On March 1, Colombian President Iván Duque signed a decree to provide a Temporary Protection Permit (PPT) to Venezuelans in the country, which will offer a formal immigration status to 1.7 million Venezuelans living in the country. This is an important gesture, as an estimated 54 percent of Venezuelans in Colombia lack regular status, which in turn limits their access to work authorization, formal employment, and health care services.
While the draft decree was announced to great acclaim in February, the signing of the measure (see full text here) makes it final. It also clarifies some of the decree’s limitations. First, it only applies to those Venezuelans who entered the country before January 31—meaning future arrivals will not qualify. The decree also only applies to Venezuelans, not immigrants from other countries, and will only be valid for ten years. This makes it unclear what will happen to Venezuelans who are unable to obtain and present the necessary documents by 2031.
For more on the fine print in Colombia’s announcement, see the most recent episode of WOLA’s The Venezuela Briefing podcast, featuring WOLA Colombia Director Gimena Sanchez and Lucia Ramirez of Colombian human rights organization Dejusticia. With these considerations in mind, Dejusticia led a letter (signed by WOLA and other NGOs) with several specific recommendations for the Duque administration, including addressing persistent obstacles in access to asylum.
Despite these limitations, the decree is the largest regularization push in the region to date. Countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Chile have restricted the entry of Venezuelan migrants recently, and President Duque has used the opportunity to call on his counterparts throughout the region to adopt similar policies to regularize Venezuelans en masse. In the wake of the announcement of this decree by the Colombian government, some sources have pointed to statistics documenting the potential economic benefit of offering regular status to Venezuelans, many of whom are highly educated and occupy fundamental sectors of the region’s workforce.
- On Tuesday, a coalition of Venezuelan civil society organizations known as the Foro Cívico announced a list of 15 individuals to be candidates for rectors in the National Electoral Council (CNE), the authority that oversees elections in the country. The list of names, which includes some of the most-respected electoral experts in Venezuela, was released along with a statement encouraging the naming of a new and credible CNE as a path towards free and fair elections. Following this statement Juan Guaidó, who previously rejected negotiations and expressed skepticism of participating in regional elections, expressed at a press conference that he would support the naming of a new electoral council.
- A growing sect of parties within the mainstream opposition, including members of Primero Justicia, Acción Democrática and Un Nuevo Tiempo, are campaigning for the upcoming gubernatorial and municipal elections set for late 2021. While many within this group are calling for minimum electoral conditions to ensure that the elections are free and fair, they are not conditioning their participation on these conditions. Dissident chavista groups similarly plan to participate, though they have called for clear rules around the electoral process so that it does not favor a PSUV victory. While Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party has asserted that it will not participate in the regional elections unless there is an electoral schedule for new legislative and presidential elections, calls are growing for Guaidó to lead the charge for widespread participation in the elections later this year.
- On Wednesday, Nicolás Maduro and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet held a virtual meeting to discuss Venezuela’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. After Maduro posted photos on Twitter of the meeting participants smiling on camera, NGO activists and social media users criticized the High Commissioner, herself a victim of political persecution, for her cordiality during a meeting with a leader accused of crimes against humanity.
- On Tuesday, EU Ambassador to Venezuela Isabel Brilhante left Caracas after Maduro declared her a persona non grata and ordered her expulsion from the country in response to a series of EU sanctions imposed on February 22. Over the weekend Maduro similarly ordered a top-to-bottom review of Venezuela’s diplomatic relationship with Spain after the Spanish Foreign Minister visited the Colombia-Venezuela border the previous week. These actions indicate a growing tension between the Venezuelan authority and the EU, which to date has maintained diplomatic relationships with the Maduro government.
- On Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Juan Guaidó for the first time since Biden took office, reportedly discussing “the importance of a return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections.” On the same day, a group of 12 Florida Representatives sent a letter urging Secretary Blinken to appoint a Special Envoy focused on policy towards Venezuela to replace the position left vacant by Elliott Abrams.
- The Atlantic Council released the results of a new survey documenting public opinion regarding U.S. policy on Venezuela among Venezuelan and Cuban Americans located in Florida. The results showed that 70% of respondents support opening channels for humanitarian assistance, and 51% would be in favor of an oil-for-food program to allow the Maduro government to trade crude oil in exchange for humanitarian resources.
- The Brookings Institute recently published a study documenting the continuing trend of underfunding for the Venezuelan displacement crisis, and urging the international community to commit more resources to support the regional response. The study emphasizes that, even if the total UN appeal for 2021 is fulfilled, the regional response to Venezuelan refugees would still be severely underfunded when compared to funding for comparable refugee crises in Syria and South Sudan.
- Following a visit to Cúcuta along the Venezuelan border to observe the situation on the ground for displaced Venezuelans, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya and her Colombian counterpart, Claudia Blum, signed a new 120-million Euro cooperation strategy to extend Spain’s support for Colombia’s response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees through 2024.
- On February 26 a group of Florida Representatives sent a letter to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas requesting an update on the current status of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Venezuelan migrants in the U.S. The letter follows a last-minute order by the Trump administration to enact DED for Venezuelan migrants on January 19, which has yet to go into effect on the UCSIS website.
- On February 25 the Guaido opposition claimed via Twitter that opposition representative Gilberto Sojo of the Voluntad Popular party had been detained by the Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales (FAES), an elite sector of the Venezuelan police force. Sojo is a member of the National Assembly elected in 2015 and was previously imprisoned from 2014 to 2016 for his role in protests against the Maduro government.
- In a press hearing on Monday, Alfredo Romero of human rights organization Foro Penal provided evidence that the Venezuelan authorities systematically use pretrial detention as a form of punishment. According to Foro Penal’s assessment, out of the 323 political prisoners currently detained in the country, 74% have not had their first hearing and 88 have yet to be formally charged.
- On March 1 the Venezuelan Institute of Press and Society (IPYS Venezuela) published its annual report from 2020, documenting heightened repression on access to information amid the COVID-19 outbreak. IPYS reported that 325 individuals were subject to violations of the freedom of information in 2020, 194 of whom were reporters.
- On Tuesday, de facto President Nicolás Maduro announced that the first 500,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, along with PPE gear and antigen tests, had arrived in Venezuela. This was the second shipment of vaccines to arrive in Venezuela after 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine were delivered in early February.
- On Wednesday the Maduro government reported that the Brazilian variant of the COVID-19 virus had been detected in Venezuela. Maduro claimed that 6 cases of the more contagious variant had been detected in Bolívar state, with 2 detected in Caracas and 2 in Miranda.