David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz
Venezuela’s opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) appears to have found its direction after several weeks of turmoil. New agreements suggest greater incorporation of “social leaders,” more effort in favor of the release of political prisoners, as well as a more rigorous demand that MUD parties follow the official line.
On July 30, MUD Secretary General Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, announced his resignation from the post. Soon afterwards, the Sub-Secretary, Ramón José Medina, also resigned.
The resignations followed a closed-door meeting of representatives of MUD parties on July 28. Narratives of the meeting pointed to deep divisions between radicals and moderates. These divisions reached a crisis point in mid-July when Medina jokingly suggested that the MUD would not seek Leopoldo López’s release from jail since he himself had concocted the plan to be jailed.
There have been two basic issues at play. On the one hand, there has been disagreement regarding how much “unidad” should characterize the MUD. On the other, there has been disagreement regarding what direction this unidad should take.
Read more …
In a public event with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki in the Plaza Bolivar, Minister of Foreign Relations Elias Jaua said "the cause of the Palestinian people is the cause of the Venezuelan people itself." He mentioned late president Hugo Chávez’s support for Palestine and concluded "today we are one people, one people united by the human cause, the cause of peace, the cause of life."
Such robust manifestations of support for Palestine have become common since the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began its offensive in Gaza on July 7. The Maduro government has received Palestinian leaders, collected material donations for Palestinian citizens, denounced Israeli actions action Palestine before the United Nations (UN), and provided humanitarian aid to Gaza. Venezuelan leaders have also consistently called for an immediate end to the conflict.
Al-Maliki arrived in Venezuela on August 12 “to discuss issues of foreign policy and to promote international help in demanding an immediate end to Israeli aggressions against the Palestinian people.” Al-Maliki stated that Venezuela “has demonstrated that it is the brother of the Palestinian people.”
On the same day, Venezuela sent twelve tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, including medicine, nonperishable food, clothing, and wheelchairs, and plans to send fifteen tons more in the next 48 hours. The Venezuelan government collected supplies at the Casa Amarilla (Ministry of Foreign Relations) for over a week, receiving assistance from the Kuwaiti and Malaysian embassies.
In weeks prior, Venezuelan leaders have continually called on international bodies to help end the Israel-Gaza conflict and open investigations into Israeli human rights violations.
Read more …
President Nicolas Maduro averted major dissent and consolidated his leadership over Chavismo during the Socialist Party’s (PSUV) Congress (25-31 July 2014). In recent months, it looked like the Congress might provide a public spectacle of in-fighting and ideological divisions. However, the Maduro government was able to present an image of unity and is now in a better position to push forward with economic reform.
The government of Maduro continues to have a constant approval rating around 40% in the polls, remarkably high given the depth of the social, political and economic problems the country is suffering.
After 7 days of deliberation the PSUV made public thirty two resolutions. Some had been agreed upon before the congress, such as designation of Nicolas Maduro as President of the Party (res. 2). Others were actually developed during the congress, for example the ones that refer to the fight against corruption, bureaucracy and the reorganization of the state (res. 12,13, 17) and the bases’ request for the PSUV to further delineate its ideology (res.18).
The issue of the ideological formation and stance was persistent during the entire six days, with the bases pushing for the creation of an ideological training school for PSUV leaders and members. Maduro accepted the proposal and said it will start in November.
PSUV members also asked President Maduro to create a commission to prepare a proposal containing the methodology, objectives and aims of a Chavista socialist project (res 18). It is striking that the bases asked for further definition of Chavismo given the number of documents and plans emitted the last 15 years.
Read more …
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro concluded their XIII China-Venezuela Joint Commission of High-Level meetings in Caracas on Monday. During President Xi’s two-day visit, China and Venezuela fortified existing relations and established 38 new agreements.
Relations between the two countries have greatly accelerated since former President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999 and sought to reduce dependency on the US. Yet, despite receiving $50 billion worth of loans from China, some analysts have argued that Chinese government leaders have grown frustrated with Venezuela’s alleged mismanagement of loans and unwillingness to close large oil deals. These new agreements, however, show that China continues to find Venezuela stable enough to invest in and, of course, secure oil from.
On July 20, President Xi arrived in Caracas and stated that he was “looking forward to charting the future course of bilateral ties together with President Maduro and communicating extensively with the Venezuelan people from all walks of life, so as to promote friendship, cooperation and development and lift the China-Venezuela relations to a new height.”
Read more …
Image posted on President Nicolas Maduro’s official twitter account @NicolasMaduro, on March 5, 2014
Hugo Perez Hernáiz and David Smilde
During a difficult year in which the future of Chavismo has become increasingly uncertain, the Maduro government has continued to construct a civil religion around the figure of Hugo Chávez through a continual flow of ritual events.
