Venezuela Weekly: The Opposition’s Fraught Dual Track

National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president, continues efforts to develop internal pressure on the Maduro government. But the results have been meager given that the population is exhausted and the government is adept at using multi-faceted repression to counter opposition mobilization.

Guaidó called for mobilizations in the whole country on March 10 and personally led the rally in Caracas meant to reach the National Assembly. However, before, during and after the march the government used repressive force to intimidate protestors.

  • The day before the march the military carried out exercises in downtown Caracas supposedly to prepare for a foreign intervention. The Legislative Palace, where the opposition march was headed, is located in downtown Caracas.
  • During the protest the National Police used tear gas to prevent the group of several thousand from heading downtown. They were obliged to turn back and remain in the eastern part of Caracas.
  • After the rally, the National Police’s Special Action Force (FAES), detained three opposition lawmakers. Two of them were released later that evening, while the third remains detained.

Elections

While the opposition’s top-line political strategy is street mobilization, it is simultaneously pushing to improve electoral conditions while not making any public commitments to go to legislative elections.

  • The National Assembly completed the process for the formation of the Electoral Nominations Committee that will designate the members of the board of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The president of the Committee will be opposition deputy Ángel Medina. Julio Chávez, from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), will be the vice-president, and opposition deputy José Luis Cartaya, will be the secretary. Of the 21 members of the Electoral Nominations Committee, ten are representatives of civil society.
  • During the March 10 street mobilization, Henry Ramos Allup, head Democratic Action party, said that it is time for the opposition to prepare for the legislative elections that will take place later this year. This public pronouncement of a position that has been an open secret in political circles created some discontent in the ranks of the opposition.

Fire in CNE Warehouse

An apparently deliberately-set fire in the main warehouse of Venezuela’s National Elections Council (the electoral body of Venezuela) caused the loss of almost all of Venezuela’s electronic voting machines.

  • The government says the blaze was a terrorist action that aims to postpone the legislative elections. An unknown group called Venezuelan Patriotic Front released a video-message on Twitter claiming responsibility for the attack.
  • These machines were sophisticated and repeatedly audited by experts. Substituting them will require significant time and costs, and will be complicated by U.S. sanctions. Electoral experts suggest that the decisions the CNE takes regarding what to replace these machines with could have a significant impact on the quality of elections.
  • Guaidó, for his part, expressed discontent about the lack of information about the fire, and the security and storage measures in the warehouse.

Coronavirus

  • While cancellations and closures are being announced around the world, coronavirus is only barely news in Venezuela. The government says that they follow protocols on how to deal with the virus. Juan Guaidó has called for another street mobilization on March 12.
  • Public health experts suggest that the country is not ready to address the threat to an already vulnerable population. In the Global Health Security Index, the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security regarding coronavirus pandemic, Venezuela is one of the countries least prepared.

International Pressure and Engagement

  • Brazil began withdrawing its diplomats from the embassy and consulate in Caracas, as it is starting to implement its plan to reduce diplomatic relations with the government of Maduro.
  • The International Crisis Group published a report outlining what would need to happen for a negotiated transition to occur. It builds off of an assessment that “while the outlines of a possible agreement are visible, the government’s unwillingness to compromise and the opposition’s lack of realism have, so far, put a solution out of reach.”
  • The Washington Office on Latin America published a report using recent U.S. government data to suggest the “narco-state narrative” is misleading when applied to Venezuela. Organized crime is a problem but the best way to address it would be an orderly, negotiated transition.

Human Rights

Michel Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an oral update on the human rights situation in Venezuela.  She expressed concern regarding:

  • Continued “acts of violence by security forces and government supporters against opposition parliamentarians.”
  • Government plans to penalize human rights organizations that receive funding from abroad.
  • The impact of sanctions on the government’s social spending, public services, and the impact of over-compliance from the financial sector.
  • “The statements made by some authorities, in some countries, which could justify or incite xenophobia and violence against migrants and refugees.”

The government condemned her oral update as flawed and biased but ratified its cooperation and assistance to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and its team in Venezuela.

Migration

  • The Norwegian Refugee Council criticized the international community for not doing enough to help Colombia respond to Venezuela’s migration crisis. The head of the organization, Jan Egeland, mentioned that setbacks to Colombia’s peace process are impacting the country’s ability to address Venezuelan migration.

Economy

  • The collapse in global oil prices puts extreme pressure on oil revenues. Due to U.S. sanctions, Venezuela already needs to offer significant discounts to lure international buyers. With the price close to $30, these discounts could push Venezuelan oil below its costs of production.