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On Monday, April 19, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it had reached a deal with the Maduro government to provide meals to school-aged children in regions of Venezuela most affected by food insecurity. The deal comes after months of back-and-forth with the Maduro government over the terms of WFP access in the country, and is expected to provide assistance to 1.5 million children by the end of the 2022-2023 school year. The program will reach up to 185,000 children by the end of 2021.
Monday’s deal follows a visit by WFP Executive Director David Beasley to Caracas, during which he met with Maduro at the Miraflores presidential palace, and separately with Juan Guaidó. Following an hour-long meeting, Beasley and Maduro signed a memorandum of understanding permitting WFP to establish a presence in Venezuela and commence the operation to provide meals in poor schools across the country. WFP had previously been in negotiations with the Maduro government to allow the agency to initiate operations in the country, but these talks repeatedly fell apart, which the opposition claimed was due to Maduro’s unwillingness to allow for independent distribution of the assistance. WFP’s extensive efforts to establish operations in Venezuela follow a 2019 assessment and subsequent report published in February 2020 documenting that approximately one in three Venezuelans is food insecure and in need of assistance.
The agreement reached Monday includes a budget of $190 million, drawing from the funds of the overall UN Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan. Under the plan, WFP will provide nutritious meals to children, prioritizing those in pre-primary and special education schools, and will train school staff on food safety practices. Beasley explained the reasoning for focusing the operation on school-aged children, stating that schools are the most appropriate platform “to reach communities in an independent manner.”
Policymakers in the U.S. have voiced support for the WFP deal, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Chung and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. In Congress, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) also applauded the agreement on social media, while Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) released a statement welcoming the deal but urging a “more comprehensive humanitarian response.”
- This week, members of the opposition parties that participated in the December 6 legislative elections announced the formation of a new political alliance to challenge the chavista bloc ahead of this year’s regional elections. The alliance, called Plataforma Democrática Nacional (Democratic National Platform), includes members of Avanzada Progresista, El Cambio, Cambiemos, Copei, and Acción Democrática.
- On Tuesday, the opposition party Primero Justicia published a statement urging the Maduro government and opposition parties, mediated by actors in the international community, to reach an accord to allow for the ‘relegitimization’ of the country, and the carrying out of free and fair elections at the presidential, municipal, legislative, and regional levels. The statement specifically demands a balanced and objective CNE, an end to the persecution of political parties, a clear electoral schedule, and guaranteed international observation.
- On Wednesday, Nicolás Maduro announced a 60-day plan to regularize the distribution of hydrocarbons to the agriculture sector amid diesel shortages in the country. Maduro urged Energy Minister Tareck El Aissami to boost domestic diesel production to satisfy internal demand. The announcement comes amid ongoing advocacy efforts by Venezuelan and regional civil society urging the U.S. government to restore permissions for diesel-for-crude swaps in Venezuela due to the potentially devastating humanitarian impacts of impending diesel shortages.
- On Tuesday, after actors in the U.S. government spoke out in support of the deal reached between WFP and the Maduro government, Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded on Twitter demanding that the U.S. lift “criminal” sanctions on Venezuela. In response, Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung responded with a list of specific actions that the Maduro government must take for the U.S. to lift sanctions. These are: hold free and fair elections, respect human rights and a free press, release “all 323 political prisoners” (a reference to the Foro Penal list), stop persecuting the opposition, and stop harassing NGOs.
- On Tuesday, Maduro’s Public Ministry presented a request to the kingdom of Spain to extradite opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been exiled in Spain since October of last year. The request is related to López’s alleged participation in Operation Gideon, the failed attempt by a U.S. security contracting firm to ‘capture’ Nicolás Maduro in May 2020. López, a former political prisoner, described the request as yet another effort to “criminalize those fighting for Venezuela’s freedom.”
- This week, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez represented Venezuela virtually at this year’s Ibero-American Summit, which convened in Andorra on Wednesday. Representatives of attending countries including Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia openly rejected Venezuela’s participation in the meeting, pointing to the lack of democratic guarantees and human rights violations committed in the country. Colombian President Iván Duque had a heated exchange with the Venezuelan Vice President, highlighting the erosion of diplomatic relations between the two countries amid an ongoing border conflict.
- This week Ali Daniels, Director of Venezuelan NGO Acceso a la Justicia, detailed 9 specific ways in which new criteria from the Maduro government requiring Venezuelan non-profit organizations to provide sensitive information regarding their funding, activities, and beneficiaries to the National Office Against Organized Crime and Terrorism violate the human rights guarantees outlined in the Constitution. In response to the announcement of this new requirement, on April 19 a group of 92 Venezuelan and regional NGOs including WOLA published a statement calling on the Maduro government to respect the independence of NGOs and civil society.
- Last week, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) published its annual report for 2020, the product of research carried out in the region over the course of 2020. The Venezuela section of the report—which alone is 74 pages long—documents the further deterioration of democratic institutions and the undermining of civil and political rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
- This week, Maduro issued a decree ordering a 6-month process to restructure the national police force (PNB), with the stated goal of improving its effectiveness in providing security and defending the human rights of the Venezuelan people. Human rights activists have dismissed the measure, asserting that the decree is meaningless unless it incorporates a plan to investigate extrajudicial executions and human rights violations committed at the hands of the Venezuelan security forces.
- On Tuesday, the Chilean government published a new immigration plan for the regularization of migrants who entered the country legally prior to March 2020, which requires all foreign nationals who have entered Chile through informal channels to leave the country within 180 days. The measure follows previous actions by the Piñera government to deport hundreds of Venezuelan migrants en masse, receiving outcry from human rights advocates and the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers.
- On Tuesday, the Guaidó ambassador to Canada announced that the Canadian government would donate $80.3 million over the course of two years to respond to the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis.
- On Sunday, Maduro announced that his government had made the second payment to the WHO to access approximately 11 million COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative. The news follows last week’s surprise announcement from Vice President Delcy Rodríguez that the government had paid half of the required payment to WHO, after negotiating with the opposition to unfreeze assets held abroad, as the Maduro government claimed that due to U.S. sanctions it did not have sufficient funding on its own to pay for vaccines through the COVAX initiative. The Maduro government has yet to disclose how it was able to afford the $120 million payment.
- On Thursday, the opposition announced plans to request that the U.S. release $152 million in frozen funds to cover its budget. Bloomberg news notes that there is little transparency regarding the breakdown of the funding (the piece notes there are particular questions about the nature of funds earmarked for “democracy promotion”), but also that $100 million has been reserved to pay for additional vaccines through the COVAX initiative or other organizations.