On October 25, opposition political leader Leopoldo Lopez fled Venezuela and arrived in Spain—where his family now lives. Lopez had taken refuge in the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas for the last sixteen months following the failed opposition-led military uprising against Maduro on April 30, 2019. National Assembly President Juan Guaidó celebrated Lopez escape, saying that id indicated how Maduro does not control anything in the country. Once in Spain, Lopez met with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and held a press conference in which he said he would be dedicating himself to pushing for free and fair presidential elections, justice for victims of human rights violations, and to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
While the Wall Street Journal reported that anonymous opposition figures had indicated that Lopez’s escape was a result of negotiations involving Maduro and the Spanish government, Maduro’s reaction to the news cast doubt on this theory. After Lopez left the country the de facto government detained nine employees of the Spanish embassy (all Venezuelans), though Reuters reports they had all been released. Human rights groups have also denounced the arbitrary detention of Roland Carreño, a journalist and activist in Lopez’s Voluntad Popular party, who the Maduro government has accused of supporting terrorism.
Maduro’s government accused Spain of helping the “illegal escape of a dangerous criminal” and that that was a “flagrant violation” of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, replied that Spain did not violate any convention as Leopoldo López was a guest in the Spanish Embassy, free to leave whenever he wanted, because “he was not a hostage” there.
Analysts in Venezuela (see Colette Capriles in Efecto Cocuyo or Ricardo Sucre in Cronica Uno) broadly agree that Lopez’s move is an effort to try to shore up support for the opposition in European countries, where there are growing doubts about whether to continue to recognize Guaidó’s claim to the interim presidency after the National Assembly’s mandate expires in January.
U.S. Greenlights Diesel Sanctions
- S&P Global Platts and Argus Media report that the U.S. State Department has confirmed it is ending exemptions to U.S. sanctions for diesel swaps, which had been put in place for humanitarian reasons. The measure is deeply unpopular among Venezuelan civil society, and for the last two months a group of 115 organizations and individuals in Venezuela has worked to pressure U.S. officials asking them to continue the exemptions.
- The Venezuelan opposition has announced a date for its popular consultation. The parallel referendum, in part a protest against the lack of democratic conditions in December’s legislative election, will take place from December 5 to 12 and will involve a mix of in-person and online participation. The two questions on the non-binding referendum are very broad, and come down to whether participants support “all the pressure mechanisms” to oust Maduro and whether they reject the parliamentary elections. According to Venezuelan election specialist Eugenio Martinez, the Venezuelan opposition has chosen private U.S-based mobile election voting application Voatz for the process, despite security vulnerabilities in the app.
- A large number of civil society organizations have created a new web portal focused on Venezuela’s complex humanitarian emergency. The portal, HumVenezuela is now online, and organizers say that it will monitor and keep a record of the Venezuelan crisis. Users will find data and information on multiple indicators of the crisis.
- Cáritas Internationalis (18 Cáritas chapters in Latin America, the United States and Europe) expressed its great concern about the unsustainable humanitarian situation in Venezuela. The organization points out the “great official information silence” for a 73% increase in acute child malnutrition. The organization also denounces that the most remote areas of the country are being cut off from basic services, and people there are unable to exercise their basic human rights. Finally, the organization mentions the high risk of exploitation for Venezuelan migrants in the host countries.
- The Venezuela government announced the installation of fingerprint scanners in different border checkpoints that will help to identify those that move in the boarders. According to the government, the measure relates to the state’s security and will allow officials to track exit from and entry to Venezuela. The measure has been implemented as migration is once more on the rise.
- Peru will implement new measures to normalize migrants’ status in the country. The measure aims to benefit those with irregular status in Peru, either because their period of stay has expired or because they have entered the country irregularly. The migrants have 180 days deal with the Peruvian authorities and those that are not regularized in this period must leave the country. The migrants who have a criminal record in their country of origin or have problems with the Peruvian authorities will not be able to normalize their migration status.
- Associated Press reports from Venezuela that the country lacks enough doctors and nurses to confront the coronavirus pandemic. The migration of thousands pf health professions in recent years has weakened the country’s health system. As a result, poor patients often have to rely on their families to attend to them in public hospitals. Official statistics claim that 780 Venezuelans have died from COVID-19 and the country has so far 90,876 cases. The Venezuelan opposition claims that deaths from the COVID in Venezuela double the official statistic (1,614). Assuming this is true, Venezuelan deaths per capita remain surprisingly low in a ravaged region by the pandemic (neighboring Colombia has seen over 30,000 deaths).
- The Special Actions Forces of the Bolivarian National Police (FAES) reportedly killed 15 people in September, the lowest figure since January 2019 when the newspaper Tal Cual started registering their activities. FAES has been accused by national and international human rights organizations, including the recent UN Fact Finding Mission, of extrajudicial killings and indiscriminate violante. This may be a result of international pressure on the Maduro government, as well as due to complaints among Chavista base organizations that have denounced the FAES’ activities in low-income neighborhoods.
- Maduro’s extreme fire sale of the country’s resources is continuously expanding; the government is now involved in the previously informal scrap metals industry. Argusmedia reports that the sale of scrap metals provides little cash for the central government but gives significant revenues to intermediaries and regional political and military authorities. The potential profit provides an incentive for some state-owned companies to scrap equipment that could still be repaired and recovered, further intensifying the country’s de-industrialization.
- State oil company PDVSA is still finding new ways to circumvent U.S. oil sanctions. Reuters reports that PDVSA began using a new location near La Borracha island in the Caribbean sea for transferring Venezuelan crude from one ship to another for exports.