Venezuela’s opposition landscape has changed dramatically in the last two weeks, after two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles broke ranks from National Assembly President Juan Guaidó and announced that he would field candidates in the 6th December legislative elections using his affiliated party, La Fuerza del Cambio. 

However in the days since Capriles’ announcement, the gap between his and Guaidó’s position seems to have narrowed somewhat. After giving a fiery September 2 livestream in which he railed against Guaidó for clinging to a fiction of preserving an “internet government” and “gifting the National Assembly to Maduro,” Capriles has made clear that his participation in the December elections is not unconditional. In separate interviews this week with El Pais, Efecto Cocuyo, and Bloomberg, both Capriles and his ally, National Assembly representative Stalin Gonzalez, have said that the current list of 260 candidates presented under the Fuerza del Cambio banner are mere placeholders. If conditions do not improve Capriles has suggested these candidates will not run. And both Gonzalez and Capriles have specified that unless the European Union sends an electoral observation mission, they will not participate. 

The Maduro government, for its part, has engaged in some concessions sought by Capriles. It has pardoned 110 political opponents, and sent a letter to EU High Representative Josep Borrell and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres inviting both entities to send electoral observation missions to the country. This is a significant offer, as previous offers from Maduro have only requested international actors to “accompany” elections, which is a separate process that entails far less access to raw voter data and cannot guarantee the integrity of the vote. The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court also suspended its decision to hand control of Primero Justicia, Capriles’ party, to the more “loyal” opposition figure Jose Brito, although the court has not restored full control of the party to its autonomous leadership.

In spite of these concessions, so far it remains unclear whether Capriles will in fact go through with his decision to field candidates in the election, because it remains unlikely that there will be observation. The EU is the most likely actor to send an electoral observation mission, and Borrell has been clear in signalling that the European bloc cannot send observers unless the vote date is postponed to allow for a more credible reforms. Maduro, however, has insisted that he will not change the date, saying that the December 6 legislative vote will occur “rain or shine.”

All of these developments have distracted attention from the mainstream Guaidó coalition, which has spent the last three weeks marshaling support for its insistence on pushing for Maduro’s resignation and a mixed transitional government rather than on focusing on electoral conditions. Guaido and his allies (37 political parties and organizations) have insisted on boycotting the elections and signed a somewhat vague “unitary pact” that offers little details on a plan forward, except for the mention of some form of public consultation on the country’s future. The pact also includes an emphasis on the need to place greater international pressure on Maduro, but contains no specifics in this regard. 

U.S. Reaction

  • Policymakers and relevant political actors in the United States have not reacted positively to Capriles’ move. U.S. Ambassador Jimmy Story on August 31, for instance, suggested that Capriles should “not sell himself cheap,” while Senator Marco Rubio has claimed that some opposition figures are participating in the vote in order to “maintain relevance.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said “an unfair and unfree parliamentary election will only deepen Venezuela’s crisis.” 

State Violence and Censorship

  • The human rights organizations Gumilla Center and Provea registered 201 extrajudicial executions in the greater area of Caracas during the first six months of the year. The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and its Special Actions Forces (FAES) are responsible for the great majority of the killings (over 75%). The victims are usually young males living in the city’s low-income communities. 
  • Venezela’s FAES carried out a raid on the headquarters of the non-governmental organization Acción Solidaria and detained eight of its members for a few hours. In response to widespread outcry from international and local civil society, all eight of those detained were released and the seized medicine and equipment was returned to the organization. Accion Solidaria issued a statement thanking supporters for speaking out and calling for an end to persecution of humanitarian organizations. 
  • In its annual report on freedom of expression and the Internet in Venezuela during 2019, the Venezuelan NGO Redes de Ayuda reports that during the year, the situation in country has significantly deteriorated compared to the previous years. The NGO examines various tactics and strategies that the Venezuelan government has used to silence dissidence and freedom of expression. 
  • Human Rights Watch reported that Venezuelan security forces and authorities are using the coronavirus as an excuse to crack down on dissenting voices on social media and even in private messages.

Humanitarian Emergency

  • Severe fuel shortages have gripped Venezuela for the second time this year. While fuel shortages have affected some rural regions for years, they are now impacting even the capital city of Caracas. Drivers are waiting hours or even days to fill up their tanks, and discontent with the government rises. In the last months, protests against fuel shortages in Venezuela’s interior had been put down by the National Guard and resulted in some deaths, but so far, there have not been significant protests in Caracas. Venezuela’s refinery capacity can satisfy less than half of the country’s needs during the coronavirus lockdown, and the government tops up the rest with gasoline imports from Iran. 
  • The Associated Press has an important report to inhumane conditions that COVID patients face in mandatory isolation centers that the Venezuelan government has set up for people with COVID-19. So far, the country has a total of 56.751 COVID-19 cases and 457 deaths. In the last weeks, both cases and deaths are increasing rapidly.
  • China sent a new shipment of medicines and medical supplies to Venezuela. This is the seventh cargo shipment that China has sent to Venezuela as part of bilateral anti-COVID-19 cooperation.

Economy and Sanctions

  • According to official data from the Central Bank, inflation in July stood at 19.6%, and the accumulated annual inflation to July reached 491.9%. The official statistics are lower than those recorded by the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN). The Assembly says that inflation in July was 55.05%, in August 25.05%, and the accumulated inflation of the year until August 1079.67%.
  • On September 1, 115 organizations and individuals in Venezuela and the United States sent a letter to the Trump administration following reports that the administration would seek to end exemptions for transactions involving diesel fuel to Venezuela. The signing organizations called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to refrain from imposing such a measure, which would only aggravate the country’s deep humanitarian emergency. The letter listed many of the impacts that such a measure would have, including the inability to transport bulk cargo and food supplies and to power back-up electricity generators throughout the country.