On Sunday, October 16, the negotiating team representing the government of Nicolás Maduro announced that it would not participate in the round of talks set to take place in Mexico City from October 17 to 20. The decision came after it was announced that Alex Saab, a Colombian-born businessman and close Maduro ally accused of money-laundering, was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde, where he had been in custody since June 2020.
On October 8, the Norwegian embassy in Mexico had announced that the opposition and government negotiating teams would meet on October 17 for the fourth round of talks since the process began in August. However, following the October 16 extradition of Saab—whom the Maduro government had sought to incorporate into its negotiating team—the chief government negotiator, Jorge Rodríguez, stated that the government would pull out of this round of talks, potentially jeopardizing the entire negotiation process. Saab, who made his first court appearance in Miami on Monday, is under U.S. sanctions and was indicted by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice on corruption and money laundering charges in 2019. The Maduro government claims that Saab should enjoy diplomatic immunity as a representative of the Venezuelan government, and regarded the extradition as a “brutal aggression” by the U.S., though government officials fell short of saying that they would pull out of the negotiation process altogether. Head of the opposition negotiating team Gerardo Blyde urged the Maduro government to resume dialogue as soon as possible.
A few hours after the news broke of Saab’s extradition, the Venezuelan security forces moved six oil executives known as the “Citgo 6” back to el Helicoide prison in Caracas. In May, the Maduro government released the Citgo 6 (U.S. citizens who have been detained in Venezuela on corruption charges since 2017) to house arrest in a move widely interpreted as a sign of good faith to engage with the Biden administration. The six men have long denied the charges against them.
Numerous governments have lamented the Maduro government’s decision to pull out of the latest round of negotiations. The Norwegian government stated that it would keep working to encourage both sides to seek solutions to the country’s political crisis. Representatives of governments including Spain and the UK expressed their disappointment with the decision, and urged the negotiating teams to return to the table. The Russian embassy in Venezuela denounced the extradition of Alex Saab and regarded it as a “kidnapping,” but the Russian Foreign Ministry separately issued a statement calling on the negotiating teams to continue dialogue. During a news conference in Ecuador, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarded the move to suspend negotiations as “deeply unfortunate” and maintained that the extradition of Alex Saab was unrelated to U.S. support for a democratic transition in Venezuela.
- This week, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced a series of regulations for electoral campaigns ahead of the November 21 regional elections. The regulation establishes that the electoral campaign period will officially begin on October 28, and will last until November 18, and sets guidelines to ensure that campaign events follow COVID-19 protocol.
- In a press conference on October 20, opposition leader Henrique Capriles expressed concern regarding divisions within the opposition ahead of the official beginning of the campaign, and in particular, Voluntad Popular’s apparent efforts to delegitimize the vote despite fielding candidates. He called on opposition candidates to unify around a single ticket to improve their chances of victory in the regional and local races.
- On October 18, Alex Saab made his first court appearance in Miami, two days after his extradition from Cape Verde. Saab was charged with eight counts of money laundering, related to an alleged scheme to siphon money out of a low-income housing initiative by the Venezuelan government. As a close ally to Maduro with deep knowledge of the inner workings of the Venezuelan state, if he were to cooperate it would have significant implications for ongoing Department of Justice proceedings against Maduro and other Venezuelan government officials. Saab is expected to be arraigned on November 1.
- After the Citgo 6 were moved back to prison on October 16, a senior State Department official demanded their immediate release and stated that they will continue working to free the U.S.-Venezuelan dual nationals. In a press conference on October 18, State Department spokesperson Ned Price clarified that the criminal charges against Alex Saab have no relation to the negotiations taking place in Mexico, and called on the international community to double down on its support for a democratic solution in Venezuela.
- The EU has appointed Isabel Santos, a member of the European Parliament, to lead the EU observation mission to oversee regional elections in Venezuela on November 21. The mission will consist of 100 EU observers, 46 of whom will be deployed on October 28.
- Two of the workers of Venezuelan NGO Fundaredes who were arbitrarily detained in July, Omar García and Rafael Tarazona, have been moved to a clinic after testing positive for COVID-19, while officials have refused to provide information about their condition to their families or attorneys. The news comes as La Coalición por los Derechos Humanos y la Democracia reported that 20 detainees in the Caracas detention center el Helicoide have tested positive for the virus. These reports have renewed demands to guarantee the health and safety of political prisoners in Venezuela, with the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela publishing a letter on October 18 regarding the situation of the Fundaredes activists.
- On October 19, the Inter-American Press Society (SIP) denounced the lack of media independence in Venezuela, reporting that 60 percent of the population receives their news through the state media in a recent presentation. The SIP criticized government efforts to repress journalists, especially those reporting on news relating to protests and COVID-19.
- This week, Guaidó’s Director for Consular Services Brian Fincheltub denounced that approximately 4,600 Venezuelan migrants are detained in the U.S. Fincheltub called on fleeing Venezuelans to inform themselves about legal options to migrate to the United States to avoid exploitation by criminal groups and detention.
- In a phone call with Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos França on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the need to curb irregular migration to the U.S., and recognized Brazil’s “leadership” in assisting vulnerable migrants from Venezuela and Haiti.
- On October 19, Proyecto Migración Venezuela, an initiative to report on and raise awareness about the situation for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia, published survey results documenting that many Venezuelan women in Colombia face difficulties in accessing reproductive and sexual health services.
- On October 18, a shipment of 430,000 doses of the Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine arrived in Venezuela, amid reports that Russia is struggling to fulfill orders for the shot from foreign countries.
- Top epidemiologist Julio Castro has warned that Venezuela is experiencing its worst peak in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began last March, and criticized the Maduro government for a lack of coherence in its pandemic response and national vaccination strategy.