions after the Maduro government published images that show him posing with two members of the Colombian criminal gang the Rastrojos. The photos were taken when Guaidó crossed into Colombia through an informal crossing point in order to attend an aid concert in the border city Cúcuta. Maduro’s state prosecutor has opened an investigation. Analysts say the images are a huge propaganda victory for Maduro.
  • A teachers’ protest demanding better working conditions was met with violence by security forces and parastate actors (colectivos).

Violence

  • Verónica Zubillaga and Juan Francisco Mejía look at the impact militarized anti-crime raids have on women on how they undermine local community organization.

Humanitarian Aid.

  • The Red Cross says it needs to increase its presence in Venezuela in order to respond to the needs of the population.
  • The United Nations has received in donations just 9% of the $223 million it asked for, substantially below the 50% it normally receives for such requests.

 Migration

  • The European Union promised it would give $33 million to Colombia to help the country deal with massive Venezuelan migration. This announcement was made during the visit of the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to Colombia last week. Colombia has repeatedly criticized the international community for inadequate support.

Economy