On September 9, WOLA Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey was featured in a Q&A published by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor alongside OAS Director of Diversity and Social Inclusion Betilde Muñoz and former U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. Below is Geoff’s response. The full Q&A can be found here.
Question: Mexico hosted representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government and the opposition from Sept. 3-6 for a round of talks following preliminary meetings in mid-August. The objective of these talks has been to overcome the country’s political gridlock and economic crisis, which have resulted in a regional migratory exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in recent years. Given that one of the government’s primary demands is the lifting of U.S. and E.U. sanctions on officials and institutions, how much progress can be made without a change in international actors’ approach? With the release of opposition leader Freddy Guevara prior to the talks, is the Venezuelan government likely to continue freeing more people whom the opposition considers political prisoners? How much are government-opposition relations likely to change as a result of the talks?
Answer: “Venezuela’s negotiations process is yielding important early results. After two rounds of talks in Mexico, the opposition and the Maduro government signed a declaration committing to create a joint working group that will use frozen funds to address Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency. This body, the National Roundtable for Social Care, will have three members chosen by each side who will work together to fill gaps in the country’s public health system. This first agreement may not mean very much to Washington’s think tank community. But if implemented well, this accord could make a massive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Venezuela. Across the country, children and adults in critical condition are seeking alternatives to a broken-down national dialysis program, or are desperately awaiting organ transplants or other lifesaving care, all from a public health system in ruins. The success of this agreement will depend on many variables. The biggest of these are accountability in the execution of funds and a commitment to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. No lives will be saved if corrupt middlemen pocket the funds. For this reason, it is essential that U.N. agencies in Venezuela and international actors oversee implementation of the agreement. Success on this front could not only save lives, but also boost popular support for the negotiations themselves. This, in turn, could encourage the delegations in Mexico to commit even further to the talks, potentially paving the way for broader, urgently needed accords to restore democratic institutions.”