Venezuela Weekly: Norway-led Negotiations Move Forward

Talks between the Maduro government and the opposition coalition led by National Assembly President Juan Guaido resumed in Barbados on Monday. Norway, sponsor and mediator of the talks, announced last week that a “ negotiation table has been established that will work in a continuous and efficient manner to reach an agreed-upon solution within the framework of the Constitution.”

In stark contrast to previous negotiations processes, after almost two months of talks, the leaks and information about the agenda and the progress of the process are limited. Juan Guaido said that it is up to the mediator (Norway) to decide when to inform about the advances in the negotiations. U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams shares the view that only closed doors negotiations can have success, and he expressed his hope that the negotiations will succeed.

A close look of who is participating in the table from the part of the government shows some mid-level officials led by Minister of Communications Jorge Rodriguez but no heavyweights with control of the Armed Forces such as President of the Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello or Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López. Cabello says he does not reject the negotiations but rejects any talks for snap presidential elections. His stance may be a means of exercising public pressure to achieve a better result for Maduro’s government. But it is hard to imagine the group representing the Maduro government brokering an agreement that includes the military.

Guaidó sent the same group of moderates to Barbados. On July 16 he suggested some progress was being made. “We are getting close to a real solution.” Presumably speaking of elections he continued “we all know what that means.” This reinforces reports of progress from last week.

  • DW Spanish has an extended analysis comparing Venezuelan negotiations to other democratic transitions, based on interviews with WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and Venezuelan political scientist John Magdaleno.
  • The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a policy brief (in English and Spanish) by Abe Lowenthal and David Smilde providing concrete recommendations for a negotiated solution.
  • Dorothy Kronick published a moving account of her interview with Meudy Osío, the widow of Fernando Albán, an opposition councilman apparently tortured and murdered by Venezuela’s intelligence police last October. Despite the fact that Albán’s murder is used by many to argue against negotiations, Osío supports talks.

More International Engagement

After relative quiet during the two months that Norway has taken the lead with respect to Venezuela, the European Union came out with a strong statement supporting the report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and saying they are ready to apply targeted measures on those security forces involved in torture and other human rights violations.

The statement supports the Norway-led negotiation process but warns that if “there are no concrete results for the ongoing negotiations, the EU will further expand its targeted measures.” It also pointed out that “these measures can be reversed in case substantial progress is made toward the restoration of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Venezuela.”

The Maduro government rejected the declarations saying they go against the spirit of the visits of the EU’s special envoy for Venezuela to the country, Enrique Iglesias, and the efforts of the International Contact Group.

For its part the European Parliament passed a resolution reiterating its support for the Guaidó government and calling for more sanctions.

  • High-level diplomats from the U.S. and Russia met in Helsinki to discuss Venezuela among other issues, without making much progress, reports suggest.
  • The U.S. apparently plans to divert $40 million in aid from Central America to the Guaidó government in a move that would fuel criticisms of the latter as a U.S. installed puppet government.
  • The U.S. announcement that it would not be extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan refugees also generated criticism. WOLA released a statement saying the U.S. should be part of a a robust regional response.” Geoff Ramsey said “Inaction on TPS sends the absolute wrong message: the United States is only concerned about Venezuelans right up until they are forced to flee their country.”

More Migration

  • The United Nations Refugee Agency’s emergency plan for Venezuela is underfunded according to the UNHCR regional representative for the US and the Caribbean, Matthew Reynolds. The Agency’s emergency plan is estimated to $738 million and so far according to Reynolds donations only reach 23% of the total amount.
  • The Prime Minister of Aruba, Evelyn Wever-Croes, informed that her country would keep the border with Venezuela closed due to the increased illegal migration from Venezuela to Aruba. They plan to open it again once an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) program is ready.

Human Rights

  • High-level negotiations do not mean that repression and political persecution has stopped in the country. Three men linked to Guaido were arrested on Friday 15th of July, two of them are members of Guaido’s security team, and the other is a cousin of one them.
  • The report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights continues to irritate the Maduro’s government. In a lengthy official communication to the High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, Maduro expressed his “greatest and absolute rejection” to the report.
  • Despite the UNHCHR’s calling on the Maduro government to disband the National Police’s special forces, Maduro held a ceremony on July 17 expressing his support for them.

Armed Forces

  • After the changes in the higher echelons last week Maduro announced on Monday further changes, lower in the chain of command. According to some sources, the new appointees are in their majority closer to Maduro with a minority closely linked to Diosdado Cabello. Insight Crime has a piece describing the compromised past of some of these figures.

Economy

  • Maduro’s government continues finding ways to receive foreign currency and defy international economic sanctions. According to Bloomberg, the central bank sold almost one ton of gold last week.
  • One decision looming for the Trump administration is whether or not to renew Chevron’s license for operating in Venezuela despite sanctions. Leaving would further affect Venezuelan oil production. Keeping Chevron in Venezuela could provide a potential space for an oil-for-food program, a possibility suggested by Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodriguez in his recent analysis of the effects of sanctions.