We are watching unfolding events in Venezuela with great interest. The country has been effectively out of bounds for a number of years and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel to the country.
With power cuts, food shortages and inflation expected to reach 8 million per cent this year, millions of people have fled the country. President Nicholas Maduro blames the country’s strife on a U.S.-led “economic war” but appears to remain firmly in control of the armed forces and media outlets.
At dawn on 30 April opposition leader Juan Guaidó called on the military to defect to his side and to oust Nicholas Maduro, offering an amnesty to those who facilitate a transition. He had earlier called on supporters to take to the streets on 1 May.
Guaidó, who is the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has been recognised by the United States and most Western nations as Venezuela’s interim leader after he invoked the constitution in January, declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election illegitimate. Maduro regards Guiadó as a puppet of the United States seeking to oust him in an illegal coup. Maduro’s socialist party has frequently responded to Guaidó’s calls for protests over the past few months with simultaneous marches of their own.
Although Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil, the economy is in freefall. There are chronic shortages of food and medicines, there are frequent power cuts and inflation, currently running at over 1.37 million per cent, is forecasted to increase to a staggering eight million percent this year. Around 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country (some suggest the real figure is 4m, about 10% of the population).
Nicholas Maduro, of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who took over after the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 (when the rot had already started), won the elections of May 2018 although the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) all declared them as rigged.
Juan Guaidó, of the opposition Voluntad Popular (People’s Will) party, hasn’t simply come from nowhere. Whilst other opposition leaders have been either imprisoned are in hiding or in exile, this little-known 35-year-old MP became chairman of the National Assembly on 6 January 2019. On 10 January the National Assembly declared a state of emergency. Under a clause in the constitution, if the National Assembly deems the president to be failing to fulfil basic duties or to have vacated the post, the chair of the National Assembly is permitted to assume interim power and to declare new elections within 30 days. On 23 January the National Assembly proclaimed Juan Guaidó as interim president.
It appears to be no coincidence that in January a special session of the Permanent Council of the OAS passed a resolution declaring Maduro illegitimate as President of Venezuela or that Guaidó was immediately recognised as president by Donald Trump dangling a promise of money for a new regime and declaring that he had not ruled out military intervention. Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Argentina also stated their support for Guaidó, as has Israel. Spain, France, Britain and Germany called on Maduro to announce new elections by 3 February 2019 and, since the deadline passed, have declared Guaidó interim president. On 4 February the multi-country Lima Group also proclaimed Venezuela’s opposition leader and its National Assembly as full members of the multi-nation group while ruling out military intervention to end the humanitarian crisis gripping the nation. Foreign ministers from the Lima Group countries — Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia, alongside representatives from the UK, the EU and the U.S. — were meeting in Ottawa, Canada.
In the meantime, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Cuba and Bolivia remain loyal to Maduro. Mexico has declared a policy of non-intervention and offered to mediate, as has Uruguay. Maduro himself has rejected all foreign interference and the international pressure to announce new elections and appears to remain in control of all media outlets. In the midst of large demonstrations in Caracas against his regime, Maduro has popped up frequently watching military manoeuvres and surrounded by weaponry.
What happens next will essentially be down to the military and control over the media. At present, with very few exceptions, the higher echelons of the army have declared loyalty to Sr Maduro who appears to be firmly in control. Any expectations by Juan Guaidó of larger defections by the military appear to have been inoportune and misplaced,
Whilst Costa Rica routinely comes out as the world’s happiest country, it is no surprise that Venezuela is top of Bloomberg’s Misery Index for the 5th year in a row.
Revealed Travel will continue to watch events with great interest.
Further information from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
If you are in Venezuela, you should consider carefully whether you need to remain, and keep your departure options under close review. In the event of prolonged power cuts and/or a deterioriation in the political or security situation, the British embassy may be limited in the assistance that it can provide.
Updated: London, 01 May 2019 at 11.50 a.m.