On Monday, November 1, WOLA President Carolina Jiménez Sandoval was featured in a Q&A published in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor on the implications of Alex Saab’s extradition on a potential democratic transition in Venezuela. Jiménez Sandoval was featured alongside Vanessa Neumann, former Guaidó Ambassador to the U.K., and Moises Rendon, Senior Associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Below is Carolina’s response. The full Q&A can be found here.
Question: Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, is expected to enter a plea of not guilty when he is arraigned today in U.S. federal court in Miami. Saab was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde last month on money laundering charges in connection to Maduro’s government. In retaliation for Saab’s extradition, Maduro suspended negotiations his representatives had been conducting with opposition leaders. Days later, a Spanish court agreed to extradite Hugo Carvajal, a former Venezuelan intelligence chief who was close to Maduro before breaking with him in 2019, to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges. How significant are the extradition developments, and to what extent have they raised the stakes for Maduro? What can be expected to come of the court trials involving the two men? What are the main implications of Maduro’s suspension of dialogue with the opposition?
Answer: “The extradition developments involving Alex Saab are indeed significant. Maduro’s decision to suspend his government’s participation in the latest round of negotiations in Mexico is a blow to an opportunity to advance much-needed agreements for a country immersed in a humanitarian emergency. It’s important to acknowledge that reports about Saab’s activities began as early as 2015, and there are pending criminal investigations against him in several countries. The journalists who originally broke the news of Saab’s crimes have been living in exile since 2018, demonstrating how far the Maduro government is willing to go to defend its interests.
For Maduro to halt negotiations, alleging an unjust process for Saab is a disservice to those living through a devastating humanitarian crisis that has forced Venezuelans to flee in numbers never before seen in the region. By leaving the Mexico talks, Maduro shows that his main priority is to remain in power and avoid accountability—not to address the country’s humanitarian crisis.
With that being said, Maduro has not permanently pulled out of the negotiations, and he may simply be delaying the process in hopes that he will be able to outperform opposition parties in the Nov. 21 regional elections, or to leverage better incentives to return to the table. Whatever his strategy may be, it is critical that Maduro rejoin the negotiation process, which presents an important opportunity to address urgent aspects of a humanitarian crisis that continues to affect the daily lives of millions of Venezuelans.”