What’s next in the international response to the Venezuelan crisis? How can we achieve a coordinated multilateral response? On September 18, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council, Chatham House, and The Inter-American Dialogue hosted a discussion panel to address the implications of the Venezuelan crisis in the upcoming electoral processes. The possibilities and challenges faced by the Venezuelan people and the international community in pursuing a democratic path for the country were analyzed.
In her intervention, Beatriz Borges, executive director of the Center for Justice and Peace (Cepaz), addressed three dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis: the humanitarian situation, political persecution and violence, and current strategies used to restrict civic space.
Underestimated and Unreported Emergency
Borges noted that the complex humanitarian emergency denounced by Venezuelan civil society organizations since 2015 is still ongoing, with clear dimensions and scopes that have not yet been officially recognized.
According to the Venezuelan civil society’s humanitarian information platform, HUM Venezuela, as of August 2023, there are 19 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The most evident consequence of this emergency is the exodus of vulnerable Venezuelans who find little hope for survival or living with dignity in the country. According to figures from the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants (R4V), the number of Venezuelan migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees worldwide reached 7.71 million by August 2023, marking an increase of over 390,000 people compared to May of this year.
Persistent Human Rights Violations and Political Violence
The director of the Center for Justice and Peace emphasized that serious human rights violations continue to occur in Venezuela that are not investigated. Moreover, Venezuelans do not have an independent and impartial justice system that prevents impunity for these violations.
The Justice and Truth Coalition recently published a report stating that Venezuela has received about 180 recommendations from the United Nations on justice and human rights matters, but the government has not taken effective measures to address these issues. “The justice system in Venezuela is weakened and manipulated, denying justice to its citizens. This situation is not new and has become a long-standing issue in the country,” Borges pointed out. The report calls for these international human rights standards to be at the center of any negotiation or dialogue to resolve the crisis, emphasizing the importance of transparency and justice for victims of human rights violations. “For this reason, the group in power faces international investigations for crimes against humanity, human rights violations, and attacks on the rule of law.”
“In this context, we are very concerned about the increasing political violence in electoral contexts. The Political Persecution Monitor of Cepaz recorded that the first half of 2023 ended with at least 385 cases of persecution and criminalization. This means that in Venezuela, every 12 hours, someone becomes a victim of human rights violations through acts of persecution and/or criminalization. In simpler terms, from January to June 2023, two people per day were victims of the worsening human rights crisis in the country,” Borges added.
“This aims to instill fear and demobilize the population and political leaders and has been part of the ongoing repression system for which the government is currently being investigated. Remember, the government is under investigation for these serious and systematic violations of human rights.” Borges highlighted that these actions are part of a government strategy to stay in power.
Civil Society and the Government Strategy to Close the Civic Space
“If there is something hopeful in Venezuela, it is its vibrant and committed civil society. However, after years of crisis and repression, it is tired and affected,” said the human rights defender.
“For years there have been threats, criminalization, and restrictive legislative projects aimed at silencing civil society. Thanks to statements from the international community, this has not happened, but we are concerned about the new strategies aiming to close the civic space,” she added.
In Borges’ opinion, there is an active effort to fragment civil society, turning it into a voice representing certain interests. “The strategy of those in power aims to create a division between ‘radicals’ and ‘interlocutors,’ trying to divide civil society. Something very similar to what was done with political parties.”
“There is a sector in the country that wants to negotiate, whether in good or bad faith, and the government creates a scheme to legitimize that sector. As a result, civil society is experiencing a weakening of its abilities to drive conflict transformation and create the necessary conditions for reinstitutionalization, the defense of human rights, and governance,” Borges explained.
For the director of the Center for Justice and Peace, the top priority is to ensure that the humanitarian response remains within the country, preventing millions of people from being left unattended. “This humanitarian response is carried out by civil society through various organizations, and any aid should be aimed at strengthening the capacities of these social organizations on the ground. The humanitarian response should not be replaced by the imposition of a development plan that lacks connection with reality.”
Borges also mentioned ideas that have emerged from a collective reflection that several human rights organizations have undertaken in an initiative called “Ideas for Democracy” and that they have dubbed “The Window of Opportunity.”
Firstly, elections must become fertile ground for democratic hope in Venezuela. “There is a feeling of hope for change generated by the primaries and their candidates, and this issue is gaining importance among the citizenry.”
On the other hand, “political violence benefits no one. Incidents of political violence have increased in the country, with adverse effects on the prospects for democratic reinstitutionalization.
There have been aggressions, acts of intimidation, and criminalization against members of the Primary Commission, candidates, their teams, and citizens who collaborate or attend activities related to the electoral calendar. This includes arbitrary detentions and threats to revoke Venezuelan nationality.”
Beatriz Borges concluded her intervention by mentioning some actions that can be taken from the international community to support a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela. Among them, “coordinated pressure from the international community and the continuation of investigations carried out by international human rights protection bodies, such as the International Criminal Court or the Independent Fact-Finding Mission.”
She also mentioned the urgent need to advocate for economic improvement, “but understanding that the best conditions for doing business are found in democracy. We also have to advocate for genuine elections and non-violence, as peaceful actions to build peace in Venezuela. We cannot stop demanding our rights and demanding democracy in an authoritarian context. We also have to be prepared to denounce violence. Recent events in Yacapana are an example of violence against a defenseless population, and this is unacceptable,” Borges concluded.