In Venezuela’s stalemate, people come second

The Venezuelan crisis hype has relinquished, and the current focus has turned to the staggering migrant influx making its way throughout Latin America. Back at home, Venezuelans continue to struggle to have access to food, medical attention, and basic utilities, while the country’s income rapidly declines, not only as a result of the economic sanctions, but the vast negligence of the oil business management. The political climate is reeling as the factions within the opposition voice their frustration at Guaido’s strategy to oust Maduro by means of an unconvincing fracture among the military. The regional context is no less critical, with the Colombian government’s allegations of Venezuelan involvement in the return to arms announced by former FARC rebels. This desperate situation is running in parallel with a foreseeable deadlock, where all parties seem to be expecting that exhaustion can lead to a final resolution. The sense of desperation and hopelessness predicts this crisis is for the long haul.

The current state of Venezuela’s crisis can be felt throughout the Andean region, with more than 2 million people in regular status (with a higher number of refugees awaiting legal status), among a broader influx of 4 million refugees, estimated to reach 5 million by the end of 2019, where we find Colombia standing first in the list of host nations, according to the most recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

 
Colombia 676,093
Peru 410,895
Chile 326,775
Argentina 159,526
Ecuador 107,052
 

Source: UNHCR, 2019

The efforts being made by the United States and Colombia have not been matched by the rest of region, with Peru, Ecuador, and Chile imposing visa restrictions on refugees seeking entry to their countries. The burden of the Venezuelan exodus has fallen almost entirely on Colombia, encouraging the rest of the countries to step up measures to limit the entry of Venezuelans, given the lack of infrastructure and resources -especially in Peru and Ecuador- to deal with the refugee inflow.

On the other side, while these relief efforts are not enough to topple the crisis, and the region cannot be expected to continue to manage it on its own, the negotiation talks between the Nicolás Maduro regime and the Opposition -brokered by Norway- have stalled as key allies in the region face domestic challenges: Colombia, Peru and Argentina. The risk of an escalation of the crisis between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela has increased with the announcement made by three former FARC guerrilla leaders of their abandonment of the Peace Accord, vowing to take up arms, as they draw away from an already fragile agreement. This decision has prolonged the war of words between Bogotá and Caracas, with Iván Duque accusing the Maduro regime of providing a safe haven not only to former FARC rebels, but also the ELN. In response to this allegation, Maduro has made Duque responsible for yet another plot, this time calling on the Venezuelan Armed Forces to be prepared for a confrontation on the border. The rhetoric, on both sides has worsened after Colombia warned of the participation of the Maduro regime in the rebel operation, anticipating a critical situation for Duque as he needs to manage the refugee crisis along with Venezuelan military exercises on the border.

On the Opposition camp, Juan Guaidó continues to be the interim president and head of the National Assembly, while he deals with the usual storms from the different factions that contest Maduro’s ruling. The promise to provoke a schism among the military -Maduro’s core support- has turned into an additional source of conflict with political groups that either favor a more hawkish approach, in line with the White House’s initial take of a ‘military solution’, while other groups push for elections. The stalemate in the negotiation talks has put pressure, not only on Maduro, but on Guaidó himself, as the pledge for a swift transition seems more implausible now, and the effect of the sanctions imposed by the United States are starting to hit the country. The economy continues in free fall with an epic 10 million percent hyperinflation rate that is draining human talent from the country, with serious doctor and teacher shortages fueling an already dire situation.

The incentives for Maduro to remain in power appear to be greater than to leave, and in doing so, he’s punishing a country plunged into chaos.  The greatest disservice chavismo has done to Venezuela has been to ruin the faith of the country in democratic institutions. Chavez and Maduro destroyed the social fabric that kept together the country, flawed as it was, but undeserving this tragic situation. Maduro is determined to remain in power, and in his promise of violence he’s following Chavez’s playbook of political persecution and repression. The United Nations Human Rights chief warned that the Venezuelan regime continues executing torture and extrajudicial killings via special action forces. Bachelet also referred to the impact of US sanctions on the most vulnerable Venezuelans, but unfortunately, Maduro is playing the victim when it comes to meet his obligations in providing material support to the country, as he directs much needed resources to furnish the special force denounced by Bachelet of carrying extrajudicial killings. This is being done in plain sight, and the international community is the only actor left to stop Maduro and his cronies from obliterating  Venezuela.

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