What Is Next for Venezuela?

Yves here. I must confess to having missed that negotiations in Venezuela were underway. But as a finance and economics site, we can’t give geopolitical developments the same level of coverage as topics more central to our beats.

Having said that, and readers closer to the action may beg to differ, but the very fact of negotiations looks like an admission of the obvious, that the US-backed coup effort has failed. However, the fallback seems to be to wrest some concessions from the Maduro government, presumably in return for a relaxation of sanctions. The wee problem is, as the US demonstrated with exiting the JCPOA, that the US is not-agreement-capable, so it isn’t clear what benefits Venezuela would actually derive even if the two sides were to come to a deal.

By the International Crisis Group. Originally published at openDemocracy

This is a short version of the latest briefing of the International Crisis Group on Venezuela, entitled: “Venezuela: Is there life after the Barbados talks?” Read the full briefing here

What’s new? At least for now, Norwegian-facilitated negotiations to end Venezuela’s presidential showdown have collapsed. Meanwhile, President Nicolás Maduro’s government has forged an agreement with minority opposition parties. Together with regional powers’ decision to define Venezuela as a threat to hemispheric security, these developments could complicate a resolution of the crisis.

Why does it matter? Failure to restore political stability and socio-economic well-being in Venezuela fuels South America’s worst-ever refugee crisis, risks a low-intensity internal conflict, propagates tensions across the region and threatens to trigger military clashes with neighbouring Colombia.

What should be done? Allies of the two sides should press them to overcome their reluctance and return to the negotiating table, possibly under a new format, where they should show the necessary flexibility to reach a workable agreement.


After seven rounds of formal talks in Oslo and Barbados, facilitated by the Norwegian government, negotiations between representatives of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition led by Juan Guaidó – now recognised as the legitimate acting president by 58 countries, including the U.S. – broke down in mid-September. The talks had centred on a six-point agenda, agreed upon in April, to which the Maduro government had contributed just one point – the lifting of U.S. sanctions.

The remaining five were the restoration of constitutional checks and balances; conditions for the holding of elections (understood by the opposition to mean a presidential election, though that was not made explicit); the terms of a transition away from Maduro; peace and reconciliation; and post-electoral guarantees for both sides.

Both sides had reportedly accepted, at least in principle, close to 80 per cent of the action points based on this agenda. Though the talks have been suspended, their resumption remains the best hope for averting a worsening humanitarian emergency and the risk of violence in and around Venezuela.

While both sides have left open the possibility of returning to talks, each has proceeded to activate alternative strategies that undercut the Norwegian initiative. As soon as the opposition made public its conclusion that the negotiations’ current phase was at an end, the Maduro government and a group of smaller opposition parties unveiled an agreement of their own, which contemplates the release of some political prisoners, fresh faces on the electoral authority board and the return of government legislators to the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

A week later, on 23 September, sixteen governments from across the Americas that recognise opposition leader Guaidó as acting president agreed to activate a regional defence pact known as the Rio Treaty (formally, the Inter­-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or TIAR in Spanish) and announced their intention to impose sanctions as well as pursue, capture and extradite Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses and other international crimes. They defined the Venezuelan crisis as a threat to the security of the region as a whole.

On both sides there are those who reject the idea of resuming substantive negotiations. For some in the opposition there can be no dialogue with a government that has repeatedly failed to keep its word and that is, in their view, running not only a dictatorship but what amounts to a “mafia state”.

On Maduro’s side, some argue that the forces arrayed against them seek to destroy the government and the chavista movement – named after the late president Hugo Chávez – as a whole. For them, the only adequate response is to resist as, for example, Cuba has done over the past six decades in the face of U.S. efforts to topple communist rule on the island.

Prospects for a swift return to the table now seem poor. Still, a Norway-type process, albeit with certain modifications – such as more concerted international support and the inclusion of more voices at the negotiating table, above all those of the Venezuelan military – continues to offer the best framework for a deal that would lead to a peaceful, sustainable transition.

