With the dust settling after the U.S. presidential election and Joe Biden emerging as president-elect, both the Maduro government and mainstream opposition coalition have signalled they see potential for change in a new U.S. administration.
In the days since Biden’s victory, Nicolas Maduro has expressed a desire to establish “direct channels of dialogue” with Biden. Unlike his international allies in Beijing and Moscow (China congratulated Biden on the 13th of November, and Russia has not done so yet), Maduro was among the first leaders to congratulate the incoming president. However, he was beaten to the punch by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who congratulated Biden and Harris 20 minutes earlier.
The opposition, for its part, has also demonstrated an interest in deepening ties with an eventual Biden administration. In addition to congratulating Biden, opposition leaders in recent weeks have emphasized that they expect continued bipartisan support for their cause in Washington. In an interview with Andres Oppenheimer, Leopoldo Lopez told the journalist: “Obviously, every administration has its own approach. But I don’t foresee a scenario in which a Biden administration would recognize Maduro, or lessen the pressure on the dictatorship.” Lopez also suggested that Biden should try to pressure European Union countries into adopting more sanctions on Venezuelan individuals, including over 40 individuals named in the recent UN Fact Finding Mission report.
Biden’s advisors have not said very much on Venezuela since the election, likely due to the fact that the General Services Administration (GSA) has not yet ascertained Biden’s victory. As a result, the transition team is limited in what it can do or say publicly with regard to future policy.
In pre-Nov. 3 statements, however, individuals associated with Biden have made clear they will not embrace Maduro. Biden advisor Juan Gonzalez told Spanish news agency EFE on October 29 that a Biden administration will continue to pressure Maduro, but criticized Trump of “confusing sanctions with strategy.” According to Gonzalez: “the approach is not to tell the opposition what route they should take, which Trump has done by telling them what they can and cannot do. Venezuela belongs to Venezuelans and the role of a Biden Administration will be to support the Venezuelan people towards a negotiated solution to this crisis.”
- The opposition announced the dates (December 5-12) and the voting method of the parallel referendum they are organizing to compete with the widely criticized Decemebr 6 legislative elections. Venezuelans will be able to vote online as well as in person on December 12. The opposition announced that for digital voting they will use the voting application Voatz, and encouraged supporters to promote the vote through social media as well. The U.S., through its “Virtual Embassy in Venezuela,” has reiterated its support for the opposition’s decision to hold the referendum and to reject participating on December’s 6th legislative election.
- 300 Indigenous Yukpa Venezuelans held protests in Caracas this week to draw attention to the poor living conditions their community faces in the western state of Zulia. In clashes with security forces a National Police officer was reported to be injured by an arrow, and at least one protester sustained injuries as well.
- The European Union has extended its sanctions on Venezuela for one more year (until the 14th of November 2021). The EU justified its decision on the basis that the deterioration of democracy, breakdown in the rule of law and lack of respect for human rights are ongoing. The sanctions include an embargo on arms and equipment for internal repression, as well as a travel ban and an asset freeze on 36 individuals. Maduro has strongly rejected the sanctions, linking the sanctions and Europe’s colonialist past and claiming that the EU follows the “tail of Donald Trump”.
- A Venezuelan delegation, headed by Maduro’s vice president Delcy Rodríguez, paid an official visit to Russia on November 13. The Venezuelans held meetings with more than 200 Russian businesspeople, and they explained to them the investment opportunities in Venezuela under the new “Anti-Blockade Law” that Maduro promoted as an answer to the U.S. sanctions (the law gives complete discretion to the executive to take economic decisions bypassing all the formal procedures and limits).
- Russia-Venezuela relations appear to be waring back in Caracas as well. This week the minister of Penitentiary Services held a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Caracas and said that the two countries examine the possibilities for future cooperation in this field. Also, Venezuela received its sixth shipment of insulin (830.000 units) from Russia in the last two years as part of the agreement between the two countries.
- Small-scale protests in response to the collapse of essential services, shortage of gasoline, low wages and high cost of living continue in the country. The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) counted 1,484 protests in Venezuela during October. While this makes it the month with the most protests during 2020, this figure is less than the number of protests seen in October 2019 (1,739). Over 90% of the protests relate to basic services and salaries, while the rest are focused on political and civil rights, according to the OVCS.
- Maduro’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, issued some rare public criticism of the Special Actions Forces (FAES) of the National Police, saying that he has received various complaints that members of the FAES are involved in a series of criminal activities. Also, Saab has questioned the belief that because of the FAES’ “mano dura” approach to criminals, criminality has gone down in the country. The comments came after a video circulated on social media showing several FAES members on a farmer’s property in the western state of Zulia, where they appear to order some workers to dig a hole while they detaining the farmer (Saab’s office ordered the arrest of six FAES members for this incident).
- A Venezuelan delegation, including Saab, had a meeting in Hague with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda. In the meeting, the two sides discussed the two preliminary examinations conducted by the prosecutor’s office about Venezuela. The prosecutor asked additional information and data from the Venezuelan side and indicated they are still deciding whether to open an investigation or not once they finish their preliminary examination. The Venezuelan opposition was swift to condemn Saab’s trip to the Hague.
- Spain announced that the first instalment (17 million euros) of the 50 million euros that were committed for the Venezuelan migratory crisis at the “International Donors Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees within the Context of COVID-19” last May, would go to international organizations that focus on mitigating Venezuelan refugees and migrants situation. Spain will donate five million Euros each to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Seven million Euros will go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- Costa Rica announced that it would allow asylum seekers from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to remain in the country even when their asylum requests are initially rejected. The migrants of these three countries would be able to stay in the country for two years, and they will have access to formal employment.
- Venezuelan organizations, politicians and the National Assembly condemned recent declarations by the mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López about Venezuelans in Colombia, who linked a wave of crimes with the city’s influx of Venezuelans. Critics argue that the mayor’s statement stigmatizes Venezuelan migrants. An increasing number of analysts say that xenophobia against Venezuelan immigrants could reach dangerous levels as Colombia faces the economic consequences of the Covid-19 and growing insecurity, making Venezuelans an easy target for populist politicians that seek scapegoats.