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Venezuela Crisis Develops as Opposing Sides Square Off Amidst Vatican- and UNASUR-Mediated Talks
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (right) shakes hands with opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba at Vatican-backed talks aimed at settling a deepening political crisis in Caracas on 30OCT16 (AFP)
This week’s Snapshot Report is focused on the rising tensions in Venezuela between President Maduro and the opposition party. The country is suffering from a prolonged recession, which has caused severe shortages of necessities, including food and medicine. Venezuela’s situation has been blamed on the current government’s failed policies and sparked outrage from the public and the opposition party. On 20OCT16, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) indefinitely suspended the referendum process, which would have potentially allowed a popular vote of confidence on the presidency. The move closed off the last constitutional option to resolve the political crisis and heightened claims that the Venezuelan government is a dictatorship. In response, the opposition escalated protests against the president. The Vatican and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) brokered an agreement to hold talks, which resulted in a truce between the two factions. Many Catholic Venezuelans were disappointed that the Pope did not rebuke President Maduro after their private meeting on 24OCT. The Pope’s envoy warned that there may be “bloodshed” if the talks fail. Venezuela’s political polarization and the worsening plight for ordinary citizens has not seemed to disrupt President Maduro’s agenda, who launched a salsa show on 01NOV16. Consequently, there is dwindling hope among the public that the talks, currently scheduled for 11NOV16, will resolve political division in Venezuela.
News summary of events during the week of 31OCT16 – 07NOV16
31OCT: The dialogue in the Venezuelan capital between the government and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) advanced on good terms, with commitments to evaluate by 03NOV the possibility of releasing several political prisoners. (EFE)
31OCT: The US State Department said Thomas Shannon, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, was headed to Venezuela to underscore US support for a newly begun political dialogue between the leftist government and the opposition. (Reuters)
31OCT: With the mediation of the Vatican and the UNASUR regional group, the two sides agreed after hours-long talks that ended before dawn on an agenda that includes a new meeting in NOV16. (AFP)
01NOV: President Nicolas Maduro said the Venezuelan government and the United States should have “respectful relations” and a “permanent dialogue”. (Xinhua)
01NOV: President Maduro’s regime released five politicians the opposition considers were political prisoners a day after Vatican-mediated negotiations began.(UPI)
01NOV: Opposition lawmakers were to stage a “political trial” of President Maduro after a blocked bid to oust the deeply unpopular leader through a referendum. (AFP)
01NOV: Venezuelan authorities stopped a Washington Post reporter at the Caracas airport and denied him entry, in the latest case of blocking a foreign correspondent from covering the mounting political turmoil. (Washington Post)
02NOV: A top opposition leader accused President Maduro of trying to divide his enemies to undermine talks on defusing the country’s political crisis. (AFP)
02NOV: The opposition began a tense truce with President Maduro, but supporters accused it of betraying them and analysts warned the strategy risked backfiring. (AFP)
03NOV: The opposition MUD alliance set several conditions for resuming Vatican-mediated talks with the government on 11NOV, including a demand that both sides commit to an “electoral solution” to the nation’s political crisis. (EFE)
03NOV: President Maduro said the Venezuelan opposition needs to understand that “the revolution is going to continue,” while urging his political foes to remain part of the dialogue the two sides began earlier this week.(EFE)
04NOV: US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon said the Vatican-mediated dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition is the last, best chance to find a peaceful solution to end the country’s political crisis. (Reuters)
05NOV: Venezuela’s opposition movement is trying to undermine embattled President Maduro by claiming he has Colombian citizenship. (WSJ)
05NOV: Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli said, “”If one delegation or the other ends the dialogue, it’s not the pope but the Venezuelan people who will lose, because the path then could truly be one of blood.” (AFP)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the Venezuela talks to resolve the political crisis
@JMVivancoHRW – Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch
@carlos_1her – Carlos Hernandez, Student, Universidad Central de Venezuela
@Kejalvyas – Kejal Vyas, Correspondent, Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal
@HannahDreier – Hannah Dreier, Correspondent in Venezuela, Associated Press
@juliocmontoya – Julio Montoya Medero, Deputy, Asamblea Nacional
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the crisis in Venezuela
Risa Grais-Targow, Latin America analyst at, Eurasia Group
“While the government may strike a more conciliatory posture in the coming weeks, talks are unlikely to resolve the political crisis as the government remains fundamentally unwilling to cede to opposition demands and release its grip on power.”
