In recent weeks, the Maduro government has intensified a campaign of repression and intimidation in Venezuela, arbitrarily detaining prominent figures including Voluntad Popular national coordinator Freddy Guevara and Director of the NGO FundaRedes Javier Tarazona. The heightened repression comes amid renewed speculation regarding potential negotiations, and raises concerns any talks will be derailed before they can start.
In the past week, political figures associated with Voluntad Popular, the opposition party led by Leopoldo López, have been increasingly targeted by the Maduro government in the form of accusations, threats, and arrests. On Monday July 12, opposition figure and member of the 2015 National Assembly Freddy Guevara was detained in Caracas by the National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) under charges of terrorism, treason, and ties with extremist groups. Guevara’s arrest comes after Vice President Delcy Rodríguez publicly accused Guevara and other members of Voluntad Popular of being tied to recent violent clashes with organized crime groups in the Cota 905 neighborhood of Caracas. Other members of Voluntad Popular including Emilio Graterón, Hasler Iglesias, Gilber Caro and Luis Somaza have been accused by Maduro officials including National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez of conspiring to commit violence against the government. On July 13, three family members of Voluntad Popular member Javier González were detained, and released shortly thereafter. In the early hours of July 15, Oraima Guillen, also associated with Voluntad Popular, was arrested. Juan Guaidó was also reportedly threatened with arrest on Monday when armed security forces entered his apartment building.
The crackdown on members of Voluntad Popular comes amid a wave of heightened repression against social leaders, NGO actors and members of the free press. On July 2, four members of the human rights NGO Fundaredes were arrested and accused of crimes including instigation of hate, terrorism, and treason. Fundaredes and its director Javier Tarazona—among the detained—has been particularly outspoken in documenting the presence of armed groups in the border state of Apure. Tarazona’s mother, Teresa Sánchez, was also arrested by SEBIN at her home on July 14, and released that evening. Other human rights defenders have been targeted by the state security forces, including social leader Jairo Pérez, who was detained on July 15.
The growing wave of repression against political and social leaders has prompted an outcry from human rights organizations and the international community. On July 3, a coalition of 317 organizations issued a joint statement denouncing the arrest of the Fundaredes workers and calling for their immediate release.
In the international community, the United States government has portrayed these incidents as a hurdle to negotiations, while still emphasizing the need for talks. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kevin O’Reilly noted that Guevara’s arrest made it harder to believe Maduro’s commitment to good faith negotiations, while NSC Western Hemisphere Director Juan González emphasized that the Biden administration remains committed to pursuing a negotiated solution in Venezuela. The arrest of Guevara was also condemned by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and EU Spokesperson Peter Stano.
- Violent clashes between the Venezuelan police and criminal gangs in and around the Cota 905 neighborhood of Caracas have left at least 26 dead and nearly 40 people injured, according to Interior Minister Carmen Meléndez. The official count includes 22 gang members and 4 police officers, though human rights NGOs have reported that a number of civilians have been killed by stray bullets. In response to the clashes, a group of over 160 civil society organizations published a joint statement expressing grief over the loss of life and the forced displacement of families in Cota 905, and calling on the Maduro government to put an end to the violence and investigate cases of excessive force and extrajudicial killings by the police.
- The International Criminal Court (ICC)’s new Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan reportedly has the “green light,” according to Efecto Cocuyo, to make a decision regarding the outcome of the court’s preliminary examination into crimes against humanity committed by the Venezuelan security forces since 2017. The ICC has given the prosecutor’s office until July 23 to file public redacted versions of its findings, after it rejected a request by the Maduro government that the court establish greater oversight over the examination process.
- On July 5, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet provided an update on the human rights situation between June 2020 and April 2021, documenting continued trends of extrajudicial killings, excessive force and arbitrary detentions, and restrictions on civic space. Bachelet also expressed concern about the recent arrest of Javier Tarazona and other Fundaredes workers.
