On Friday, August 13, representatives of the Maduro government and the Guaidó-led opposition met in Mexico City to sign a memorandum of understanding, an initial agreement laying out the terms and objectives of a new negotiation process. This dialogue process, mediated by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, is the fifth of its kind following previous attempts to resolve Venezuela’s crisis through negotiations in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2019.
The negotiating teams arrived in Mexico last week to sign the initial memorandum of understanding to commit to a comprehensive dialogue process over the coming months. The opposition negotiating team is led by Gerardo Blyde, who previously represented the opposition in the 2019 Oslo-Barbados talks, and includes the Guaidó Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Vecchio, Tomás Guanipa of Primero Justicia (formerly Guaidó’s Ambassador to Colombia), Stalin González, who represents the Henrique Capriles-aligned sector of the opposition, Luis Emilio Rondón of Un Nuevo Tiempo, Luis Aquiles Moreno of Acción Democrática, Mariela Magallanes as a representative of minority opposition parties, and Roberto Enríquez of center-right minority party Copei. The Maduro government’s negotiating team is led by Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly elected in December 2020, and includes Miranda state governor Hector Rodríguez, and Nicolás Maduro’s own son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra. Delegations from Russia and the Netherlands are reportedly joining the talks on behalf of the Maduro government and opposition, with several other countries including the U.S., Canada, Britain, Turkey, and Bolivia participating in a more passive role.
The memorandum signed on Friday lays out a list of shared priorities for upcoming talks, with important language regarding the need for inclusive democracy and political coexistence, the importance of promoting a culture of respect for human rights, and a commitment to include relevant political and social actors outside of the main political parties represented. The two sides agreed on a series of concrete objectives encompassing an electoral schedule, the lifting of sanctions, reparations to victims of violence, and the restoration of political rights. The agreement also expresses a willingness to achieve partial accords on urgent issues to build up to a comprehensive and long-term solution to the country’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the document is that it does not refer to the opposition as the “interim government,” and instead as the Unitary Platform–this has been interpreted by many as implicit recognition by the Guaido coalition that Maduro retains de facto power.
Analysts have expressed a cautious optimism around the new negotiations; on August 12, WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, along with Keith Mines and Steve Hege of the U.S. Institute of Peace, published an op-ed in The Hill urging the negotiating teams to maintain realistic expectations, and emphasizing the need to establish a clear role for the U.S. and Venezuelan civil society for the negotiations to be successful. Several Venezuelan academics and analysts have expressed a similar message, including Maryhen Jiménez in an op-ed in Americas Quarterly. Luz Mely Reyes of Efecto Cocuyo also published an op-ed in The Washington Post emphasizing the need for human rights to be at the top of the negotiating teams’ agenda.
The international reaction to the renewed negotiation effort has been overwhelmingly positive. On August 14, the U.S., EU, and Canada published a joint statement of support for the process, and reiterating a willingness to review sanctions policies in exchange for concessions such as the release of political prisoners, and minimum electoral conditions ahead of local and regional elections scheduled for November 21. In a press conference on August 17, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard reaffirmed the Mexican government’s commitment to act as a neutral party to host the process, and expressed hope that the negotiation process may lead to a series of accords that allow for the lifting of sanctions on the country. On August 15, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry published a statement confirming that the negotiating teams will return to Mexico for the next round of talks on September 3.
- After the government and opposition negotiating teams signed an initial agreement in Mexico, during a press conference on August 16 Nicolás Maduro proposed direct negotiations with the U.S. government to discuss the terms around the lifting of sanctions. So far, the Biden administration has yet to officially respond to the request.
- On August 9, recently-inaugurated President of Peru Pedro Castillo expressed his government’s support for renewed efforts for the Maduro government and opposition to negotiate in Mexico, encouraging a solution that leads to free and fair elections and the lifting of economic sanctions. The statement came just a few days after the new Foreign Minister, Héctor Béjar, announced that Peru would retire from the Lima Group.
- On August 12, a group of 19 U.S. Representatives led by Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Jesús Garcia (D-IL) issued a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to abandon Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Venezuela. The letter calls on the Biden administration to lift all broad and indiscriminate sanctions on Venezuela, to support internationally mediated negotiation efforts, and to expand diplomatic engagement with a broader array of political actors in the country.
