In a sign that the European Union remains interested in negotiating improved electoral conditions in Venezuela, on September 24 the EU confirmed that it had sent a special delegation to Caracas in order to press for free and fair legislative elections currently set for December 6.
Little is known about the two-person delegation’s activities, other than that they will be in-country until Monday, and that the visit appears part of Henrique Capriles’ efforts to seek an improvement in electoral conditions. A spokesperson told Reuters that the mission would “have contacts with all stakeholders (including all main political forces, civil society, academia, the private sector and the church),” and added that the mission is part of “efforts to promote minimum democratic conditions ahead of legislative elections.”
Opposition politicians in the coalition of Juan Guaido, meanwhile, have voiced skepticism of the mission and have attempted to paint it as a rogue action by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. These voices have been amplified by coverage citing largely anonymous sources in the Spanish conservative paper ABC. However Spain’s El Pais has contradicted these claims, reporting that Borell informed members of the International Contact Group (ICG) about the trip during its September 17 meeting, in which the ICG stated its support for “close contacts with national stakeholders.”
While the EU mission is in line with these diplomatic efforts, the ICG statement is clear in stating the conditions needed for free and fair elections to occur. These include: respect for the constitutional mandate of the National Assembly, returning control of political parties to their rightful leaders, allowing full participation in the process, carrying out an audit of the voting registry, and an independent and balanced CNE.
Borrell has also suggested that it is necessary to delay the election in order to implement all of these necessary conditions, implicitly endorsing Capriles’ call for the December elections to be postponed in order for these conditions to be met. So far there is no indication this will happen, however, as Maduro said that a delay is “impossible” due to Constitutional provisions.
Fact-Finding Mission Releases Report Detailing Torture, Killings, and Disappearances
- On September 16, the Fact-Finding Mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in Venezuela issued a landmark report (read the full 411-page version here). The report found “reasonable grounds to believe” that security forces in Venezuela planned and carried out serious human rights violations, some of which (like extrajudicial killings and systematic use of torture) amount to crimes against humanity. The authors note that high-level officials such as Maduro himself, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, and others “gave orders, coordinated activities and supplied resources in furtherance of the plans and policies under which the crimes were committed.”
- UN Secretary General António Guterres said that the report “is very concerning and that it should be taken very seriously by the Venezuelan authorities.” Nonetheless, the Maduro government has dismissed it by claiming that the countries of the Lima Group financed the report. The government has also questioned the report’s legitimacy, noting its authors did not step foot into the country (Venezuelan authorities did not allow entry). Analysts and experts in human rights and international law agree that Maduro and other authorities could face actions in the International Criminal Court or from individual countries that take legal action under universal jurisdiction.
- WOLA has published a look at some of the ways the Fact-Finding Mission overcame its lack of access, using satellite imagery and mapping to help document the existence of clandestine or unofficial detention facilities where torture is carried out.
- On September 22 the United States imposed new sanctions on five Venezuelan politicians and lawmakers: Miguel Ponente, Guillermo Luces, Bernabe Gutierrez, Chaim Bucaran, and Williams Benavides. The U.S. accuses them of acting as part of Maduro’s government plan to manipulate upcoming legislative elections. The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court has helped four of the five politicians to become heads, or dispute the leadership, of the main Venezuelan opposition parties, and subsequently to put the opposition parties under the government’s control through proxies. The Court had also appointed one of the newly sanctioned politicians, Benavides, as head of the pro-Chavista political party, Tupamaros, which had distanced itself from the PSUV.
- Iran has managed to buck U.S. sanctions and send much-needed fuel to Venezuela. Iran-flagged supertanker Honey offloaded fuel, mostly natural gas liquid, in Venezuela last week and is loading Venezuela’s oil that most likely will sell to Iran’s national oil company. In the previous weeks, Venezuela suffered from extreme fuel shortages, and parts of the country had to rely on gasoline smuggling from Colombia, reversing decades of contraband flow.
- The Maduro government on September 14 announced that it had arrested a U.S. citizen, Matthew John Heath, as a suspected spy. Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said that the man, allegedly related to the CIA, has been charged in an alleged terrorist plot to sabotage oil refineries and electrical service. Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela and Iran, denied this, saying “the United States government did not send Mr Heath to Venezuela.”
- Amnesty International released a new report detailing how authorities in Venezuela, El Salvador, and Paraguay have converted state-enforced quarantines into a mechanism of repression. The organization says that the Venezuelan and the El Salvadorian authorities “have converted a public health intervention into a punitive response, disproportionately impacting low-income communities, and refugees and migrants returning to their countries of origin.”
- The state-enforced lockdown has worsened indigenous populations‘ human rights in the western state of Zulia, according to the local organization Codhez. The organization reports that the indigenous communities face a series of economic, health, and social challenges as the region’s state infrastructure is crumbling, with insufficient electricity and drinking water services. Also, the region does not have the necessary health care services to deal with the pandemic and other ills that affect the local populations.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) considers that Venezuela is one of the 45 countries that are in need of external assistance for food. The organization fears that maize crop harvest will be below-average production due to the economic crisis that the country faces and climatological conditions (limited rainfall amounts between June and July in the key producing central-western areas).
- Maduro’s government announced that the country has 68,453 COVID cases and 564 deaths in total from the virus since March 2020. Maduro appeared upbeat last week, saying that Venezuela is flattening the contagion curve and that his government’s policies are bearing fruit. Civil society actors and the Venezuelan opposition disputes the government’s information. The opposition estimates deaths related to COVID are doubling the official statistics. The opposition also says that Maduro’s recent declaration about the virus corresponds to electoral purposes; Maduro wants to present that the country is not in a public health crisis and could go on with the legislative elections.
- Various oil spills have occurred offshore Venezuela with severe environmental consequences. During August, a severe oil spill took place near the central states Carabobo and Falcon’s coast. Fishers have also denounced that oil spills continue in Falcon state, threatening the ecosystem of the region.