SIM Report: Venezuela’s government and opposition set for Mexico-brokered talks

SIM Report: Latin America & the Caribbean, Issue 12

Representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition parties are set to begin talks in Mexico as soon as 13 August, in an apparent bid to address Venezuela’s longstanding political and humanitarian crises. The dialogue, which has been confirmed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be mediated by Norway, although specific details on the exact location of the negotiations, timings and the composition of both delegations have yet to be released. In comments to the press on 5 August, López Obrador said he hoped the talks would lead to agreements between both parties.

The talks are set to bring together representatives of President Nicolás Maduro’s government and senior opposition figures supportive of the country’s primary opposition leader, Juan Guaidó. For opposition groups, the talks serve as an opportunity to re-establish competitive elections prior to regional and municipal polls scheduled for November, as well as to work with Maduro’s government on addressing the coronavirus pandemic. For Maduro’s socialist administration, meanwhile, the negotiations are likely viewed as an opportunity to boost the government’s beleaguered international standing, particularly among the US, EU, and many of its Latin American neighbours. Caracas, in turn, will hope that the holding of negotiations and any potential agreements would bode well for the lifting of international sanctions, including on the country’s vital oil sector.

While the talks will enjoy strong international support, precedent suggests that the prospects for meaningful agreements are poor. Similar initiatives have been tried repeatedly over the past four years, with Maduro’s government and the opposition holding talks in Norway and Barbados in 2019, and in the Dominican Republic in 2017 and 2018. In each instance, the negotiations failed to produce significant breakthroughs or increase the competitiveness of the country’s elections. Parliamentary elections held in December 2020, which were boycotted by the largest opposition grouping and were overwhelmingly won by the ruling PSUV party and its allies, provide the most recent example of the country’s deep political malaise. The talks will also suffer from extremely high levels of distrust between the two sides, including regarding whether each side will fulfil any commitments made during the negotiations. Opposition groupings, in particular, are likely to be sceptical of any pledges from Maduro’s government on the holding of free and fair elections, especially in the absence of international involvement.

The talks, however successful they ultimately prove to be, are a positive development for corporates with interests in Venezuela. Caracas’ international isolation and hostile relations with the US pose a major barrier to doing business in the country and are unlikely to be addressed without significant international engagement and concessions from Maduro’s government. The talks, therefore, offer a potential route away from Caracas’s isolation, although significant concessions from Maduro’s government on the holding of free and fair elections are likely to be necessary to elicit the lifting of any sanctions. Successful talks could also lead to improved economic and humanitarian outcomes in the country, particularly if the negotiations facilitate Venezuela’s procurement of coronavirus vaccines and other medical supplies, both of which are currently in desperately short supply. Organisations with interests in Venezuela should monitor updates on the talks and the international reaction, and assess the potential implications of any agreements on operations and strategy.

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