Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

Independent, Reality-Based Analysis

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Diversity of Interests Shapes US Venezuela Policy

Timothy Gill 

In recent weeks, several US policymakers have advocated for actions involving the Venezuelan government, showing the diversity of US interests and perspectives.

While the US Department of State Spokesperson Marie Harf criticized the Venezuelan government’s handling of the prosecution of individuals involved with protests that developed in February, US Charge D’Affaires in Venezuela Lee McClenny privately met with former Foreign Minister Elias Jaua to discuss issues of mutual importance and plan more substantial meetings with Venezuelan leaders in the future. Within the US Senate, on the other hand, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-FL) to allow a vote on legislation that would place further sanctions on Venezuelan officials.

On September 11, Harf released a press statement declaring that the US is “deeply concerned by the lack of due process or fair trial guarantees for persons detained in relation to protests in Venezuela.” In the statement, Harf draws specific attention to the cases brought against Leopoldo López, Enzo Scarano, and Daniel Ceballos and asserts that the “Venezuelan Government has an obligation to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by international law … [including] inform[ing] all persons detained of any charges against them and to either release them or guarantee them a fair and public trial before an independent and impartial tribunal without undue delay.”

On September 12, the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations responded with a statement calling Harf’s statement “an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of our country reflecting an attitude of sustained aggression against the Venezuelan people.”

The statement asserts that while the Venezuelan government respects human rights as they are enshrined in the Venezuelan Constitution, the US “systematically violates the human rights of its people and the people of the world … [including] violence against immigrants, against thousands of Central American children, discrimination against minorities of African descent, unpunished crimes by those in power, as in the case of the young Michael Brown, racism, the open practice of kidnapping and torture, as flagrantly occurs in the torture centers of Guantanamo, and other North American military installations around the world; and support for terrorism, bombings, and military attacks in other countries.”


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Did Maduro Miss His Chance?

David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas

President Nicolas Maduro’s shake-up announced a week ago was, of course, anti-climatic. There were no major announcements of measures that might address the dramatic distortions in the Venezuelan economy. What changes were announced seemed to muddy the waters for reform.

In the hours after the announcements, analysts warned that the lack of relevant moves was negative for the economy and for international perceptions. Luis Vicente León said “Nothing was announced to tackle the causes of the crisis. So for now the crisis can only worsen.” Indeed international markets left no doubt about their view of the changes. In the following days bonds fell and country risk increased, meaning Venezuela will have to pay more for credit on the international market.

One analyst likened Maduro’s moves to a “rotation of used tires” designed to balance internal forces but not much else.

Here we look at the four most important changes made and suggest they represent an internal reordering that could lead to economic and political reforms in the medium term. Nevertheless, they probably represent a lost window of opportunity.

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Filed under Venezuelan economy Nicolas Maduro Economic reform

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A New Election Referee? Sizing Up the 2015 Electoral Context

Michael McCarthy

With Venezuela entering the peak of its summer, August 15-September 15, politics is at a low-intensity mobilization point. But, we are most likely observing a lull in street mobilization. During this period of relative calm, a great deal of maneuvering is taking place as both the government and the opposition turn towards the 2015 Parliamentary elections.

A major issue shaping the context for these elections is the possible naming of three new rectors to the five-person Electoral Authority (CNE). As reported by the Carter Center and the UCAB Project on Electoral Integrity, the multifaceted process of naming replacements for the three rectors’ whose periods in office officially lapsed April 28, 2013 is moving, but at a glacial pace.

The National Assembly is the center of action for the nomination process. A Congressional Committee made up of six pro-government and five pro-opposition deputies, and which will eventually include participation from ten individuals associated with civil society organizations, successfully held some deliberations on the topic. However, the slow pace of the process raises a familiar question: to what extent will political differences constrain efforts to renew the CNE and make it into the Professional-based model outlined in the Constitution?

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Venezuelan Opposition Hits Reset


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.

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Maduro Government Strengthens Support for Palestine

Timothy Gill

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.

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Filed under Venezuelan foreign policy israel-gaza conflict

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PSUV Congress Positions Maduro to Push for Reform

Dimitris Pantoulas

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.

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Filed under Maduro government PSUV congress Economic reform

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Venezuela Receives Support, China Consolidates Interests

Timothy Gill

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.”


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In the Face of Uncertainty, a Ritual Calendar Emerges

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.

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Filed under Hugo Chavez Civil religion Independence day

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[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.

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