On Tuesday, March 11, opposition leader Juan Guaidó published a video message proposing to relaunch negotiations with the Maduro government and promoting a “National Salvation Agreement” to bring the country to free and fair elections. Guaidó’s emphasis on the need for negotiations with the regime marks a notable departure from previous communications centered around the goal of removing Maduro from power. The message follows recent concessions made by the Maduro government in recent weeks, indicating an interest in re-engaging with the U.S. and the Guaidó-led opposition.
Amid divisions within the opposition over the decision to participate in upcoming regional elections later this year, and over the legitimacy of the new Electoral Council announced last week, Guaidó’s video message was one of unity, calling on all political actors to join forces around the need for domestic and international pressure for a negotiated agreement. The opposition leader—who today holds a public approval rating of less than 20%—called for four specific conditions to be included in a potential accord: 1) a clear electoral schedule for presidential, legislative, and regional elections with international observation, 2) a plan to provide humanitarian assistance and COVID-19 vaccines, 3) democratic guarantees for political participation and the release of political prisoners, and 4) a commitment from the international community to provide incentives, including the progressive lifting of sanctions in exchange for concrete concessions, for the Maduro government to engage in good faith in negotiations.
In a live broadcast on Tuesday evening, Nicolás Maduro responded to the proposal, indicating that Guaidó is “welcome to incorporate himself into the dialogues that already exist,” and criticizing the Guaidó coalition for excluding themselves from past negotiations with some sectors of the opposition. On Wednesday, Maduro stated: “with the help of the European Union, the Norwegian government, the International Contact Group, whoever wants, wherever they want, however they want, I’m ready to meet with the entire opposition.”
The U.S. government has welcomed the communication from Guaidó, with U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Jimmy Story and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Chung endorsing the proposal over Twitter. Key figures in the EU have also expressed their support, with High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell stating on Thursday that Venezuela’s crisis “will not be resolved without a negotiation process,” and encouraging all opposition parties to participate in this year’s regional elections. The Canadian and Spanish governments have also publicly backed the proposal.
- On Tuesday, the new National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that Venezuela would simultaneously hold regional and municipal elections later this year. CNE president Pedro Calzadilla announced that the council had agreed to a series of electoral conditions, including audits of the electoral registry (RE) and national voting system, and widespread international observation. On Thursday evening, the CNE announced that the date for the ‘megaelecciones’ would be Sunday, November 21 and provided other important dates in the electoral schedule.
- On Wednesday, Juan Guaidó confirmed that the Norwegian government had visited Venezuela twice this year, and suggested that Norway may be well positioned to mediate potential negotiations with the Maduro government.
- On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced that it had submitted a request to the Spanish government for the extradition of Leopoldo López, a prominent member of the opposition and former political prisoner. The request expressed that López, who has been in exile in Spain since October 2020, faces over 8 years in prison if extradited.
- After an EU representative regarded the naming of a new CNE last week as a “first step” towards a “credible, inclusive, and transparent” electoral process in Venezuela, 21 EU legislators including Vice President of the European Parliament Dita Charanzova sent a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell requesting that the EU reverse this position and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the new electoral council. The letter notes that the EU’s official position is to not recognize the National Assembly elected in December 2020, and urged Borrell to maintain the stance that “only the legitimate National Assembly can approve a new Electoral Council.”
- This week, Italian news agency Agenzia Nova reported that the Vatican may be willing to act as an intermediary in political negotiations between the Maduro government and the Guaidó opposition, though there has been no confirmation of this report. The reports come just a few weeks after the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, planned to visit Venezuela to attend the beatification ceremony of Jose Gregorio Hernández, but ultimately cancelled the trip citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
- After the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court (TSJ) announced a new restriction on March 30 requiring NGOs to provide sensitive information regarding their activities and beneficiaries to the National Office Against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing, the TSJ issued an updated regulation on May 3 omitting the alarming requirement that NGOs identify the communities and individuals who benefit from their activities. NGO leaders and the Guaidó opposition have spoken out against the updated requirement, arguing that it still makes unacceptable demands of NGOs with a clear repressive intent.
- On Tuesday, the Third Circuit Court in Zulia state sentenced 8 former members of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) to over 24 years in prison for the arbitrary arrest, rape, and torture of a civilian involved in anti-government protests in 2017. Local NGO CODHEZ reports that two additional former PNB officials allegedly involved in the crime have evaded arrest and have yet to be sentenced.
- In the latest development in ongoing confrontations between the Venezuelan armed forces (FANB) and Colombian guerrilla groups in Apure state, Colombian FARC dissident group 10th Front has reportedly captured 8 FANB soldiers and is holding them as “prisoners of war.” Fundaredes Director Javier Tarazona published a letter from 10th Front informing of the soldiers’ capture on Monday.
- On May 12, the Colombian migration agency announced that, in the first week of the first phase of the Duque government’s plan to regularize Venezuelan migrants in the country, over 383,000 Venezuelans have started the registration process to receive the temporary protection. Of these, roughly one in four have finished the process. The total number of those who have begun the process represents just 22% of the more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia.
- This week, the NGO Asociación Venezolana en Chile (Asovenchile) denounced the Piñera government for attempting to deport a group of at least 18 Venezuelan migrants, who are now being held in detention after advocacy groups intervened to demand a review of the expulsion order. This attempt would be the latest in a string of mass deportations of Venezuelan migrants out of Chile, with the most recent expulsion of 55 Venezuelan migrants on April 25 receiving widespread outcry from human rights defenders arguing that the action violated international law.
- On May 11, Nicolás Maduro announced that doses of the Johnson & Johnson and the Sputnik Light, both one-shot vaccines, would soon arrive in Venezuela. Maduro also claimed that the government would ramp up vaccine distribution over the summer, and that 70% of the population would be vaccinated by the end of August. So far, Venezuela has received approximately 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia, enough to inoculate less than 1% of the country’s population.
- On Wednesday, PAHO Director for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Ciro Ugarte confirmed that vaccines purchased through the WHO-linked COVAX mechanism would start to be delivered to Venezuela at the end of June, and that the doses provided to Venezuela would likely be Johnson & Johnson.
- On May 10, Venezuela’s National Academy of Medicine announced that it had formally requested that the U.S. donate extra doses of vaccines against COVID-19 to Venezuela. The request comes just a few weeks after U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) called on the Biden administration to distribute excess doses to the country.