“Venezuela Rhetoric to Be Damped as Government And Foes Talk”, Bloomberg, 30OCT16
Benigno Alarcon, Venezuela’s, Andres Bello Catholic University
“[Maduro is just] buying time…I find it improbable that after doing everything possible to avoid a referendum, (the government) would agree now to hold early elections.”
“Venezuela opposition bets on risky truce with Maduro”, AFP, 02NOV16
Alejandro Werner, Chief Latin America Economist, International Monetary Fund
“Venezuela’s economic condition continues to deteriorate.”
“Hungry Venezuelans cry at the sight of food, as economic crisis deepens”, CNN, 20JUL16
Human Rights Watch, Open Letter, Human Rights Watch
“Any good-faith and meaningful dialogue must be based on an objective assessment of the political, social and economic crisis that the country is facing, and recognise the government’s responsibility…Otherwise it will only serve as yet another excuse for Venezuelan authorities to delay measures that are desperately needed to protect human rights and restore minimum democratic standards in Venezuela. For any dialogue to succeed, it must tackle head-on the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian practices…the government has resorted to the courts, which lack judicial independence, to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute opposition leaders and ordinary Venezuelans who speak about the crisis. Many have been abused while in custody, which in some cases amounts to torture.”
“Why some are skeptical about the pope’s chance of bringing social peace to Venezuela”, Economist, 30OCT2016
Ricardo Hausmann, former Venezuelan Planning Minister
“What happened is that President Hugo Chavez used a period of high oil prices, not to put some money aside, but to quintuple the foreign debt,” says Hausmann. “If Maduro is out soon, I think we can turn the country around relatively quickly with sound economic policies.”
Who is to blame for Venezuela’s economic collapse?, Al-Jazeera, 05NOV2016
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the Venezuela talks
1. UPDATE: U.S. diplomat meets with Maduro to support Venezuela dialogue
Byline: Brian Ellsworth
Date: 31 October 2016
CARACAS (Reuters) – A senior U.S. diplomat on Monday met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as part of an effort to support dialogue between the government and the opposition amid an escalating political standoff and a worsening economic crisis.
The arrival of Tom Shannon, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and an expert on Latin America, may help spur negotiations between the two sides, which over the years have repeatedly held talks that generated few concrete results.
2. Opposition lawmakers stage ‘trial’ of Venezuelan leader
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 01 November 2016
Caracas, Nov 1, 2016 (AFP) – Opposition lawmakers were to stage a “political trial” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday after a blocked bid to oust the deeply unpopular leader through a referendum.
But the proceedings in the opposition-dominated National Assembly are largely seen as symbolic, said one analyst, Luis Vicente Leon.
Maduro has dismissed the mock trial, saying it was not provided for under the constitution and amounted to an attempt to overthrow his embattled government.
3. UPDATE: Venezuela opposition bets on risky truce with Maduro
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 02 November 2016
Caracas, Nov 2, 2016 (AFP) – Venezuela’s opposition began a tense truce Wednesday with President Nicolas Maduro, but supporters accused it of betraying them and analysts warned the strategy risked backfiring.
With Pope Francis’s blessing, Maduro and top opposition leaders have agreed to sit down to Vatican-mediated talks starting November 11, seeking an exit from a nasty political crisis and economic melt-down.
But not everyone is on board with the opposition’s new strategy — including 16 dissenting parties in its own coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), and many of its supporters.
4. Venezuelan President Maduro tells opposition, ‘the revolution will continue’
Media: EFE (Spain)
Date: 03 November 2016
CARACAS – The Venezuelan opposition needs to understand that “the revolution is going to continue,” President Nicolás Maduro said Thursday, while urging his political foes to remain part of the dialogue the two sides began earlier this week.
The revolution begun in 1999 by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, “is irreversible,” Maduro said in a speech at the presidential palace.
He said that his opponents “must learn to co-exist with the revolution” and to accept the principle of democratic governance.
5. Pope’s envoy warns of bloodshed if Venezuela talks fail: paper
Date: 05 November 2016
Venezuela is going through a “very ugly” situation and there could be bloodshed ahead if talks between the government and opposition fail, a papal envoy told an Argentine newspaper after his visit to Venezuela this week.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli had been in Caracas for Vatican-convened talks as an angry opposition stepped up its protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro after authorities scuttled a recall referendum.
The oil-rich country is also suffering from a prolonged recession and severe shortages of food and medicine.