The International Crisis Group (ICG) — an independent, non-profit, and non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict — today released its latest briefing “Venezuela: Tipping Point.” “Violence has exacerbated an already tense political situation in Venezuela and made finding a solution both more urgent and more complex,” the report states.
After more than three months of nationwide unrest, it explains, Venezuela’s political crisis has become evident for the whole world. A series of protests amid economic hardship and rampant crime have put President Nicolás Maduro’s inherited regime to the test. While representatives from the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have tried for weeks to mediate the conflict and find a negotiated settlement, these efforts have failed to stop the growing number of human rights violations. They have instead evidenced the government’s refusal to yield.
But beyond the domestic harm, ICG notes that the failure and lack of an international resolution has “damaged the credibility of regional institutions.” This failure stems from polarization that extends beyond Venezuela’s borders, and has manifested in a major splitwithin the Inter-American System, including with the Organization of American States.
Countries aligned with the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, Venezuela’s allies in the region, have maintained steadfast support for Maduro’s administration, as an elected government and victim of a violent and “fascist” minitority. On the other hand, governments such as United States, Canada and Panama have denounced the excessive use of force and human rights violations and have advocated for a mediated settlement.
Venezuela’s Crisis: No Longer a Domestic Problem
The country’s political polarization has echoed beyond Venezuela’s borders. Even though Maduro’s flag has been non-intervention, “some neighboring countries have played, and still play, an influential role in Venezuelan politics,” explains the Brussels-based organization. One of these is Cuba, a constant supporter of Chavismo and the main recipient of generous supplies of Venezuelan oil. For the ICG, the island that has been governed by the Castro brothers for more than half a century can have a significant influence on the course of Venezuela’s political future.
According to the report, “the Cubans play a strategic role in providing political and technical advice to Maduro’s regime and therefore potentially posses the leverage to persuade Caracas that a peaceful settlement of the dispute is in its best interests.”
Javier Ciurlizza, Latin America Program Director for the ICG explains: “Cuba’s dependency on Venezuelan oil is so critical, and the experience the country had in times of scarcity after the fall of the Soviet Union was so traumatic that Cuba probably will paradoxically perform a stabilizing role on the long term.”
In this briefing, the ICG warns that if the dialogue fails, the violence will spread, and it will have serious consequences not only for Venezuela’s short-term political stability, but also for the surrounding region, “compromising the stability of the country’s neighbors and posing a major challenge to hemispheric institutions.” That includes progress towards solving other problems in the international agenda such as the Colombian peace talks and the reform process in Cuba.
In this regard, the organization emphasizes the importance that international mediation could still have towards resolution crisis: “whatever their ideological sympathies, it would be a serious mistake to assume that the crisis in Venezuela can be managed without external support and profound internal change.”
For Ciurlizza, “the international community must provide support to de-escalate violence and maintain a consistent line on restoration of the rule of law and respect for human rights… The crisis in Venezuela cannot be managed without external help.”
The Dialogue: A Dead End?
So far, the talks between the government and the opposition haven’t led to any tangible results. In fact, just last week, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) decided to freeze the talks, since the government had continued to repress peaceful protests.
President Maduro rejected this measure, and stated on a national broadcast:
“I called the MUD to do them a favor, to take them out of the violence, to take them out of the coups. When I sat with the MUD, on a table, and brought UNASUR and the Vatican, it was to make them come to democracy, to the constitution… The dialogue will continue with or without the MUD.”
According to Ciurlizza, one of the reasons that has weakened the dialogue process is that there hasn’t been any structure or methodology to establish reasonable timetables.
“So far,” he says, “the government’s proposed agenda is unknown, and its previous attempts have only been reduced to listening, but without risking what they won in the elections. The root cause of the problem is that the more the executive cedes power in, say, the independence of other government branches, the more exposed it will be, even within its own coalition.”
The ICG regional director concludes that the only ones who will benefit from suspending the talks will be the radicals. If both parties quit the dialogue, “the government and the opposition will fragment, and those groups that support the confrontation will control the scene.”