Venezuelan Peace Talks: Step Toward Peace or Distraction?

September 18, 2017

As Venezuela steps further away from its democratic institutions, President Maduro and opposition leaders may begin to take steps toward a solution to the political and economic turmoil in the country. Both government and opposition leaders have accepted the invitation of the Dominican Republic to make plans to begin talks to deal with the nation’s problems. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas invited the groups and hours later on state television President Maduro declared his intention to send a delegation. The opposition’s response was less enthusiastic, expressing concern that this was publicity ploy to show the international community that the government is seeking peace, while refusing any concessions. They believe that the Maduro government must respect democratic institutions by releasing political prisoners, respecting the fairly elected National Assembly and allowing humanitarian aid into the country (1). If the negotiations in the Dominican Republic are not successful the French Foreign Ministry remarked that EU sanctions may be considered, which could lead to the seizure of billion of dollars in foreign assets and bank accounts. The consequences of this could be serious considering Venezuela is still struggling to navigate the impact of U.S. sanctions that have forced the government to stop accepting oil payments in U.S. dollars (2). They have also banned the state oil company’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo from delivering dividends to Venezuela and have blocked Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from American creditors (3). The future of the Venezuelan oil industry remains uncertain as rumors continue that that the state-owned petroleum firm PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.) is likely to default on their credit. While the regime may have feared U.S. oil sanctions, the idea has reportedly been shelved after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The White House fears that oil sanctions would hurt Americans struggling to recover from the two hurricanes that recently devastated the southern United States (4). While the continued economic deterioration may suggest that the Maduro regime is prepared to discuss peace, the growing reports of human rights abuses further complicate the possibility of compromise. A UN report found that as of July 31st there were 124 deaths being investigated in which 46 were from security forces; pro-government armed groups caused 27 and 51 remain undetermined. Illegal detention of anti-government protesters and human rights advocates have been continuously increasing as well. Local estimates estimate that 5,000 people have been detained since April and a fifth of those are reportedly still in custody. The report went so far as to state that human rights abuses point to “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear in the population to curb demonstrations at the cost of Venezuelans' rights and freedoms." Specific tactics listed in the report include “the use of electric shocks, severe beatings, stress positions, suffocation, and threats of sexual violence and death”. Human rights observers have been repeatedly barred from the country and the situation is being monitored remotely and through local NGOS, witnesses and journalists (5). During the opening session of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that crimes against humanity had occurred in Venezuela, calling for further investigation of the crimes. Even the Vatican has increased efforts to establish peace by working with local bishops who have been willing to criticize the Maduro regime. Pope Francis has also called on the UN take action in the humanitarian crisis. The topic of Venezuela’s move away from democracy will surely be a topic at the UN General Assembly, which begins September 19 (6). References: 1) Sanchez, F. (2017, September 12). Venezuela leaders, opposition explore possibility of talks. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 2) Lehman, C. F. (2017, September 14). Russia, China Playing Major Role in Keeping Venezuela Afloat. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 3) Ordoñez, F. (2017, September 13). Oil sanctions against Venezuela less likely after Harvey and Irma, sources say. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 4)Ordoñez, F. (2017, September 13). Oil sanctions against Venezuela less likely after Harvey and Irma, sources say. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 5) Nebehay, S. (2017, August 30). UN cites systematic use of excessive force in Venezuela crackdown on dissent. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 6) Sonneland, H. K. (2017, September 13). Update: How Is the International Community Responding to Venezuela? Retrieved September 14, 2017, from

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Katherine Andrews
Katherine Andrews is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science with certificates in Global and Latin American Studies. She spent her summer interning with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department and has done research with CLAS in Costa Rica and Mexico. Her focus is on gender and sexuality issues in Latin America, specifically international gender-based violence policy.