Venezuela Weekly: US and Opposition Double-down on Strategy

Languishing protests and declining support for Juan Guaidó have not, so far, lead to any strategic reorientations among Venezuela’s opposition coalition nor by their main international supporter, the Trump administration.

The opposition’s current focus is on the meeting of the Rio Treaty countries on December 2-3. The hope is that the talks will lead to a strengthening of sanctions against government officials. One strategy has been to emphasize Venezuela’s potential to destabilize the region. Ivan Simonovis, Guaido’s special security advisor, publicized an alleged plan from the Maduuro government. He predicted the TIAR countries will take a “decisive and proportional” step to end the Maduro government’s regional intervention.

In a press conference dedicated to Venezuela, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams suggested that there would be no change in U.S. strategy. “No, we don’t have a plan B. We have a plan A that we think will work.” Abrams repeated the U.S. government’s contention that the Venezuelan people are not suffering from U.S. oil sanctions. He claimed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans had taken to the streets on Nov. 16 (U.N. estimates put the number at around 50 thousand). He denied there had been any slippage of support for Guaidó (polling shows Guaidó’s support has slipped from 56.7% to 42.1% since May)

He suggested that U.S. Venezuela policy rests on the “very intense interest of the President.” However, in Donald Trump’s speech in Florida on Tuesday he only mentioned Venezuela as a way of critiquing socialism.

Humanitarian Oil Agreement

  • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called for some reflection in the U.S. on its Venezuela policy. “Maybe an oil-for-food program could help, along with greater efforts to force Maduro to allow more humanitarian aid. As we careen toward a humanitarian catastrophe in our hemisphere, let’s rethink our strategy.”
  • Senator Chris Murphy (D Connecticut) published an opinion piece suggesting that Venezuela is suffering a humanitarian nightmare exacerbated by sanctions. He urges Trump “to create a relief valve to address Venezuela’s food crisis.”
  • Francisco Rodriguez has released a paper detailing a strategy for a humanitarian oil agreement. This paper will be discussed during an event at WOLA on Monday.
  • Maduro and the minority opposition parties have also agreed to promote the possibility for oil for food program, which probably will not help its optics elsewhere.

Humanitarian Emergency

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned about the increasing number of pregnant adolescents that suffer from malnutrition in Venezuela, a condition that likewise affects their babies.
  • The United Nations, the World Food Program (WFP), indicated that 700,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia suffer from food insecurity. WPF made an urgent call to the international community to contribute $196 million.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the first local transmission of yellow fever in Venezuela in 14 years.

Corruption

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer took on as a client Alejandro Betancourt López to help him confront the long-term bribery and money-laundering investigations of Derwick Associates. Betancourt is one of the founders of Derwick which received $1.8 billion in contracts from the Chávez government to build power plants.
  • Two Venezuelan brothers are being investigated for a $4.5 billion money laundering scheme. They apparently used shell companies to make fake loans to Venezuela’s state oil company and received inflated payments in return.

Human Rights

  • The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has asked the government of Nicolás Maduro to immediately release National Assembly deputy Juan Requesens. Amnesty International also sent a letter.
  • Human rights group Provea published an extensive report on the Chavez and the Maduro governments’ efforts to gain control over higher education in Venezuela. It was written by longtime educator and activist Keta Stephany.
  • Over thirty non-governmental organizations urged Israel-based Cellebrite software company and the government of Israel to prevent the sale of any surveillance technology to Maduro’s government.
  • The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) released a study about hate speech from political actors on Twitter. Political actors from both sides used messages that encourage confrontation and intolerance while they made accusations without clear evidence.

Violence

  • Violent struggles for control of illegal mining in the Orinoco Belt continues. Provea denounced a recent incident in which members of an armed gang killed at least six and injured many more in the small town of Ikabarú in Bolívar state. Provea says the Maduro government is tolerating violence in the mining towns in the south of Venezuela.