If the two sides want to reach a sustainable settlement, the best course is to return to more structured negotiations


Improbable as it seems at present, if the two sides want to reach a sustainable settlement, the best course is to return to more structured negotiations similar to those conducted by Norway. So far neither party has closed off this possibility, and both have even explicitly talked about it.

President Maduro expressed willingness to resume the talks in a speech he gave on his return from a visit to Russia, while the opposition made a similar pledge in a National Assembly resolution on 1 October, in which it defined negotiations as a “necessary mechanism” backed both by the international community and by Venezuelans.

Difficulties that led to the talks’ suspension, as well as other issues that have arisen since then, would need to be addressed. In particular, the parties should consider reaching partial agreements even as they negotiate a more comprehensive deal, not only as a means of generating public support and bolstering the talks’ legitimacy but also in order to address the humanitarian emergency.

The inclusion of additional constituencies – notably, delegations representing the Venezuelan armed forces and minority opposition parties – would also strengthen the process. The organiser – optimally still the Norwegian government, which both sides trust for its discretion and integrity – ought to consider including international players that, while physically and formally absent from the negotiations, have enjoyed significant influence from afar.

One option might be to create an outer ring of participants, such as the U.S. and Russia, as well as regional players including Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. The EU’s International Contact Group could play a role in assembling and participating in this circle of diplomatic support.

Lastly, successful talks will require the two sides and their main allies to make further compromises. As our forthcoming companion briefing details, these compromises will be easy neither for the government nor for the opposition to strike or sell to their respective constituents. But they are essential if a viable, sustainable agreement that reverses Venezuela’s catastrophic course and averts a worsening regional crisis is to be reached.

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  1. JTMcPhee

    So, the kid with the lunch money the bully has been extorting from is supposed to become “ready to make concessions.” Sounds fair.

    Got to love the language and thought processes of “diplomacy.”

  2. Daniel Raphael

    The source of Venezuela’s problems is US hostility, which is of long standing and has more than a century of precedents throughout Latin America. That is where the solution lies. When the US stops being an aggressor–far beyond mere “meddling”–then other nations will benefit.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      You can’t blame everything on the US. The rapacious Venezuelan domestic wealthy elite (fuelled by oil money) that refuses to recognise the legitimacy of genuine democratic processes is more than capable of destroying the country without US aid.

      1. jsn

        “The inclusion of additional constituencies – notably, delegations representing the Venezuelan armed forces and minority opposition parties – would also strengthen the process.”

        Yes, and if those rapacious elites could just talk directly to the military and other Maduro allies it would be so much easier to buy them off.

      2. Joe Well

        Agreed, PK.

        I would add to that the failure of the “Bolivarian Revolution” to:

        1. diversify away from a single-export-dependent economy, which would have made this a true revolution. No other large country in the hemisphere, if on earth, is so dominated by a single export.
        2. stem corruption of existing bureaucracies and within the Bolivarian elite
        3. arrest and give lengthy prison sentences to the worst of the saboteurs (but I don’t know how much they were limited by “international” pressure)
        4. enlist or replicate Venezuela’s amazing pre-Bolivarian for-profit media machine. Venezuelan TV was among the most popular in Latin America, and the pop music wasn’t bad either, but Chavez led the way in being a moralist and demonizing it in favor of low-production-value good-for-you leftist and traditional cultural fare. Seriously, you gotta let people have their shows. As it is, the biggest Venezuelan media stars ended up being antichavistas.
        5. at least try to win over some of the middle class instead of letting them feel like they were lumped together with the “squalid”. It’s been like Hillary in reverse, only for 20 years. An enormous own goal.

        But as they’ve shown, if you have the military+police+major industry+>50% public opinion on your side, you will last forever.

        1. Harry

          Great points!

          1) was always gonna be difficult cos they didnt engage in confiscation outside of oil.

      3. JohnnyGL

        This is very true. It also seems to be true for all the countries of the region. There’s a lot of rapacious, and unrepentant elites.

        I suppose there’s also an argument that the US helps to cultivate the existence of this elite through a variety of mechanisms.