- On July 7, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it had delivered its first batch of school meals to children in Venezuela after reaching a landmark decision with the Maduro government in April. The WFP operation is expected to serve 1.5 million children by the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
- On July 1 the U.S. Department of State published its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, denouncing the Maduro government for supporting armed groups and tolerating human and sex trafficking. The report placed Venezuela along with 16 other countries in Tier 3, the lowest category, for the absence of any efforts to eliminate human trafficking.
- Last week, an EU technical mission arrived in Venezuela to meet with government and opposition figures and evaluate electoral conditions in the country to determine if the EU would send an observation mission to oversee municipal and regional elections scheduled for November 21. The EU delegation has met with a broad array of actors including Defense Minister Padrino López, members of the Supreme Court, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, a group of mayors and local leaders, and members of the Guaidó-led opposition. Upon the arrival of the delegation, Juan Guaidó indicated that the mainstream opposition’s decision to participate in the upcoming elections would depend in large part on the technical mission’s assessment.
- On Monday the U.S. Department of Treasury issued a general license authorizing shipments of liquefied petroleum gas to Venezuela under current sanctions. The exemption is expected to alleviate shortages of gas such as propane, butane, and isobutane used for cooking.
- On July 13, the International Contact Group issued a statement expressing concern about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and reaffirming its support for an inclusive dialogue that leads to free and fair elections in the country. The signing countries expressed support for renewed efforts to negotiate and called on the UN to establish a permanent human rights office in Venezuela.
- On July 5, President Biden sent a letter to Juan Guaidó in honor of Venezuela’s independence day reaffirming the U.S.’s recognition of the legitimacy of the interim government and the National Assembly elected in 2015.
- After a delegation of members of the opposition traveled to Washington, D.C. in late June to meet with U.S. officials and garner support for the proposed ‘National Salvation Agreement,’ National Security Council representative Juan González reported that opposition leaders had united around a timeline and strategy for negotiations mediated by Norway, and indicated that the Biden administration would offer sanctions relief in exchange for concrete actions from Maduro as negotiations progress.
- On July 12, Nicolás Maduro stated that he would participate in future negotiations mediated by Norway due to take place in Mexico, but maintained that his delegation would only participate in the process under specific conditions, including relief from all U.S. sanctions. Maduro’s comments follow reports that the government and opposition plan to meet in Mexico starting in early August for a new round of negotiations.
- In an interview with Conecta2, Juan Guaidó suggested that Argentine President Alberto Fernández could play a productive role in guaranteeing a negotiated agreement in Venezuela, following previous statements by Fernández minimizing the severity of the human rights situation in the country.
- After meeting with a group of civil society and faith organizations on July 6, Ecuador’s Vice Minister of Human Mobility Hernán Yánez stated that the government had designed a three-step process to regularize Venezuelan migrants in the country. The development comes one month after recently-elected President Guillermo Lasso announced that his government would implement a new regularization process for Venezuelans in Ecuador.
- This week, a group of 124 Venezuelan refugees were deported from Trinidad and Tobago, with another group of 700 expected to be repatriated over the weekend. The recent deportations add to the more than 1,000 who have been ‘voluntarily repatriated’ from Trinidad and Tobago in 2021.
- On July 8, Argentine Interior Minister Wado de Pedro announced a new resolution that would regularize more than 6,800 Venezuelan children who entered the country illegally during the previous administration, providing them with a national identity document (DNI).
- On July 8, GAVI announced that the Maduro government had completed the necessary payment to access COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX mechanism, a few days after Nicolás Maduro claimed that the payment had already been made and gave the COVAX system an ultimatum to either send the country vaccines or return the money to the government. On July 15, Venezuela’s top infectious disease expert stated that vaccines acquired through COVAX would start to arrive in August or September.
- On July 4, Cuban Ambassador to Venezuela Dagoberto Rodríguez stated that 10,000 Venezuelan citizens had been vaccinated with the Cuban Abdala vaccine. The announcement follows opposition from the National Academy of Medicine to the decision to distribute the Abdala vaccine, which is still in the clinical trial phase and has not been approved for distribution by the WHO.