The political scenario in Venezuela has changed since 2019, when over 50 countries recognized the interim government of Juan Guaidó. In December 2022, the interim government was dissolved, and changes of government in countries such as Brazil and Colombia, among others, have led to the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Maduro government. In addition, the U.S.’ position towards the Venezuelan government has moved from a strategy of maximum pressure to one that prioritizes negotiations and is open to relaxing sanctions in exchange for meeting certain conditions. The complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, recognized internationally as such since 2016, has deepened due to measures such as financial sanctions, as well as sanctions on oil, which were imposed later by the United States and continue to be in place. Without a peaceful and democratic transition, it is unlikely that the country will move in the right direction to overcome the humanitarian emergency and address the needs of the Venezuelan people.
The year 2019 did not bring about the desired change in government. Since then, the momentum has been replaced by a “sense of fatigue” at the international level, characterized by a lack of interest and commitment of resources towards promoting a democratic transition. The political scenario might have changed in the past four years, but much continues to be the same in Venezuela: human rights violations, corruption, persecution of dissent, limited access to information and censorship, absence of rule of law, and a complex humanitarian emergency that has not ceased and which continues to force people to flee.
Fatigue is a natural reaction when desired changes do not take place or are indefinitely delayed. However, it is precisely due to the suffering of Venezuelans that circumstances require a united and effective opposition with a clear strategy that engages all sectors of society. It is clear that political change will not automatically bring the end of a humanitarian crisis that has had profound effects and brought public services to collapse, but a democratic transition can lead towards dismantling the structures of “grand corruption”, addressing the humanitarian situation more effectively, and doing so from a human rights perspective.
The de facto dollarization of the economy and the relaxation of former price controls did have some positive effects on the economy. But the economy is far from recovering. During the first four months of the year, inflation reached 86,7% and the ENCOVI 2022 survey carried out by the Catholic University Andrés Bello shows how inequality has deepened in the last year. Per capita income for the richest decile was 70 times higher than for the poorest decile. The study also shows that almost 40 percent of the homes with the highest incomes are located in Caracas, even though the capital city only concentrates 16 percent of the country’s homes. According to the platform HumVenezuela, 19 million people have humanitarian needs and at least 14 million people face severe or moderate food insecurity.
Although there is not a universal definition, complex humanitarian emergencies share the following characteristics:
Venezuelan civil society organizations such as Civilis have underscored that these three characteristics have been present since at least 2015. Relevant literature supports the idea that complex humanitarian emergencies are rooted in political reasons, as opposed to, for example, emergencies caused by natural disasters. It is crucial to acknowledge the extent to which politics and corruption are central to the humanitarian situation in Venezuela. In other words, without a democratic transition, the crisis will persist and millions of lives will be affected.
Overcoming national and international fatigue must therefore be a priority. In this context, both the negotiations with the Maduro government and electoral pathways can work in parallel to contribute to the overall goal of ending the humanitarian crisis. The opposition must find common ground and a joint strategy that garners support from the Venezuelan people around the shared goal of recovering democracy.
Despite obvious challenges like the resignation of all members of the National Electoral Council, the National Primaries taking place in October 2023 are still an opportunity to unite opposition parties and gain international support. This path towards the presidential election of 2024 must serve as a means to build support across the country ahead of the 2025 legislative, regional and local elections. 2025 represents the biggest opportunity yet for the democratization of the country. But we must take action now.