In response to new EU sanctions against 19 individuals, a possible sign of greater EU-U.S. coordination, the Maduro government has retaliated by declaring the EU ambassador in Caracas a persona non grata. On February 24, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza gave EU Ambassador Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa 72 hours to leave the country, describing the EU measure as “illegal” and “truly unacceptable.”
The EU sanctions bring the overall number of Venezuelans sanctioned by the bloc to 55 (see WOLA’s Targeted Sanctions Database for updates). Many of those sanctioned include actors in the security forces, as well as some who were ostensibly sanctioned for their role in overseeing the widely-questioned December 2020 legislative election. The 19 individuals include two lawmakers of the National Assembly elected in December, the Governor of Zulia State, and four out of the five officials that make up the National Electoral Council (CNE) named by the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court (TSJ) in 2020. Out of these 19 individuals sanctioned by the EU, six have not been sanctioned by the United States, including CNE rector Leonardo Morales. Some have raised concerns against the EU’s sanctioning of Leonardo Morales, arguing it dissuades individuals from seeking to have a role in a new CNE—even if they attempt to push for better electoral conditions in an already adverse environment.
On Tuesday, the National Assembly under Jorge Rodríguez voted to reject the sanctions, though members of the minority opposition Avanzada Progresista party declined to support the expulsion of Ambassador Pedrosa. The following day Arreaza issued a statement giving Ambassador Brilhante 72 hours to leave the country, accusing the EU of making “false arguments against honorable citizens as a reaction to the frustration by some EU member states with the failed effort to force a change of government in Venezuela.” An EU spokesperson then called on the Venezuelan government to reconsider this move, warning that this “will only lead to further international isolation of Venezuela.”
This rift comes less than a year after a series of EU sanctions similarly provoked the Maduro government to expel the EU Ambassador from Venezuela in June 2020, only to reverse the decision days later. A reversal is not likely this time around, however, as Brussels appears more interested in coordinating with Washington. The mainstream opposition seems to be encouraging this interpretation, with Juan Guaidó issuing a statement claiming the sanctions “maintains its position.”
- The New York Times published an in-depth profile of Juan Guaido on February 13, noting that the opposition figure appears to have been effectively marginalized. The piece notes that internal criticism of his leadership is mounting, and his opposition is facing increasingly difficult conditions.
- Talks are quietly occurring in Venezuela to organize a new National Electoral Council (CNE), which would have a seven-year mandate to oversee electoral processes in the country. While the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) controls 90% of seats in the new National Assembly, Efecto Cocuyo reports that some civil society organizations are cautiously optimistic that this could present a new opportunity. These groups are aware that it is unlikely for perfect electoral conditions to emerge from the current talks, but are pressing for them regardless.
- In Venezuela, the mainstream U.S.-aligned opposition is increasingly divided as parties gear up for gubernatorial elections later this year. Some within the mainstream opposition—including members of Primero Justicia, Acción Democrática and Un Nuevo Tiempo—appear to be planning to run in these elections regardless of adverse electoral conditions.
- Interestingly, Venezuela’s representative to the EU may not have to abandon Brussels as a reciprocal measure. As Venezuelan journalist Eugenio Martinez notes, Claudia Salerno, Maduro’s representative to the EU, will not have to return to Venezuela because she also holds the position of ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg. Unless these two countries decide to expel her, she will remain in Brussels.
- This week, members of the U.S.-supported opposition gathered in Bogota to meet in a conference organized by the U.S. Venezuela Affairs Unit, led by Ambassador Jimmy Story. As Colombian press report, the agenda was reportedly leaked to members of the Maduro government before the conference. National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez on February 22 posted what he claimed was the full agenda for the conference, lending credence to reports that the event was infiltrated somehow. Rodríguez claimed the source of the leak was a Colombian diplomat “outraged that this is happening on his soil.”
- Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya is reportedly scheduled to travel to Bogotá and Cúcuta this week to observe the situation on the ground for Venezuelan migrants along the border with Colombia. After reports of this visit surfaced, Maduro’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez accused the Spanish Prime Minister of advancing an extremist agenda and conspiring with Ivan Duque to destabilize the Venezuelan government from Colombia. This visit and the subsequent backlash from the Maduro government follows reports that the Spanish government, and Foreign Minister González Laya in particular, seeks to cooperate with the Biden administration.
- On February 25, Venezuelan chavista politician and evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci was denied entry to the United States while traveling into Miami. The National Assembly member was reportedly traveling to the United States to make a case for further humanitarian assistance to Venezuela.
- In an article published in the Council of Foreign Relations on February 18, former U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams argues that the Biden administration should reinstate exceptions in current U.S. sanctions that allow for diesel swaps in Venezuela in exchange for action by the Maduro government to grant access to the World Food Program (WFP) to address food insecurity in the country.
- On February 8 the UN Refugee agency praised Colombian President Ivan Duque for issuing a decree to regularize Venezuelan migrants for a period of 10 years, and said in a statement that the IOM and UNHCR would “stand ready to contribute” expertise and resources for the initiative. WOLA’s latest Venezuela Weekly Podcast features an overview of this measure (and its gaps), with input from Lucia Ramirez of Colombian human rights group Dejusiticia and WOLA Andes Director Gimena Sanchez.
- On February 21 the Venezuelan embassy in Peru was attacked by an angry mob of demonstrators who threw rocks and broke windows in the latest in a series of xenophobic protests against Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
- Following the move by Colombia to regularize over 1 million Venezuelan migrants for a period of 10 years, the Ombudsman’s offices of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru joined together to pressure their governments to facilitate the movement of Venezuelan migrants between all three countries, and to offer a path to regular status to ensure socio-economic integration into their host communities. Colombian President Iván Duque similarly called on other countries throughout the region to take similar steps to regularize Venezuelan migrants.
- Amid severe winter weather in several southern U.S. states, a Venezuelan woman died trying to cross the Rio Grande river from Mexico to the United States. The three other migrants traveling with the woman suffered hypothermia in the attempt to cross the river.
- On February 23, Wall Street Journal detailed the potential economic benefit that Venezuelan refugees could bring to South America if their host countries choose to follow Colombia’s lead in offering regular status and work authorization to incoming migrants. The article referenced a 2019 IMF study projecting that Venezuelan migrants could boost their host countries’ GDP by between 0.1% and 0.3% between 2017 and 2030.
- On February 18 Amnesty International published a report documenting evidence of dozens of extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Venezuelan security forces, urging the International Criminal Court to include these statistics in an ongoing investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro government.
- A new report published by the Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) documented a total of 79 acts of persecution or criminalization committed by the Maduro government in January 2021 alone. This number includes 20 attacks against journalists and the media, 14 against civil society organizations, and 45 against members of the National Assembly elected in 2015.
- The New York Times published a widely-circulated article reporting on the lack of affordable contraceptives in Venezuela, forcing millions of women into motherhood and a vicious cycle of poverty.
- Representatives of the health care sector took to the streets on Monday outside of the University Clinical Hospital in Caracas, calling on health care workers across the country to engage in peaceful protest to demand a living wage. Secretary General of the Federation of Health Workers Pablo Zambrano claimed that some health care workers in Venezuela earn less than $1 per month.
- In a period of less than 24 hours, two women died by femicide in the state of Portuguesa this week. This report brings the total number of femicide cases in Venezuela in 2021 to at least 25.
- On Thursday, February 18, Venezuela began its vaccination program by vaccinating front-line health care workers with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The program was launched less than a week after Venezuela received the first 100,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine and amid ongoing talks with the opposition to coordinate with PAHO and UNICEF to inoculate 6 million Venezuelans. U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Jimmy Story said on the same day that the U.S. would be willing to unfreeze some Venezuelan assets to allow for the payment of vaccines.
- An advisor to opposition leader Juan Guaidó said that Venezuela could begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines through the WHO-linked COVAX program as early as May, though this timing depends on how long it takes for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office on Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to approve a license for the vaccine.