      4. Michael Fiorillo

        Without intense US aggression and interference, Chavez and Chavismo might have have broken that nihilistic grip over time. After everything the country has endured, most sectors of Venezuelan society, the military included, still have not turned on the government. That suggests some deep reservoirs of support.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          Incredible to see CIA Democratic candidate Buttgig come out in support of Guiado.

          But hey why not, full transparency, if your masters are hedge fund billionaires and their spook minions scheming to get their hot little hands on Venezuelan oil and industry then you may as well say so.

    2. timbers

      I think mutually beneficial negotiations are possible, provided Venezuela holds firm that before any negotiations start, first the United States President, Vice President, their entire cabinet, and every single member of both chambers of Congress and all of US intelligence agencies resign and turn themselves over to Venezuelan authorities for arrest and processing regarding crimes of violating it’s national sovereignty.

      If not that, why bother? North Korea learned it’s lesson.

      1. Synoia

        One suspects there is an unending supply of similarly minded replacements, with the occasional AOC like figure.

        1. ambrit

          Which observation leads to the conclusion that the extant system of governance has to be changed. If reform is more palatable, then make it a severe reform.
          It is almost a “law of nature,” that humans are prone to self-serving behaviours, and so, the system of governance must be shaped to make allowances for and combat the myriad of petty evils inherent in any human made social system. The present American system has been systematically corrupted to the point of being incapable of agreement, in any sphere of human endeavour. That system needs to be brought back into balance. A Sisyphean task, but well worth doing.

      2. ChrisAtRUnextDoorToVZ


        I don’t think people fully understand the choke hold here. Early last year, the US administration turned over (some) control over Venezuelan foreign reserves to an unelected official the US chose to recognize as president of Venezuela.

        It is precisely control over Venezuelan oil riches that fuels the “opposition” there. Maduro has not governed well in terms of reigning in the largesse of the oil-wealthy there, but the US understands how to use monetary institutions as weapons better than Maduro knows how to shield Venzuela’s foreign sector from the need to spend USD. It is for this reason IMO that we need a reinvigorated (socialist) Russia and a less Western–finance-appeasing China to emerge. Without counter-balance, American belligerence unchecked will foment fascism in Sudamerica (as it has in Bolivia) and elsewhere around the world.

        1. jsn

          It’s like Jefferson’s blockade of Haiti or “containment” (and constant military pressure) on the Soviet Union: for the Capitalist system a succesful left model anywhere is a mortal threat and won’t be tollerated.

          This is why it’s vitally important to document and explain the nihilism of unlimited “economic” growth within a finite ecology: without massive constraint on it and an ethos that demonizes it (old testament prohibition on interest for instance) Capitalism is suicide.

          Younger generations in the West, for whom increasingly unconstrained Capitalism is providing less and less where not nothing at all, are starting to see this.

  3. ambrit

    This process could be an unintended consequence of the Soleimani assassination. That event cemented the US’s reputation as being a non-agreement-capable regime. The machinations of the American Imperialist clique are behind the severity of the present Venezuelan crisis. By extension, it follows that any negotiations between the local Venezuelan government and the ‘foreign’ Pretender government of Venezuela, when the Pretender government is widely seen as a creature of the Americans, are doomed simply because any agreements the Pretender government signs are null and void from the start.
    Finally, even though pragmatic in a South American political sense, the formal inclusion of the Armed Forces of Venezuela would send a dire message. In “Democratic” societies, the army is supposed to be fully subservient to the civil authorities. Here, the inclusion of the armed forces in the civil politics of the country says that the army is a co-equal power in the State. A very bad precedent to set. That precedent ends up with Praetorian guards as the arbiters of political legitimacy within a country. That is something very similar to what is happening in America with the attempt to remove Trump, a lawfully and legally elected President, through the machinations of the Security State.
    The lesson to be learned is that whatever happens in Venezuela will sooner or later happen here.
    Like dealing with bullies, until someone stands up to the bully du jour and fights back, the bully will constantly and inexorably demand and take more and more.
    Attributed to various persons, the quote most apt to this subject would be: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

    1. a different chris

      >The lesson to be learned is that whatever happens in Venezuela will sooner or later happen here.

