Venezuela Weekly: Punching, Bobbing and Weaving as Guaidó Reelection Looms

[This will be our last VW of 2019. We would like to thank our readers and wish them some much deserved rest during the holidays. We will resume the week of January 6.]

The Nicolás Maduro government is focusing its energies on trying to impede the reelection of Guaidó as president of the National Assembly, which should happen on January 5. The government is trying to nibble away at the majority coalition to prevent Guaidó from getting the 84 votes he needs in the 167 seat legislature. The dominant opposition coalition is doing what it can to keep its majority in tact.

  • Maduro linked Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly’s deputies of his party, Yanet Fermín and Fernando Orozco, to a “terrorist cell led by Leopoldo López and the government of Iván Duque” that allegedly intended to strike a coup to overthrow Maduro on the 10th of December. Maduro also claimed that James Story, the ex-Chargé d’ Affaires at the United States Embassy in Caracas, is involved in the conspiracy plans against his government.
  • On Monday the National Constituent Assembly—the government-controlled body elected in 2017 to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution—voted to allow the trial of four opposition deputies for a supposed terrorist plot in the eastern state of Sucre.
  • The opposition coalition is also denouncing that the government is trying to buy opposition’s deputies, and turn them against Guaidó–the so-called “scorpion operation.” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliot Abrams claims to have information that Maduro offered $500,000 to deputies to vote against Guaidó. The Voluntad Popular party expelled from its ranks the deputy of the National Assembly (AN) José Gregorio Noriega, as having been involved.

Opposition parties hold 112 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly. However, 8 of them are outside of the dominant faction, 7 have been sanctioned and have been removed from the dominant coalition. According to Venezuelan journalist Jose de Bastos, this currently gives Guaidó 93 votes.

In order to ensure its majority, the opposition voted to allow virtual voting for legislators abroad. But after the norm changed, some opposition deputies filed an appeal before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to challenge the modification of the National Assembly (AN) proceedings. The argument was that the new arrangement prejudice supplement deputies to assume as principal deputies. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), in a speedy decision, declared the “absolute nullity” and the lack of legal effects of Assembly’s Reforms. Referring to the expulsion of Noriega form the Popular Will party (see above) Guaidó said that “nobody in their right mind” would ever appeal to a Chavista-controlled TSJ to act against their political allies.

Negotiations

In a speech at the European Parliament plenary debate on the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell highlighted the commitment of the EU to maintain its assistance to the country for the future. He was critical of economic sanctions saying it would be a mistake to think that migratory flows will decrease if the country’s “economic suffocation” continues. Nonetheless, he was clear that the real long-lasting “solution to the multidimensional crisis in Venezuela can only be achieved through a peaceful, democratic, and Venezuelan-owned process leading to free and fair presidential elections.”

United States

The U.S. Senate passed the Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development Act (VERDAD Act) which includes 400 million dollars for Venezuela humanitarian aid, and in support of  Juan Guaidó. As WOLA noted in a press release, perhaps the most important aspect of the bill is that it forwards the centrality of a negotiated solution. “It is the policy of the United States to support diplomatic engagement in order to advance a negotiated and peaceful solution to Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis.”

  • Maduro’s government reacted strongly against this bill, saying the U.S is meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs and aims to destabilize the country.
  • Colombia’s new foreign minister Claudia Blum suggested that the U.S. would need to play a direct role in resolving the Venezuela crisis.

Cuba & Venezuela

  • The Wilson Center Latin America Program has two new publications on the development of relations between Cuba and Venezuela. This builds upon a series of publications that has looked at Venezuela’s relations with Russia, China and India (see bottom of the same page).

Humanitarian Crisis

  • Reuters reported on malnutrition among Venezuelan children. According to data from international organizations and local NGOs, between 2013 and 2018, 13% of the country’s children suffered from malnutrition. In Caracas, 16% of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and many suffer from low growth rates for their age.

Human Rights

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, made an oral update to her previous report about Venezuela. Bachelet presented a bleak picture of the country’s human rights, mentioning different acts of violence and intimidation, child malnutrition or extrajudicial executions, and criminality. Bachelet asked the Venezuelan Government and the opposition to resume negotiations to find a solution to the crisis.
  • Maduro’s government, through the ambassador Jorge Valero said that Bachelet report was based on biased information and unbalanced.

Freedom of information

  • The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service raided the investigation news agency Venepres in Caracas. This is the second raid of a media outlet that Nicolás Maduro’s security forces have carried-out in the past month.