Venezuela Weekly: Small Victories and Big Challenges as Opposition Confronts Normalcy

The Venezuelan opposition achieved a small victory at this week’s meeting of the Rio Treaty countries in Bogotá with the approval of a list of over two dozen individuals to be sanctioned by member countries. This is significant insofar as Latin American countries have little tradition of sanctioning officials from other countries. Heretofore, only Panama had done so.

Nevertheless, the language of the resolution is diffuse. Both the financial measures and the travel restrictions are “in accordance with national law,” leaving significant discretion as to what measures are taken, if they are taken at all. What is more, it is a far cry from the original goal of galvanizing the threat of regional military intervention.

In recent weeks Juan Guaidó’s “Commissioner for Foreign Relations” Julio Borges has been emphasizing the threat Nicolás Maduro poses for the region, suggesting Venezuela had become a “terrorist state” that, along with Cuba “declared war on the region.” Nevertheless, Colombian President Iván Duque began the meeting saying “here there’s no invitation for the use of force.” This followed statements by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. would continue to focus on economic sanctions because “we’ve learned from history that the risks from using military force are significant.”

While opposition leaders suggested this was just a “first step” it is hard to avoid the conclusion that their “maximum pressure” strategy is stalling. And as tends to happen when a movement languishes, betrayals, recriminations and finger-pointing have come to the fore.

On Sunday, investigative news portal Armando.info dropped a report revealing that nine opposition deputies were involved in writing letters of good conduct for businessmen tied to CLAP food box corruption scandals. Opposition parties quickly moved to suspend those implicated, but not before mutual recriminations and suggestions by the expulsed legislators that there was an uprising against the leadership of Juan Guaidó. The U.S. has reiterated confidence in Guaidó and the National Assembly.

We may not have seen the last of this scandal. While Guaidó claimed that no legislator or other government official has the power to emit “letters of good conduct,” insiders suggest they are routine, and provide a source of income for legislators who are largely self-financed. As such, more could surface.

The National Assembly scandal followed Guaidó’s controversial decision to dismiss Humberto Calderon Berti, his diplomatic representative in Colombia. Calderon Berti suggested that his dismissal was intended to conceal his investigation of corruption among Guaido’s representatives in Colombia. His opposition to negotiations with the Maduro government led many radical opposition supporters to take his side.

And the opposition is facing a new dilemma in the form of a proposal to address the electricity crisis in Zulia state with $350 million in funding from the Latin American Development Bank (CAF) and participation of the United Nations Development Program. As David told the AP: “Supporting it would require tacit recognition of the Maduro government…But opposing it would mean denying Venezuelans a significant opportunity to improve the terrible conditions they are living in.” They postponed the discussion because of a lack of consensus–apparently some of the reasons are technical and questionable pricing. But former leader of the opposition coalition Francisco “Chuo” Torrealba tweeted “‘technical objections’ are not a motive for not debating the law…the obstacle is POLITICAL.”

The opposition’s current problems are indicators of a conjuncture in which they need to decide, on multiple fronts, whether they are a temporary parallel government that seeks to dislodge Maduro through maximum pressure in the short-term, despite the costs on the Venezuelan people and the inevitable scandals involved in working through improvised institutions; or whether they are going to seek sustainability and prioritize the well-being of the Venezuelan people by reaching some sort of modus vivendi with the Maduro government, despite the costs of tacitly recognizing it.

Migration

  • The Center for Human Rights of the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Venezuela (CDH-UCAB) expressed serious concerns about the violations of the rights of the Venezuelan migrants after the Colombian authorities deported 58 Venezuelans for allegedly participating in acts of vandalism during the recent protests and strikes in Colombia. The Maduro government also denounced their deportation. As Reuters reports, xenophobia in Colombia has sharply increased in the last weeks after rumors blamed Venezuelan migrants for lootings and vandalism connected to the protests.
  • During the international seminar in Caracas, “Horizons of Venezuelan migration: challenges for its insertion in Latin America,” Anitza Freitez, director of the Institute of Economic and Social Research of the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB) Venezuela presented some alarming data about Venezuelan migration. She emphasized that Venezuela is losing people in their most productive years: 80% of emigrants are between 15 and 49 years old, and 57% are between 15 and 29 years old.
  • EFE reports that about 8,000 Venezuelans with HIV have left Venezuela because of the scarcity of antiretroviral treatments. Similarly, in a special report about the HIV/AIDS situation in Venezuela, France24 said the irregular supply of medicine to the patients put at risk 120,000 HIV+ Venezuelans.
  • UNHCR spokeswoman for Venezuela, Olga Sarrado Mur, expressed concern that despite the Venezuelan migration crisis is the largest internal population displacement in the recent history of Latin America, it is becoming “invisible.”
  • The lack of international funding worries most of the organizations that deal with the Venezuelan crisis. The president of the Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, criticized the international community’s lack of political will to help Venezuela.

Human Rights

  • The UN Human Rights Council announced the three members of its fact-finding mission to Venezuela.

Negotiations

  • In an interview with three major European media outlets, Europe’s new high representative for foreign policy and security Josep Borrell suggested that Europe must be firmer about the Venezuelan crisis and with other major players, including the U.S.
  • Uruguay’s president-elect Lacalle Pou (who takes office on March 1) announced that Uruguay would withdraw from the Uruguayan-led Montevideo Mechanism. He will also evaluate leaving the European-led International Contact Group. He has not yet decided if Uruguay will become a member of the Lima Group.