Note: The regular WOLA publication previously known as the ‘Venezuela Weekly,’ now the ‘Venezuela Update,’ will be published on WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog on a monthly or biweekly basis, rather than weekly, in the future.
On Sunday, January 9, Venezuela will hold a supplemental election in the state of Barinas, following the pro-government Supreme Court’s disqualification of the victory of opposition candidate Freddy Superlano. Sunday’s election follows regional and municipal elections that took place on November 21, which saw a landslide victory for pro-government candidates in 20 out of 23 states and 205 out of 332 municipalities.
Though international observers regarded the November 21 elections as the most free and inclusive process the country has seen in years, the elections occurred in a fundamentally uneven playing field, according to the preliminary reports of the European Union and Carter Center. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the case of Barinas, traditionally a Chavista stronghold, where opposition candidate Freddy Superlano (Voluntad Popular) was projected to win by a slim margin—37.6 percent to 37.21 percent—against Argenis Chávez, the brother of Venezuela’s late president. Eight days after the election, the Supreme Court (TSJ), closely aligned with the Maduro government, ruled to retroactively disqualify Superlano as a gubernatorial candidate, based on an administrative sanction imposed by the government related to his role in the 2015 National Assembly—in spite of an August 2020 presidential pardon that allowed Superlano and other previously disqualified opposition candidates to run. After the TSJ disqualified two subsequent opposition candidates on widely criticized grounds, a supplemental election was scheduled for January 9.
Sunday’s election redo will see seven candidates vie for votes. Former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza is the candidate of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV), Sergio Garrido (Acción Democrática) is running under the Mesa de Unidad Democrática platform, and Claudio Fermin is running under the Alianza Democrática ticket, along with four other candidates from smaller parties.
According to polling by Delphos, opposition candidate Garrido is currently leading with 31.3 percent support, followed by Arreaza at 26.2 percent, and Fermin trailing with 5.5 percent. After disqualifying the MUD’s previous three proposed candidates, the Maduro government has taken additional steps to restrict the campaigning capacity of the MUD nominee, with local human rights group Fundación de Derechos Humanos de Los Llanos denouncing that the National Telecommunications Commission suspended Garrido’s public radio program on Monday. It appears that the government may be anticipating public demonstrations on Sunday, with more than 24,000 security officials deployed to Barinas this week according to the NGO Control Ciudadano, which notes this represents a federal security presence approximately 6 times larger than what is typical for Venezuelan elections.
- After the EU observation mission published its assessment of the November 21 regional elections, which documented unfair conditions in the campaign and voting process, Maduro publicly accused members of the EU mission of being “spies.” Shortly thereafter, EU electoral observers were forced to leave Venezuela days prior to their planned departure, after the Foreign Ministry refused to extend their visas and issued an order of removal. Following these accusations, the EU External Action Service issued a statement defending the independence and impartiality of the observation mission.
- On December 11, it was reported that Roger Carstens, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, visited Caracas to meet with U.S. citizens imprisoned in Venezuela as part of an ongoing effort by the Biden administration to negotiate for their release.
- On January 4, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a statement extending the United States’ recognition of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, and the National Assembly elected in 2015 as the country’s legitimate congressional body. Price said the U.S. would continue to work with multilateral partners for a political solution, calling on Maduro to “reengage in the negotiations in Mexico, and to do so in good faith for the benefit of the Venezuelan people.”
- This week, Colombian president Iván Duque accused Nicolás Maduro of offering refuge to armed criminal groups, following a series of violent confrontations between Colombian rebel groups along the Venezuelan border in Arauca, Colombia, that have killed at least 23 people.
- One month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it would open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro government since 2017, on December 6, ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan reiterated the independence and the purpose of the investigation, which he said “is not in the business of regime change.”
- On December 9, Juan Guaidó spoke on behalf of Venezuela at the Summit for Democracy, hosted by the United States. In his brief, three minute pre-recorded remarks, Guaidó discussed the need for global democratic leaders to come together to confront rising authoritarianism, and offered recommendations for the strengthening of democracy around the world.
