Since the government and opposition negotiating teams first sat down for a new round of dialogue in Mexico City in August—the fifth such negotiation process in six years—there has been considerable progress in establishing mechanisms to improve coordination and address urgent aspects of Venezuela’s humanitarian and political crisis. On September 27, the third round of negotiations under this process closed.
The first round of negotiations that took place in mid-August saw the signing of an initial Memorandum of Understanding, through which the negotiating teams agreed on a series of concrete objectives and expressed a willingness to achieve partial accords and establish a mechanism of consultation with social and political actors. This last point is an important one, and WOLA has emphasized the need to incorporate perspectives from civil society into negotiations around Venezuela’s political future. The second round, which took place from September 3 to 6, was focused on addressing aspects of Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency, and resulted in an agreement to establish a Mesa de Atención Social comprised of three members from each side to address urgent needs in the areas of health and nutrition. The most recent round of negotiations, held from September 25 to 27, was centered around the restoration of the rule of law and an impartial justice system. The negotiating parties signed a joint statement on September 27 reiterating a commitment to include political and social actors in the process, and emphasizing the need for a gender focus in the dialogue. The talks are being facilitated by the Norwegian government, with delegations from Russia and the Netherlands accompanying the process.
The first three rounds of negotiations have not been without difficulties. At the first meeting on August 13, the government negotiators reportedly initially refused to begin talks due to the presence of Carlos Vecchio, the Guaidó ambassador to the U.S., on the opposition negotiating team. Vecchio was later replaced by Freddy Guevara, an opposition leader who was arbitrarily detained in July and was then released in August to attend to the talks. National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, who is leading the government negotiators, announced in September that he seeks to incorporate Alex Saab, a controversial Maduro ally who is currently imprisoned in Cape Verde and faces extradition to the United States, into the negotiating team. Then, the beginning of the most recent round of negotiations was temporarily suspended after the government’s delegates failed to arrive in Mexico City on September 24, the day that the talks were scheduled to begin. The negotiating teams are not expected to meet again until after regional and local elections are held on November 21. (Correction: Since publishing this Weekly, the negotiating teams have announced that they will in fact meet again before the November elections, with the next round of talks set to begin in mid-October.)
- On September 29, the EU announced that it would send an Electoral Observation Mission to oversee and evaluate the integrity of regional and local elections scheduled for November 21, marking the first time in 15 years that the EU has sent such a mission to Venezuela. The mission will be comprised of 11 election experts who will arrive in Caracas in October, 62 long-term observers who will be deployed across Venezuela in late October, and 34 short-term observers who will reinforce the effort on the day of the election.
- On September 22, the State Department announced that it would extend $336 million to support vulnerable populations in Venezuela, as well as Venezuelan migrants and refugees who have fled the country. The assistance consists of $247 million in humanitarian aid and $89 million in economic and development aid, and brings the total amount of U.S. humanitarian, economic, development and health assistance to Venezuela since 2017 to $1.9 billion.
- On October 4, the National Electoral Council (CNE) received representatives of the Carter Center to discuss the possibility of sending an electoral observation mission to oversee regional elections on November 21.
- This week, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced that Venezuela would reopen its border to trade with Colombia, almost three years after its closure following a militarized effort backed by the U.S. to bring humanitarian aid into the country in 2019.
- The Spanish government has invited Maduro’s diplomatic corps to attend a national holiday celebration on October 12, stating that it would also invite Guaidó representatives in an unofficial capacity. The move has ruffled feathers with policymakers in the U.S. and indicates a shift away from diplomatic recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate President.
- On September 2, the International Contact Group, comprised of European and Latin American countries in support of a peaceful and democratic solution to Venezuela’s crisis, expressed support for the negotiation process underway in Mexico ahead of the second round of talks and urged the negotiating parties to participate “constructively and in good faith” to overcome the political crisis.
- On September 16, the UN Independent Fact Finding Mission on Venezuela published a report documenting widespread persecution, repression, and a lack of impunity in Venezuela’s judicial system. Representatives of the EU and countries including Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and the U.K. expressed deep concern around the findings of the report, and called on the Maduro government to pursue justice for grave human rights violations.
- Last week, researchers at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas published the results of the 2020-2021 National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI), finding that the percentage of Venezuelan residents living in extreme poverty has increased to 76.6 percent, up from 67.7 percent from last year’s survey.
- On September 24, a coalition of international organizations including WOLA published a joint statement reiterating concern around systematic threats facing human rights organizations in Venezuela, specifically denouncing Administrative Providence 002-2021, which requires NGOs in Venezuela to register with the National Office on Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing (ONCDOFT).
- The Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) recently published updated statistics documenting 26 cases of femicides in the month of August, bringing the total number of women killed by femicide in 2021 to 203.
- On September 7, the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines acquired through the WHO-linked COVAX mechanism arrived in Venezuela. The shipment consisted of 693,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, the first batch of a total of 11 million vaccines Venezuela will receive through COVAX.
- According to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), 20.8% of Venezuela’s population has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, marking a considerable increase from previous months. 33.9% of the population has only received one dose of the vaccine, and 45.3% has yet to be vaccinated.
- Last week, Venezuela received a shipment of the Cuban Abdala COVID-19 vaccine, sparking concern among the National Academy of Medicine, which released a statement reiterating that the Abdala vaccine has not been approved for use by the WHO or other international regulation agencies.
- On September 28, Jaime Lorenzo, Director of the NGO Medicos Unidos, stated that between 600,000 and 900,000 Venezuelans are still awaiting their second dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, and criticized the Maduro government for not publishing accurate statistics on COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- On September 24, an encampment of around 100 migrants and refugees was displaced in a police operation in the northern Chilean town of Iquique, which was followed by public demonstrations to protest the presence of undocumented Venezuelans in the town. International and Chilean human rights organizations, as well as the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, have denounced the militarized response and the rise in xenophobic sentiment in Chile following the incident.
- In late September, the Ecuadorian government announced a new program to facilitate the social and economic integration of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in its territory. The program, titled ‘Proyecto SER,’ seeks to improve access to health services and the formal labor force, and is expected to be implemented over the span of two years.
- On September 28, WOLA launched a digital advocacy campaign entitled #StandFor6Million, through which it sought to amplify the work that human rights organizations are doing across the Americas to support the needs of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in their host countries. A public event on the topic featuring experts from CELS, Dejusticia, the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos – Perú, Conectas, and WOLA, can be viewed here.
- On August 31, Venezuela’s opposition parties announced that they would participate in local and gubernatorial elections slated for November 21, marking a departure from the opposition’s previous strategy of abstention. The announcement follows months of debate between opposition parties, some of which had already announced candidates and have been campaigning since June.
- The Unitary Platform has struggled to unify behind candidates since the Guaidó-led opposition announced that it would participate in the November elections. In the case of Miranda state, for example, David Uzcátegui of Fuerza Vecinal and Carlos Ocariz of Primero Justicia have been separately vying for the governorship, risking dividing the opposition vote ahead of the elections.
- In the second round of negotiations between the Maduro government and opposition in Mexico City, the negotiating parties signed a partial agreement to defend Venezuela’s claim to Essequibo, a disputed oil-rich territory along the border with Guyana. The Guyanese Foreign Ministry rejected the decision as an “overt threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.”