      Hmmm, and I didn’t even think of that. What I was thinking was that, like poor Australia the fires are soon going to be everywhere. The US militarily is stretched too thin as it is, and if we even have one of our pretend-it-isn’t-war-war with Iraq other actors are going to see this as a good opportunity to “do their own thing”*.

      But you point out that fires like these usually spread to the home front. Like the celebrated executive who continuously jet sets around the world “setting things right” (they never stay right, but that’s another story) then comes home to find his/her spouse in bed with the help.

      *note: I am not implying said things would be bad… just that they would be bad from the perspective of US elites. Somebody might tax their rich to bring healthcare to the poor, for instance.

      1. ambrit

        Someone correct my record if I’m wrong, but, I would assume that an army forced to retreat from a foreign field, back to the Homeland, would try to assuage the sting of that defeat by finding some domestic factions upon which to try and fix the ‘blame’ for the foreign fiasco. How many times have we read about situations like in Germany between the Wars where the militarist factions blamed the defeat on being “stabbed in the back” by homeland factions that stood in opposition to the militarists or at least the militarist’s favoured goals. This, no less, with conscript armies. Now imagine America’s “professional” army, the idea of which most of the Founding Fathers distrusted mightily, flailing about at home, trying to salvage some vestige of self respect. A dangerous tool to leave lying about. Someone truly evil, of which personality type America has an overabundance, could use it for despicable ends.

  4. Brooklin Bridge

    Truly precious…


    After seven rounds of formal talks in Oslo and Barbados, facilitated by the Norwegian government, negotiations between representatives of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition led by Juan Guaidó – now recognised as the legitimate acting president by 58 countries, including the U.S.

    1) Legitimacy by thug count
    2) Put big thug last (“including…” drum roll…, “the US”) instead of first as the hammer (as if that would fool anyone), how cute – now I;m convinced it’s fair
    3) Keep straight face – (whistle their way past the big thugs’ pants on fire crazy assasination as the total disqualifier to be in any way, shape or form, taken as a qualified neutral juge of who is or isn’t legitimate anywhere in South America or on the globe we call Earth for that matter).


  5. chuck roast

    I always try to put everything in an ahistorical context. I find that it helps greatly in simplifying my analysis and can get me quickly to my preconceived conclusion. Thus we have an Overview that states, “Juan Guaidó – now recognized as the legitimate acting president by 58 countries, including the U.S.” There you have it. This is where it all begins.

    But now I’m confused. I thought that Guaido was photogenic, empty-suit back-bencher hoisted out of obscurity to front the interests of the mall-shopping bourgeoisie. So, he really is a widely recognized international leader, and “…sixteen governments from across the Americas…recognize opposition leader Guaidó as acting president.” This legitimizes him. Now that the the Christian fascists have given the Evo the boot, that would make seventeen. But there I go getting historical again.

    The key, of course, is to hold new elections. Free elections, the key to peace. I suppose we can have the Organization of American States (the same guys that recognize Guaido) supervise the elections…like in Bolivia. But that is in the ash can of history.

    It’s my incipient Alzheimer. Anyway, we are told that Venezuela suffers from instability and socio-economic disharmony, and there is a resultant refugee crisis. I’m guessing that all the refugees are going to Miami. This is a good thing for the Chavistas…not such a good thing for US citizens.

    Was this article written by Rodney King? Can’t we all just get along? More stupefying simplicity from Open Democracy and the Soros types. Bourgeois Democracy solves all social ills…until it doesn’t and the swine are finally driven out. But they will be back as always under the rubric “everyone must make further compromises.” Compromise at your peril.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      There are a lot more countries who do not recognize Guaido as the legitimate president but this and most other articles on the subject never bother to mention that.

      Guaido should count himself lucky in his enemies, specifically the fact that Maduro is clearly not a brutal repressive dictator. If he were, Guaido’s head would have been on a pike months ago.