- On August 10, Foreign Minister of St. Lucia Alva Baptiste announced that the island nation would retire from the Lima Group, indicating a shift to a policy of non-interference and a desire to reestablish diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
- On Sunday, opposition leader and member of the National Assembly elected in 2015 Freddy Guevara was released from prison over one month after he was arbitrarily arrested under charges of terrorism, treason, and ties with extremist groups. Guevara’s release follows widespread public concern for his physical health in detention due to a preexisting cardiac condition.
- According to a new report by the Center for Human Rights at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela is the country with the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the Americas. The report documents that the complex humanitarian emergency, forced migration, and the presence of organized criminal groups in Venezuela and in neighboring countries has created an environment that allows for exploitation and impunity.
- This week, humanitarian NGO Prepara Familia, along with the family members of adolescents and children who have died awaiting bone and kidney transplants, have renewed demands for Venezuela to reactivate its transplant system. On August 17, the National Academy of Medicine issued a statement calling on the Health Ministry to address the collapsed public health system and to restore the country’s organ transplant mechanism, which has been suspended since 2017.
- Statistics from Convite A.C. expose the impact of Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian emergency on its elderly population, with 8 out of 10 individuals in this age group living in poverty. Restricted access to medicine, food, and health services has left Venezuela’s elderly particularly vulnerable and dependent on pensions and food subsidies from the state.
- On Sunday, August 8, Venezuela’s Socialist Party (PSUV) held primaries to choose candidates for gubernatorial and mayoral elections scheduled for November 21. After the primary election, Vice President Diosdado Cabello announced a number of the PSUV’s elected candidates, including Carmen Meléndez, current Minister of the Interior, Justice, and Peace, for the mayorship of Caracas. After a primary campaign that exposed divisions within the Chavista coalition, many spoke out against the process after PSUV announced a last-minute change to the requirement to win the candidacy, causing five candidates’ victories to go unrecognized.
- After his release from prison on Sunday, opposition leader Freddy Guevara stated that he would be willing to participate in negotiations with the Maduro government taking place in Mexico on behalf of the Voluntad Popular party. On Monday, Nicolás Maduro said that Guevara would be welcome to participate in the process. Some have speculated that Guevara may replace Carlos Vecchio at the negotiating table, after the Maduro government reportedly threatened to abandon the negotiations altogether last Friday due to Vecchio’s presence.
- In a press conference last week, former presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles urged actors within the opposition to commit to participating in local and regional elections in November, and encouraged opposition parties to join forces to select mayoral and gubernatorial candidates under a unified platform.
- On August 18, the Alianza Democrática coalition, which includes opposition parties such as Avanzada Progresista, Cambiemos, Copei, and sectors of Acción Democrática, presented 23 candidates for gubernatorial races in November. The nomination of candidates marks a clear departure from the strategy of the Guaidó-led coalition, which has yet to publicly announce whether it will participate in the vote.
- Mayor of Bogotá Claudia López has again been accused of promoting xenophobia after she announced on August 18 the creation of a special police force to investigate, capture and prosecute crimes committed by migrants in the city. The measure follows previous xenophobic remarks made by López blaming Venezuelan migrants for security failures in Bogotá, a notion which has been debunked by experts and human rights activists.
- Venezuelans, as well as nationals of other South American countries such as Ecuador and Brazil, make up an increasing proportion of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 7,484 Venezuelans were intercepted trying to enter the country in May alone, breaking a previous record.
- This week, Crónica Uno reported a rise of minors crossing the Venezuela-Colombia border through informal routes, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by criminal organizations commanding over illegal border crossings.
- Although the number of health professionals dying of COVID-19 has fallen in recent months, President of Médicos Unidos Jaime Lorenzo reports that there are still some medical workers who have not yet been vaccinated, and between 25% and 28% have yet to receive their second dose.
- This week, Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine Huniades Urbina stated that less than 2 million people, or roughly 7% of the Venezuelan population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19. This statistic indicates that Venezuela has the lowest vaccination rate per 100 people out of any other country in the region.