Venezuela Weekly: Opposition Mobilization Efforts Repressed by Armed Para-state Groups

National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s efforts to revive street mobilization against Nicolas Maduro were again repressed by armed para-state actors. An opposition march in the Central-Western city of Barquisimeto was attacked with rocks and gunfire by government supporters. Nearby police forces did not intervene. An image taken by Guaidó’s team and published by AP showing a masked man pointing a gun toward a group of opposition activists, including Guaidó. Others pictures show opposition vehicles hit by rocks or bullets. And reports say that gunfire injured a 16-year Guaidó supporter.

The European Union, the United States, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Lima Group, and Spain strongly condemned the attack, with the EU saying that it further hinders the efforts towards a political solution to the Venezuelan crisis. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said the US holds “Maduro and those around him responsible for the safety and welfare” of Guaidó, and repeated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ demand that Maduro dissolve “regime-backed gangs.”

President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said the photo was “a lie” and a “false positive.”

The ever more brazen attacks on opposition concentrations and marches (see our coverage of Guaidó’s attempt to return to the legislative palace in January, and Guaidó’s return from abroad last month) would seem to be aimed at undermining Guaidó’s ability to re-mobilize the population. He has called for a new opposition march to the Legislative Palace on March 10.

International Pressure and response

  • After a visit with US President Donald Trump in Washington, Colombian President Ivan Duque insisted that “we have to identify more sanctions that really hurt bad the dictator and his inner circle, and we need to acknowledge that the change has to be made and it has to be made fast.”
  • Juan Guaidó said that the countries of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance would meet next week to analyze the presence of irregular and armed groups in Venezuela.
  • Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a new anti-terrorist police force that will defend the country from the “terrorism” that he said comes from Colombia under orders from Washington. Maduro did not give more details about the new force, but said that it would be under the command of the general Gil Barrios.

Human Rights

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, briefly presented the situation in Venezuela, during her update for 10 countries. Bachelet mentioned that the UN office made three recent visits to detention centers in which they conducted 28 confidential interviews. She reported 130 possible cases of human rights violations and made a call for the unconditional release of all those detained for political reasons. She said that she would give a full report about Venezuela on March 10.
  • Local non-governmental organization Foro Penal asked Bachelet “to be tougher” regarding the situation of political prisoners in Venezuela.
  • The Maduro government insists that there are no people detained for political reasons in the country.
  • The Venezuelan chapter of the Press and Society Institute reported that 2019 was the worst year for the practice of journalism in Venezuela since it began its monitoring (2012).

Economy and sanctions

  • Venezuela’s oil exports were 1,046 million barrels per day (bpd) in February, up 9 percent from the previous month. The increase is probably because international buyers hurried to buy before the expiration of the three months wind-down period of new US sanctions on PDVSA and its trade partners. India remains the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, with more than one-fifth of the exports (234,000 bpd).
  • Reports say that Indian companies purchasing Venezuelan oil are planning to reduce their exposure to it after April, creating more pressure on the already battered PDVSA.
  • One of the largest shippers for the recent US sanctioned Rosneft Trading, the Singapore-based Mercantile & Maritime, announced that it would terminate its shipments of Venezuelan oil for Rosneft.
  • The unorthodox liberalization of the Venezuelan economy continues. Maduro government moved one step further by permitting “the public offer of securities issued by the private sector in foreign currency.” The move will give an alternative to Venezuelan enterprises needing to obtain foreign currency.