Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

Independent, Reality-Based Analysis

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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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Venezuela Sanctions Likely to Be Counterproductive

Michael McCarthy

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.  

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Datanálisis Releases Polling Data on Venezuelan’s Perceptions of U.S. Sanctions

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.

Filed under venezuela datanalisis Luis Vicente Leon Venezuela Sanctions

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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.

Filed under livestream David Smilde Marino Alvarado Luis Vicente Leon Venezuela Venezuela Sanctions Venezuela Protests

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Is Venezuela’s Maduro Gaining Strength or Losing His Grip?

The Inter American Dialogue’s daily Latin American Advisor ran a Q&A on the implications of the removal of Planning Minister Jorge Giordani. Below is Hugo Pérez Hernáiz’s contribution.

The contributions of Javier Corrales, Daniel C Hellinger and Asdrubal Ontiveros can be read here.

LAA: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in mid-June removed Jorge Giordani, one of the main architects of Venezuela’s system of currency and price controls and a staunch supporter of Marxist economic policies, from his long-time post as planning minister, along with several other ministers in a cabinet shakeup. In a public letter after his dismissal, Giordani blamed Maduro’s administration for allowing corrupt practices to continue, sentiments that Héctor Navarro, a fellow leftist and PSUV party leader, endorsed publicly as well. Does Giordani’s departure signal big changes to the country’s economic policy? How are Giordani’s removal and vocal challenges from the left of his party affecting Maduro’s strength and power to control economic decision-making?

HP: Like Giordani, Maduro is a convinced socialist and believes in a planned and controlled economy, but he is being forced by circumstances to make difficult economic decisions, and Giordani’s exit could facilitate economic reform. The economic consequences of the issue are significant, but the political side is also serious. Even if Giordani and Navarro are not power brokers within the PSUV or the government, they are still respected leaders for the rank and file and give voice to the radical left of Chavismo, critical of what they perceive as a ‘turn to the right’ on economics and politics. Maduro could pay a price for his overreaction to criticisms in terms of future electoral support from the radical left. But this is not an electoral year, and for now Maduro seems to have the support and loyalty of the military and the party/state apparatus. In the near future, however, we could witness a struggle over who is the real and legitimate interpreter of Chávez’s political/religious legacy. Maduro is still banking on his legitimacy of origin as the designated heir of the ‘eternal leader,’ but he could soon be challenged by other Chavistas. An event to watch this month will be the Third Party Congress of the PSUV, for which the leadership has been insisting on the need for unity, loyalty and discipline. Party leaders will try to closely control the public side of the event, but displays of discontent related to the Giordani affair are likely.”

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Sanctioning Venezuela? Examining the Likely Impacts of U.S. Sanctions Targeting Venezuelan Officials

The Washington Office on Latin America is pleased to invite you to a discussion featuring

Marino Alvarado Betancourt
General Coordinator, Venezuelan Program for Education
and Action in Human Rights (PROVEA)
Luis Vicente León
President, Datanálisis
David Smilde
Senior Fellow, WOLA

Moderated by
John Walsh
Senior Associate, WOLA
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Washington Office on Latin America
1666 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20009

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Filed under US Sanctions US Venezuela relations Maduro government

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Venezuelan Revolution: What Happened?

Protests in Venezuela led to the country’s government responding with force. In a period of just a few months, more than 40 people were killed and 800 injured. Most of the casualties were civilians. Some lawmakers in the United States floated a bill to impose sanctions on Venezuelan government officials.

However, almost as quickly as it began, the revolution fizzled out. CCTV’s John Holman explains what happened.


Filed under David Smilde WOLA Venezuela Sanctions Venezuela CCTV America Venezuela Protests