Venezuela Weekly: Norway Negotiations on Ice

The United States’ significant ramping up of sanctions last week had the predictable effect of undermining the negotiations taking place in Barbados and mediated by Norway. Nicolás Maduro suspended his government’s participation, saying they could not negotiate in the face of U.S. aggression and the opposition’s celebration of it.

Government insiders told the Venezuela Weekly that it would require some sort of demonstration of good faith on the part of the opposition for the government to come back to the table, such as public criticism of the sanctions. That seems unlikely, for the following reason.

In contrast to National Assembly president Juan Guaidó and his inner circle in Caracas who were fully committed to the Barbados negotiations, opposition radicals in Washington D.C. and elsewhere saw the negotiation process as a distraction from the pressure that they think will dislodge Maduro, and actively campaigned for the U.S. government to increase sanctions. For Guaidó to now publicly reject what some in his coalition see as a notable achievement would lay bare opposition fissures and undermine his coalition.

Maduro has been careful to not completely close the door to the negotiation process. The Norwegian government remains in contact with both sides and has sent diplomats to Caracas to engage in shuttle diplomacy to try to restart the talks.

But the centrifugal forces set in motion last week have empowered Chavista radicals to further crack down on the opposition.

  • President of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) Diosdado Cabello established a commission that will evaluate the date for legislative elections saying the ANC has the supra-constitutional power to set them for whatever date it wants. If the date were moved up, the opposition would surely boycott the election and chavismo would retake the National Assembly, stripping the opposition of what little institutional power it has.
  • The National Constituent Assembly also removed the parliamentary immunity of the deputies José Guerra, Tomás Guanipa, Juan Pablo García, and Rafael Guzmán, paving the way for them to be tried for high treason, state disobedience, civil rebellion and other crimes.

International Pressure and Engagement

  • The Lima Group of nations in the hemisphere pressuring for a return to democracy in Venezuela, rejected the prospect of legislative elections being moved up by the “illegitimate” ANC.
  • The European Union expressed preoccupation and said that the recent decisions against the National Assembly and its members are a direct attack on the only democratically elected body in the country.
  • Switzerland announced last week the extension of the sanctions against individuals related to Maduro government initially published on March 28, 2018. 18 Venezuelan ministers and high-ranking officials appear in the new list.

Human Rights

  • Both United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and Amnesty International expressed their concern about the recent U.S. financial and economic sanctions against Venezuela.
  • The New York Times reported that the Maduro government is using the “brutal apparatus of repression against its own military” to try to keep control and prevent rebellion.
  • The Venezuela chapter of the Press and Society Institute reported that digital censorship has increased in the country during 2019. According to its analysis in the first seven months of 2019, there were 881 incidents of digital blockage from the services of private and state Internet providers that have affected 144 digital sites and platforms.

Migration

  • A report by Refugees International underlines the degree of human trafficking and exploitation of Venezuelan migrants in four countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Curaçao. The report makes a series of recommendations to the host governments, the most important of which is to consolidate the legal status of the immigrants and refugees and their access to justice and social services.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi warned that the flow of Venezuelan migrants “will continue” if there is no political solution in the country.
  • Peru announced that Venezuelan migration in Peru decreased 91.5% compared to the previous month after the government of Martín Vizcarra required a visa to Venezuelans to enter Peru.

Humanitarian help

  • Red Cross International has facilitated almost 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Venezuela in recent months. Last week Venezuela received the fourth shipment of Red Cross humanitarian aid, including antimalarial mosquito nets, electric generators, medicines, and antibiotics.