Amid Venezuela’s crisis of authoritarianism, and in spite of recent developments inching the country closer to a negotiated solution, civil society groups and NGOs continue to be routinely targeted and harassed by the Maduro government. On April 29, the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace issued an ordinance requiring all NGOs in the country to register and provide sensitive information regarding their activities and financing to the national anti-terrorism office.
The April 29 ordinance replaces an earlier version published on March 30, which included a requirement for NGOs to provide a list of their “beneficiaries,” which may have obliged them to identify the specific individuals and communities that they serve, placing these already vulnerable groups at risk of persecution. Shortly after the details of this restriction were made public, WOLA joined with 91 Venezuelan and regional civil society organizations to issue a joint statement calling on the Maduro government to roll back this restriction, and on the international community to speak out against the measure. Another group of over 600 Venezuelan NGOs separately issued a statement highlighting the implications of the restriction in the context of other recent efforts to silence and criminalize civil society in the country. A report by the Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ) published last week documented a total of 126 acts of criminalization and persecution against NGOs, the press, and political leaders in the month of April alone.
While the April 29 restriction eliminated the most concerning aspect regarding NGOs’ being forced to reveal their beneficiaries, human rights activists such as Director of Acceso a la Justicia Ali Daniels maintain that the updated ordinance still violates international standards, as it seeks to hinder and criminalize the activities of non-profit organizations in the country. On Wednesday, May 26 at 10:00 a.m. EDT WOLA will host an event on the subject entitled Civil Society Crackdown in Venezuela: Working for Peaceful Change in the Face of Repression, in which NGO activists from PROVEA, CEPAZ, and CDJ will discuss the implications of the repressive measure. RSVP for the event here.
- After Juan Guaidó last week released a public statement signaling that his coalition is ready to negotiate with the Maduro government, followed by Maduro indicating that he too is “ready to meet with the entire opposition,” on May 14 Maduro announced that the first points of discussion for his government would be the release of Venezuelan Central Bank funds held in the United States, and the return of Citgo to government control. In a televised address on May 16, Guaidó stated that he has spoken with authorities in Norway, Canada, and the U.S. about his proposed “National Salvation Agreement,” and that he would announce the members of the opposition delegation to a negotiation process in the coming week.
- In an interview on May 17 with Union Radio, Vice President of the CNE Enrique Márquez indicated that he hopes that the Maduro government and opposition would discuss lifting prohibitions on certain opposition parties’ participation in elections, to help generate confidence in the electoral process. On May 18, CNE President Elvis Amoroso, an ally of the Maduro government, defended the decision and stated that the parties that have been disqualified have acted to “promote terror against the state.”
- This week, CNE Vice President Enrique Márquez said in an interview with El Nacional that the possibility of holding early presidential elections has not yet been discussed among the new members of the electoral council. Márquez stated that such a decision to alter the electoral schedule outlined in the constitution, as the Guaidó coalition has requested, would have to be the product of a political agreement between the opposition and sitting government.
- In an op-ed published on May 16 in The Washington Post, Director of the independent media organization Efecto Cocuyo Luz Mely Reyes writes that the United States has an important role to play in promoting free and fair elections in Venezuela and should capitalize on recent concessions by the Maduro government to this end. Reyes warns that leaving Venezuela on the back burner carries the risk of inertia, and falling back on the Trump administration policy of “all options are on the table.”
- In an interview with The Washington Post, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) regarded recent concessions by the Maduro government—including signing a deal to allow the UN World Food Programme to operate in Venezuela, the release of the Citgo Six to house arrest, and the naming of a new electoral council—as an important diplomatic opportunity that the Biden administration risks squandering. Meeks, who has a decades-long relationship with members of Maduro’s inner circle, said he would be willing to act as a middle man between the Maduro government and Biden administration to promote an electoral solution.
- On Monday, at Florida International University’s sixth annual Hemispheric Security Conference, Biden’s Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs Juan Gonzalez indicated that the U.S. is prioritizing multilateralism to advance a realistic solution to Venezuela’s crisis that is centered around free and fair elections, and stated that the U.S. does not envision a “magic or simple” solution to Venezuela’s political situation.
