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Weekly Report - 01 November 2018

VENEZUELA: Maduro puts out feelers

A new attempt to initiate talks between the government led by President Nicolás Maduro and the political opposition is underway. Given the consistent failure of previous mediation efforts, expectations are not high.

Back in August President Maduro said he was prepared to talk to the opposition. He is reported to be interested in some kind of approximation ahead of 10 January, when he is due to be sworn in for another presidential term, following his re-election in May this year, in polls that were widely condemned by independent observers as fraudulent, and which were boycotted by the main opposition parties.

An attempt at some kind of dialogue is being put together by the Boston Group, a loose contact forum first formed in 2002 and consisting of members of the US and Venezuelan legislatures, including members of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV). A key figure in the group is US Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations commission (who is due to retire after November’s mid-term elections). Corker is working with Jim Tull, a Harvard trained conflict management specialist.

Corker visited Caracas in October along with his adviser on Latin American affairs, Caleb McCarry. Tull is reportedly planning a visit. All three men have been involved in Venezuela before. They took part in negotiations leading up to the release in May of Joshua Holt, a US missionary from Utah, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for two years on weapons charges.

According to Boston Group sources who spoke to Reuters news agency, the initial proposal is modest – simply to exchange ideas through a facilitator. The sources say at this stage the group is definitely not trying to mediate, negotiate, or arbitrate, but that it is simply trying to open communication channels. This echoes efforts by the European Union (EU). In mid-October the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini said that the EU had decided to “explore the possibility of establishing a contact group” to see if conditions were in place in Venezuela “to facilitate not a mediation…or a dialogue, but a political process”, involving the government and opposition [WR-18-41].

Neither the efforts of the Boston Group nor the EU are going down well with the country’s main opposition groups. On 28 October three of the principal opposition parties, Primero Justicia (PJ), Voluntad Popular (VP), and La Causa Radical (LCR), issued a joint statement saying that the conditions for a negotiation with the government are simply not present.

The three parties argued that Maduro’s sole aim in a negotiation would be to “gain time and an appearance of legitimacy” while deepening repression of opponents against a background of the intensifying humanitarian crisis. They made it clear that in their view the only way forward would be for the government to nominate new electoral authorities and convene fresh general elections.

In contrast Cambiemos, the party of the moderate opposition (and dissident chavista) former presidential candidate Henri Falcón, said it was prepared to support a new dialogue, on the proviso that it was free from foreign intervention. Henrique Capriles Radonski, a former opposition presidential contender, is also thought to be more open to talks on certain conditions.

Russia and China offering help

In an apparent coincidence senior officials from both Russia and China have been in Caracas in the same week, both advising the government on how to try and overcome its deep economic crisis.

Yu Bin, a senior member of China’s Council of State, was reported to have discussed the country’s economic recovery programme with government officials. In a public talk Yu spoke of China’s efforts to reduce inflation and open up its economy. Without apparent irony, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said the Chinese experience showed the importance of planning and central control of the economy.

A Russian visiting mission to Venezuela was meanwhile led by deputy finance minister Sergei Storchak, who was also sharing his experience of economic reform.

Both China and Russia have helped Venezuela with loans; the country’s difficulties mean some of these have had to be rescheduled or rolled over.

  • Machado

María Corina Machado, the leader of Venezuela’s more radical opposition party Soy Venezuela, said the only outcome of political dialogue to date has been “to give the regime more oxygen”. Machado and her team were attacked and beaten by government supporters during a visit to Upata, in the eastern state of Bolívar, on 24 October.