Weekly Venezuela Brief, June 12, 2018

[Given the level of interest in Venezuela, we are developing a weekly Venezuela brief—2 pages that provide some contextual analysis and then look at the most important two or three items in four areas: human rights, violence, democracy and international engagement. We are still working on our timing but it will be published each Monday or Tuesday.]

  1. Contextual analysis

After the May 20 presidential election, Venezuela is in something of a lull, without a clearly defined political context (see our reviews of the context here and here). The international rejection that election received, the Venezuela resolution in the OAS, as well as the European Union’s announcement of $40 million in aid (see below), have all put the Maduro government on its heels.

However, the almost complete lack of opposition leadership has given the government some breathing room as it functions in uncontested political space. In an op ed in New York Times Español, Venezuelan novelist and commentator Alberto Barrera Tyszka said the OAS session on Venezuela also had a message for the Venezuelan opposition. “Even with all of the difficulties involved in confronting a totalitarian project, it is inexcusable that the leaders of the opposition, after twenty years, continue to be divided. They seem more interested in taking advantage of small opportunities to be protagonists, than in constructing a unified platform.”

The drumbeat of international commentators suggesting a military coup as the way to return to democracy, continues. However, the perpetual rumors of a military uprising generally point to Chávez loyalists who would not likely lead a return to democracy, but rather seek to guarantee their own economic interests and impunity.

What is needed instead, is for the international community to compliment its already robust set of condemnations and sanctions with diplomatic engagement that could channel that pressure into a transition back to democracy. However, any such initiative will confront, among Venezuelans abroad, the same divisions that are present within Venezuela. (See for example, this tweet from Tamara Suju in response to Jose Miguel Vivanco’s endorsement of Ecuador’s proposal for a referendum).

 

  1. Human Rights
  • The Maduro government continues releasing political prisoners “in pursuit of dialogue” with the opposition. The total now reaches 52, including Gilber Caro, Wilmer Azuaje (National Assembly deputies), and Daniel Ceballos (former mayor of San Cristobal, Táchira). According to NGO Foro Penal, there are still 302 political prisoners.
  • The Colegio Nacional de Periodistas has denounced that the government, using the national telecommunications company CANTV, has blocked certain parts of the new portals La Patilla and El Nacional.

 

  1. Violence
  • A new study by Gallup ranks Venezuela last in terms of its Law and Order Index for the third straight year. In 2017, only 17% of Venezuelans felt safe walking alone at night where they live; 23% had been mugged in the previous year; and only 24% trusted the local police.
  • Minster of Interior, Justice and Peace, Nestor Reverol reported that so far in 2018, in the Libertador Municipality homicides had dropped 36.1%. He credited the government’s security policies for the drop. While the government has erroneously claimed reductions in homicide many time in the past, this could one could well be true, primarily because of the discontinuation of the Operación Liberacion del Pueblo—violent police operations that attacked criminal networks and often produced violent battles for control (see my analysis of the logic here)—and simply because violence in Venezuela seems to vary directly with economic dynamism (see my analysis here.)

 

  1. Democracy
  • Venezuela’s Attorney General in exile, Luisa Ortega Díaz, said she would send a bill to the National Assembly for an amnesty law for civilians, politicians, and military personnel who have contributed to the reestablishment of the democratic order in Venezuela. She suggest this law would be in effect as soon as there is a transition away from the current government. She ends her video published on Twitter saying “Our liberator Simón Bolivar said ’it is always noble to conspire against tyranny.’”
  • info has published videos in which Euzenando Azevedo, Superintendent of Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and a key witness in the Lava Jato case, describes how campaign contributions were made to Venezuelan politicians from Chavismo and the opposition.
  • Transparency Venezuela has shown that the series of “extra credits” that the National Constituent Assembly has approved amounts to a 691% increase over the official budget.

 

  1. International engagement
  • At the OAS General Assembly, 19 countries passed a resolution saying they did not recognize Venezuela’s May 20 presidential election and calling for an extraordinary session to vote on suspending Venezuela. 11 countries abstained and only three in addition to Venezuela voted against it (Bolivia, Dominica, and Saint Vincent). A suspension is unlikely, as it would require 24 votes.
  • Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the session was a proposal by Ecuador (which abstained in the vote) for a referendum with guarantees of transparency and participation, and with national and international observation.
  • Also within the OAS General Assembly, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín argued that the Venezuela crisis and exodus is a health risk to the entire region. She urged the Venezuelan government to accept humanitarian aid.
  • The European Union said it would dedicate $40 million to help Venezuelans, with a focus on health care, food and clean water. They suggested they would be working with crisis groups so that the Venezuelan government does not use the money for political purposes.