- This week, Argentine President Alberto Fernández received significant pushback from members of Venezuela’s opposition after stating in a radio interview that the human rights problem in Venezuela is “disappearing little by little.” In the interview Fernández also advocated for a negotiated solution in the country and denounced economic sanctions on both Venezuela and Cuba as “unsustainable and inhumane.”
- President Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols said this week in his confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. should use its leverage and the support of the international community to push the Maduro government towards free and fair elections. When asked by Senator Murphy (D-CT) about the possibility of restoring permissions for diesel swaps in response to recent concessions from the Maduro government, Ambassador Nichols replied that maintaining economic pressure on the regime is “key” and that the U.S. would not be in a rush to lift restrictions on diesel swaps.
- On the evening of May 14, Venezuelan security forces seized the office of El Nacional and ordered a payment of over $13 million to the government under the orders of Socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello, as part of a civil defamation case against the independent media organization. Civil society activists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Chung have firmly denounced the measure as a blatant attack on the freedom of the press.
- On May 18, Colombian rebel group Segunda Marquetalia announced that a prominent FARC dissident leader, Jesús Santrich, had been killed by a Colombian military unit in Venezuela. Santrich was one of FARC’s chief negotiators in the early stages of peace talks with the Colombian government, and while the group responsible for Santrich’s death is not known with certainty, experts at Insight Crime have suggested that his death could have major implications for dynamics between criminal groups and the Venezuelan armed forces.
- A recent decree published on May 12 ordered the Venezuelan intelligence and counterintelligence services to transfer political prisoners to common prisons under the custody of the Ministry of Penitentiary Service. Acceso a la Justicia Director Ali Daniels dismissed the measure as an effort to “pretend to respect human rights,” asserting that the security forces still commit torture and other human rights abuses in common prisons, and that these individuals held for political crimes should be released altogether. On May 18, Foro Penal documented that there are at least 306 political prisoners currently detained in Venezuela.
- On May 19, Colombia reopened its borders with all of its immediate neighbors except for Venezuela: Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. The Duque government has set June 1 as the date to reopen the border with Venezuela due to uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation in the country.
- A joint study published on May 18 by the World Bank and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) highlights some of the challenges facing the more than 260,000 Venezuelan migrants living in Brazil in the areas of employment, education, and access to social services.
- A recent study by the Barometer of Xenophobia documents a 576% rise in xenophobic rhetoric and media content against Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia following xenophobic comments by Colombian politicians, including the Mayor of Bogota Claudia López, in March. Tomás Lawrence, Codirector of the Observatory of Racism, Xenophobia and Hate in Chile, stated in an interview that manifestations of xenophobia against Venezuelans in Latin America are largely rooted in aporofobia, or fear of poverty and poor people.
- In a press conference on May 19, Juan Guaidó revealed that he has been in talks with officials in the Biden administration about the possibility of the U.S. donating excess vaccine doses to Venezuela. However, he stated that such a donation would depend on the cooperation of the Maduro government.
- An article published on May 17 in The Guardian documents the slow rate of vaccination in Venezuela, with less than 1% of the population having received a first dose so far. The article highlights comments by Dr. Enrique López-Loyo, President of Venezuela’s National Academy of Medicine, suggesting that at this rate it could take up to ten years for the country’s population to be fully vaccinated.
- On May 17, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado announced that a shipment containing 25 tons of medical aid from China had arrived in Venezuela, to be distributed among states with the highest rates of COVID-19. The shipment brings the total amount of medical aid from China to address the COVID-19 pandemic to 420 tons.
- Fedecamaras President Ricardo Cusano revealed that the Venezuelan organization has resources, logistical capacity, and a plan to distribute vaccines to as many as 3 million Venezuelans. Fedecamaras has been vocal in pushing for the private sector to support the country’s vaccination effort, but the Maduro government has not approved the proposal.