- Maduro ally Alex Saab, extradited to the United States from Cape Verde in October, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges during his arraignment on November 15. If convicted, Saab faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in U.S. prison. The presiding judge has postponed a hearing date until February 16, citing an increase in COVID cases in Florida.
- On January 3, the Comisión Delegada of the National Assembly elected in 2015 agreed to extend the operations of the interim government for an additional year, three years after Juan Guaidó first claimed a mandate as Venezuela’s interim president. Cronica Uno has in-depth coverage of behind-the-scenes negotiations, noting that the 2015 National Assembly later passed a series of decrees to scale back certain aspects of the interim government, including an agreement to eliminate the Centro de Gobierno, led by Leopoldo López, in addition to three other interim government commissions, and an agreement to reduce the interim government’s diplomatic bureaucracy. The Statute to extend the interim government’s mandate was passed by a slim majority late Monday night, with the process marred by divisions between and within opposition parties.
- These divisions came to a head on December 5 when Primero Justicia heavyweight Julio Borges, who served as foreign minister for the interim government, would be leaving his post. In a virtual press conference filmed from Bogotá, Colombia, Borges spoke out against the perpetual continuity of the interim government, and stated that “we can’t continue with this bureaucracy,” referring to the broad international apparatus the Guaidó-led interim government has formed since 2019, while failing to retain support among the Venezuelan population. Borges proposed a reconstruction of the opposition movement to include a wider array of political parties and civil society, to regain standing both within Venezuela and internationally.
- In a radio interview on December 10, chief opposition negotiator Gerardo Blyde expressed confidence that negotiations with the Maduro government, suspended in October after the extradition of Maduro government ally Alex Saab, would soon resume. In a January 1 interview, Nicolás Maduro reiterated his position that his government would only return to the negotiating table if Saab is released from U.S. custody–which is highly unlikely.
- On November 25, the UN Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees for Venezuela (R4V) reported that the number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees has now surpassed 6 million, currently standing at 6,038,937. UN experts report that 1,000 Venezuelans continue to flee the country each day.
- On December 9, the UN launched its Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) for Venezuelan migrants and refugees for 2022. The 2022 RMRP seeks $1.79 billion to fund the regional response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees as well as host communities, and has a heightened focus on addressing long-term needs such as regularization and socioeconomic integration.
- A record number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees have arrived at the U.S.’s southern border in recent months. U.S. authorities intercepted over 13,000 Venezuelans at the U.S. border in October—more than the total number of Venezuelans detained at the border in all of 2020.
- On January 4, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) announced that a shipment of 3.1 million doses of Sinopharm vaccines had arrived to Venezuela through the COVAX initiative. This fourth shipment brings the total number of vaccines delivered through COVAX to 8,976,000, or approximately 70 percent of the doses expected to be acquired through the mechanism.
- This week, the Maduro government announced that it would soon begin distributing booster shots to eligible Venezuelan citizens, beginning with health care workers.
- In November, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced that Venezuela had begun vaccinating children aged 2 to 11 with the Cuban Soberana 2 vaccine candidate. The announcement has raised alarm bells among medical experts in Venezuela, who warn that the Cuban vaccine has not been approved by the WHO for use in children or adults.
- According to the Pan-American Health Organization, 40.44 percent of Venezuelans have now been fully vaccinated, with an additional 23.64 percent who have only received the first dose.
- Venezuelan electoral observation platform Guachiman Ciudadano reported that, by just 11:00 a.m. on November 21, the day of regional elections, there were 319 verified reports of electoral violations including political propaganda in and around voting centers, mechanical failures, violent acts and threats of violence against voters and journalists reporting on the elections.
- On November 25, the Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) reported that its Digital Observatory of Femicides documented a total of 235 femicides in Venezuela between January and October of 2021, and an additional 74 femicides of Venezuelan women outside of the country in the same time period.
- In December, a new platform was launched by Venezuelan NGO PROMEDEHUM to raise visibility of the impact of Venezuela’s human rights and humanitarian crisis. The platform, called “Esto es el Post,” seeks to document the effects of the crisis on citizens’ daily lives that are often normalized and go unreported.