These ceremonies construct a narrative in which XIX Century independence struggle against imperial Spain is constantly linked to the life of Chávez and his personal struggle against new forms of imperialism. Indeed the life and death of Chávez himself is narrated as the reenactment of the life of Venezuela’s independence hero Simón Bolívar. President Maduro emphasized this connection in his speech on July 5, Venezuela’s Independence Day.
We are here today to make effective the message of independence that was enacted 200 years ago in this land of Venezuela, a great battle of ideas, a battle by those who were willing to open a historical time to the new man and women that live in this fatherland. We are aware today more than ever that this is a legacy left to us by Comandante Chávez. Today…we can say that thanks to Simón Bolívar, thanks to the men and women of our time, at 16 months of the physical passing of our Comandante Hugo Chávez, we have to infinitely thank our Comandante for giving us dignity.
Looking back at the first half of 2014 we can trace the multiple ceremonial events that are being used to construct a new civil religion.
Read more …
[Yesterday Luis Vicente Leon used his weekly column in El Universal to write-up the presentation he gave at WOLA last week (scroll down the blog for the webcast. LVL’s presentation starts at 27:00), including data from a new survey (see the data here). Below is a translation of his article.]
Luis Vicente Leon
Sunday, July 13, 2014
I was invited by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) to participate in a public event analyzing the possible impacts (not necessarily intended) of the potential application of sanctions on a specific group of Venezuelan public officials accused of human rights violations.
I had already made public my views on this issue. For me, unilateral sanctions are pointless and support should be channeled through other institutional mechanisms. But I also think the history of the Venezuelan conflict is much more complicated than the conventional discourses of radicals on both sides make it, which in turn gives rise to simplistic and bias interpretations abroad. Finally, any unilateral action taken by the US government would not be welcome by the majority in Venezuela because it would be viewed as intervention. It would only give the government more solid arguments to demonstrate that there is a conspiracy trying to overthrow it—the perfect excuse to justify the current crisis—generating sympathy among independents, unifying Chavismo and moving the Latin American international community to react with primary solidarity.
That is still my opinion, but on his occasion I came not only to express what I think but to share what Venezuelans think about the issue and for this I used the results of the last Datanalisis poll finished on May 27.
Read more …
Jerome McDonald Interviews David Smilde on WBEZ Worldview
The US Congress is considering targeted sanctions against Venezuelan government officials for their handling of the country’s political unrest. On Wednesday I published a piece in World Politics Review arguing that this measure would be counterproductive.
Sanctions serve an important symbolic purpose: communicating universal support for human rights. But their utility needs to be assessed in terms of whether they can change the Venezuelan government’s relationship with the opposition and its heavy-handedness with protesters.
In light of the underway US government efforts to shame Venezuelan government elites through visa bans and asset freezing, the fact that these sanctions are unlikely to draw multilateral support, the lack of incentives for the targets to comply, and the strong possibility these measures undermine existing diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration to work the problem via third parties, the cons greatly outweigh pros in this case.
What is more, the sanctions could strengthen the Maduro government by playing into its narrative of an international financial siege just when economic pain becomes acute.
On July 8, 2014, WOLA hosted a panel discussion on the likely impacts that targeted U.S. sanctions would have in Venezuela. The discussion featured a presentation by Venezuela’s leading pollster, Luis Vicente León of Datanálisis.
Mr. Leon’s data show that a majority of Venezuelans reject the idea of U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
Live event broadcast will be begin July 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
The street protests that erupted in Venezuela in February generated tensions and violence. The response of Venezuelan security forces has led to credible allegations of excessive use of force and violations of the human rights of demonstrators. The protests have largely subsided for the moment, but Venezuelan politics remain turbulent, and the talks between the government and opposition sectors that began in April—with support from UNASUR and the Vatican—have been frozen since May.
In the meantime, the U.S. Congress has taken up legislation that would impose U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials deemed to be responsible for human right abuses committed against protesters. In May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a targeted sanctions bill and the full House of Representatives passed a similar measure later the same month. Sponsors of the Senate measure have vowed to press for floor debate and a vote in the coming weeks. The Obama administration has opposed the sanctions bills, maintaining that legislation mandating U.S. sanctions would be counterproductive.
What impact would the approval of targeted sanctions legislation have in Venezuela? Please join us for a timely discussion on the likely impacts of U.S.-imposed sanctions, with insights from Marino Alvarado of PROVEA, Venezuela’s premier human rights organization; Datanálisis’ Luis Vicente León, one of Venezuela’s foremost pollsters; and David Smilde, who moderates WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog.
- Marino Alvarado Betancourt is General Coordinator of the Venezuelan Program for Education and Action in Human Rights (PROVEA), Venezuela’s leading human rights organization, and a columnist for Venezuelan daily Tal Cual.
- Luis Vicente León is President of Datanálisis, Venezuela’s most trusted polling firm. He is a professor at the Universidad Católica Ándres Bello and at the Instituto de Educación Superior en Administración.
- David Smilde is a Senior Fellow at WOLA and the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University. In May, he published a Washington Post Op-Ed arguing against U.S. sanctions.