Venezuela Weekly: Political coalitions reassess and reformulate

After a three month absence from Venezuela’s political scene for family reasons, Henrique Capriles Radonsky reappeared and seems to have sparked efforts to reconstruct the Venezuelan opposition. On July 19 the leaders of the main opposition parties met behind closed doors to discuss a possible agreement. Nothing concrete emerged from the meeting, although there were quite varying interpretations regarding whether the meeting was “productive” or a “disaster.

There has been no shortage of commentary on what the opposition needs to do, most of which can be boiled down to: create a viable decision-making structure and address their lack of connection to the population (see this helpful list of suggestions). In an extended interview, former Secretary General of the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo suggested the base problem is a tendency toward short-term, self-interested thinking rather than the construction of a coalition and of political spaces. This tendency, of course, has been intentionally exacerbated by the government’s expedited calls for elections over the past year. Among the proposals that are currently being discussed is the calling of primaries to elect the opposition leadership.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Socialist Party (PSUV) heads into its IV Congress this weekend, in a context in which it figures out how to handle its wide range of powers in a context of weak popular support and dramatic problems of governance. While there are some pushes for democratization from the left edge of the party, analysts suggest the PSUV power structure is increasingly bimodal between President Nicolas Maduro and President of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello’s competing power networks.

  • The issuance of new money seems to be headed for another postponement as the bills have not arrived for projected August 4 rollout. Some analysts suspect the government may wait to knock six zeros off of the currency instead of three (the current exchange rate is approximately 3.5 million per US dollar). Others suggest the government simply does not have the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to import 5 billion new bills.
  • Employees of the state electricity company are following the lead of nurses and have begun work stoppages to demand the same salaries recently conceded to the military. Last week a multisectoral protest was carried out in the Eastern industrial hub of Ciudad Guayana among healthcare workers, university professors, and employees of steel and aluminum industries. There have also been numerous protests among retired workers who last week only received 2 million of their 8.4 million pension in cash.

International Pressure and Engagement

On July 17 the Lima Group released a statement condemning the violation of human rights, as well as the May 20 presidential election, and supporting the recent Venezuela resolution in the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. The statement caused some consternation and puzzlement in the region for also expressing its “deep concern regarding recent information about the mobilization of military planes and weaponry along the Venezuelan-Colombian border.” Brazilian officials suggested that they had chosen not to sign the statement since they thought it was hasty and extended beyond issues of Venezuelan democracy. The Lima Group’s claim provided the Maduro government with an opportunity to criticize Colombia. Diosdado Cabello suggested that Venezuela protects its borders, unlike Colombia which allows the area to be controlled by paramilitaries and criminal groups.

  • The US Treasury Department issued a “license” (i.e. an exception) to sanctions against transacting in new Venezuelan debt. It did not aim at making sanctions more effective but rather sought to make sure investors would be able to access to shares of Venezuelan-owned oil refiner and gasoline retailer CITGO that were used as collateral for the PDVSA 2020 8.5% bond were it to default.
  • A collaboration of financial intelligence agencies from Colombia, Mexico, Panama and the US has been investigating an international corruption network that overcharges for food inputs for Venezuela’s Local Production and Distribution Committees (CLAPs) and deposits kickbacks in foreign accounts.

Human rights

  • In its most recent bulletin, Catholic charity Caritas Venezuela describes the results of a study of 725 children it has been following. 78% of them show some degree of malnutrition; 17% of them show signs of acute malnutrition. These figures surpass the World Health Organizations thresholds for “nutritional crisis” (10%) and “nutritional emergency” (15%). The number of people having access to CLAP food boxes increased from 49% in December 2017 to 60% in March 2018. Nevertheless, 90% of households report a deterioration in nutrition.
  • The 2018 Global Slavery Index ranked Venezuela as tied for first place with Haiti in the region, in “modern slavery” which includes debt bondage and other forms of forced labor exploitation. The report suggest that 5.4 out of 1000 people in Venezuela are in some condition of modern slavery.

Venezuelan migration

  • The Disaster Relief Emergency Fund released a report on Venezuelan migration to Colombia summarizing the crisis and the current response. The 27 page report describes the gamut of migrants health, hygiene, shelter, nutrition and communication needs.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]