Venezuela Weekly: Will Norway Talks Resume?

[In the coming months, longtime friend of the Blog Dimitris Pantoulas will be helping me with the Venezuela Weekly to ensure timely publication.-DS]

The second round of talks in Norway ended on May 29 without an agreement but with indications there would be more. Discussions apparently focused on the possibility of elections, with the main discrepancy being whether Maduro would have to resign before elections. As is common in these processes, what to talk about when is itself a constant negotiation point.

The situation is such that the opposition is likely interested in showing some results soon to reduce criticism from radicals in their coalition who fear they are getting played by Maduro. The government would be looking to draw out the process so it can look democratic and reduce the pressure it is under from international actors. One date many are looking at is July 5, Venezuela’s Independence Day. This is when military promotions are traditionally announced and we could see a shake-up in the military, changing the current relationship between military and political power and thereby altering the current opportunity structure.

In a recent opinion piece, Abraham Lowenthal and David Smilde review some characteristics of successful negotiations in the past suggesting they may increase the chances of the current effort and that international actors should support the process. Senator Marco Rubio responded with a Twitter thread suggesting the key players have no real interest in elections.

The International Contact Group and the Lima Group met in New York on Monday, June 3. Importantly, they agreed in their commitment to a peaceful, democratic transition and “expressed their support to all efforts underway toward this goal.” Prior to the meeting WOLA and several allies in the region released a statement encouraging such a manifestation on the part of the Lima Group, given their previous reservations about the need to accompany pressure with diplomacy.

More International Context

  • Elpitazo.com has reported a meeting today in Stockholm among major international players regarding how to promote an electoral solution to the crisis. However, the main news services are still trying to confirm it. (Update: AP has confirmed this meeting.)
  • Canada announced that it has temporarily suspended the functions of its Embassy in Venezuela and blamed the Venezuelan government. This led the latter to announce the closure of several consulates in Canada. Canada has reached out to Cuba and suggested Cuba will have a role to play in Venezuela’s return to democracy.

Human Rights

  • The death of four children in Venezuela’s main pediatric hospital has shocked the country and provided a new space for political polarization. The children were part of a group of 30, waiting to go to Italy for a bone marrow transplant under a 2010 agreement that has signed the country’s oil company PSVSA with Italy. The opposition and health NGO’s blamed the government for the terrible state of the Venezuelan health system for these deaths. The government said that U.S financial sanctions were responsible for the deaths, as they have frozen funds related to the 2010 agreement (PDVSA has to pay Italy over 10 million euro in debt).
  • The Foundation Nativo, dedicated to the empowerment of indigenous communities, warns that human trafficking and modern slavery is taking place in poor and deprived indigenous communities, in particular those close to the illegal gold mines in the southern part of the country.
  • The Supreme Court (TSJ) has ordered the oppositional news website LaPatilla to pay around five million dollars in damages and interest to Diosdado Cabello. In 2015 LaPatilla republished an article from Spanish tabloid ABC, that accused Cabello of having links to drug trafficking. The civil association Espacio Publico rejected this decision on the base that it ignores the rights of freedom of expression, due process and effective judicial protection.

Humanitarian Aid

  • The Red Cross and the Venezuelan government (Ministry of Health) signed an agreement of cooperation in order to accelerate humanitarian aid in the country and improve the health system.  Previously the Red Cross announced the continuation of the aid in Venezuela with new humanitarian assistance shipments getting into the country in the upcoming weeks (so far the country has received just one shipment in April 2019).

Migration

  • The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration, announced that four million Venezuelan refugees and migrants had fled their country. For its part, the Venezuelan government accused the UN agencies of lying and inflating the migration and refugee numbers.
  • Peru toughened entry requirements for Venezuelans migrants starting June 15. President Martín Vizcarra announced that Venezuelan migrants need a passport ‘and humanitarian’ visa that they have to ask in the two consulates in Venezuelan soil in order to get in Peru. The Venezuelan government in retaliation said that Peruvian citizens would need a visa to get in Venezuela.  Peru is the second biggest host of Venezuelan migrants after Colombia, with over 700.000 Venezuelans living in the country.
  • The United States announced that it will recognize Venezuelan passports for visa issuance and other consular purposes for five years beyond their expiration. This decision came after Venezuelan National Assembly issued a decree extending the lifespan of Venezuelan passports.
  • The Venezuelan government reopened the border with Colombia on the 8th of June, with reports estimating over 70 thousand people crossing the borders in the first hours. This decision came after the re-opening of the borders with Brazil and Aruba last month, all closed since February 2019.

Economy

  • The National Assembly announced that for May inflation was 31% and annual inflation at 815.194%. This is the first time that annual inflation falls bellow 1 million per cent since 2018.
  • Maduro’s government will pay 200 million dollars to Russia in September, demonstrating how the Maduro government prioritizes payments to key allies, over private bondholders.
  • Severe fuel shortages outside Caracas continue. Citizens have to wait in queues to buy gasoline for days or even days, in many cases under dangerous circumstances.