      Holding new elections now would only serve to legitimize US complaints. The elections were held fairly – it’s not Maduro’s fault the opposition boycotted the election, which presumably they would not have done if they felt they had any chance of winning it. So they quit and cry foul instead with the foreknowledge that Uncle Sugar is ready to come to the rescue. That is the framing that every legit piece on this situation ought to be using.

      1. JohnnyGL

        Guaido should count himself lucky in his enemies, specifically the fact that Maduro is clearly not a brutal repressive dictator. If he were, Guaido’s head would have been on a pike months ago.

        This is true, but Maduro and PSUV would lose their base if they just locked up the opposition. They gain a lot of legitimacy from being seen as a bunch that plays fair and is restrained in their actions.

        Also, coup attempts have a better chance at succeeding because top military commanders start getting antsy and wonder, ‘who’s next to get hauled off to jail?’

    2. Joe Well

      The hardest part about talking about Latin America with English speakers is the common disdain toward the region resulting in a refusal to learn even the most basic facts.

      >>Juan Guaidó – now recognized as the legitimate acting president by 58 countries, including the U.S.

      This is a simple statement of fact, even if I wish it weren’t so.

      >>Guaido was photogenic, empty-suit back-bencher hoisted out of obscurity

      He was the President of the National Assembly (Venezuela has a unicameral national legislature, so this is like being Speaker of the House + Senate Majority Leader). Not plucked from obscurity any more than just about every politician on earth. From there, he claimed that the president was illegitimate, most would say illegally, and declared himself the next in line to succession of the presidency (skipping over a few people), and voilá, I am president. But he is definitely not some Buttigieg figure or the current coup “president” of Bolivia who only had 5% in a fair election.

      >>I’m guessing that all the refugees are going to Miami.

      This statement is so profoundly incorrect, you need to go read Wikipedia for a while: Venezuelan Refugee Crisis. I have personally met many Venezuelan refugees in many countries and it is heart-breaking. Many of them still have vast faith in the US, but the US isn’t taking many refugees these days. A number of Latin American countries have received far more Venezuelans than the US.

      1. Plenue

        “This is a simple statement of fact, even if I wish it weren’t so.”

        Well, it’s more like:

        ‘Juan Guaidó – now recognized as the legitimate acting president by the US, and 57 hangers on.’

        I could probably get people to ‘recognize’ me as the governor of Ohio. That wouldn’t make it so, or legal. Guaidó’s claim is worthless.

        “But he is definitely not some Buttigieg figure or the current coup “president” of Bolivia who only had 5% in a fair election.”

        No, he’s even less legitimate than that. At least the guy in Bolivia actually ran for president.

  6. Synoia

    Oh what a tangled web we weave, when us practices to deceive.

    Whatever happened to “self-determination”? A victim to Empire Building? But we were told “self-determination” was the end of empire building.

    Did someone lie? Were we just mistaken?

    Or is it rules for you but not for me?

  7. Bill Carson

    Now that it appears Trump has lost both Iran and Iraq, and China appears to be stepping up to help Iraq, I fear that the American Empire will turn its attention back to securing the natural resources in our own hemisphere, so that we can control China’s access to those resources.

    1. JTMcPhee

      I don’t understand. Why does it look to me like the Empire, a huge establishment with lots of “hands,” has easily been “walking and chewing gum” just fine, and has had no difficulty looking to “secure,” as in steal, natural resources and other stuff, and fomenting overthrows of governments all around the planet, lo these many decades?

      Hope you are being ironic in offering up the notion that Iraq and Iran were “ours” to lose…

      Still hoping for some attention to expressing just what are the elements of a political economy that “we” might actually want, as opposed to serial attention to refurbishing one piece or another of the one that exists… Not an impossible task, since a relatively few people with the bent to power have sure laid out what they want and gone about achieving it via the globalist neoliberal agenda. US vs China in the Finale of the Race to the Bottom — a dream that humankind can get behind?

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