The State of Play in Venezuela After the UNHRC Report

On the latest analysis from our political risk team, we go through the most likely effects of the report by the UNHRC's International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela—both in the domestic and international arenas

The costs of supporting the regime are much higher now.

Photo: CCNesnoticias

This week, the UN Human Rights Council Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela released a 411-page report describing cases of human rights abuses carried out by Venezuelan security forces in excruciating detail, including torture and extrajudicial executions. The Mission investigated 223 cases, reviewed 2,891 cases, and the report includes details of 48 cases. Members of the mission talked to both victims and perpetrators, and laid bare the degree to which these abuses are either ordered or tolerated by the top figures of the regime. Of Nicolás Maduro and the Interior and Defense ministers, the report says they were aware of the crimes, gave orders, coordinated activities and supplied resources to carry out the plans and policies that led to the crimes—some of which amount to crimes against humanity. 

The report is a stark reminder—though they surely don’t need one—for the top figures of the regime that, were they to relinquish or be pushed out of power, they could find themselves before an international court in the future.

We believe the report will elicit two kinds of responses within the regime. A centripetal response, with those at the top level of the regime whose futures are likely inevitably intertwined—think Maduro, Néstor Reverol and Vladimir Padrino—banding together to try to hold on to power indefinitely. At the same time, those that still see themselves with a chance of escaping these accusations, will attempt to distance themselves from the worse offenders. Today’s report offers an example, with high-ranking Air Force and Navy officers looking to distance their branches from the National Guard, whose members show up frequently in the report, as they hold command positions in several other security forces, such as the most toxic of all, FAES.

The report will also have an effect on the domestic political arena, with a negotiated solution looking more palatable to regime figures not involved in the crimes reported.

The net effect will take months to play out. The first thing that comes to mind is that this report—even if does not serve to renew the mandate of the mission for another year and reaches its so far failed goal of investigating the atrocities at the Mining Arc too, as the human rights NGOs want—increases the cost of being supportive or friendly to the Maduro regime, for those personalities or governments who remain conveniently neutral or undecided. Naturally, Cuba, Russia, or Iran will openly support Maduro at the UN and other arenas, while countries like China and Turkey could simply refrain from criticizing it, but for Mexico, Spain, Uruguay or Argentina, for instance, there’s now less room to express faith in the regime’s willingness to make concessions in negotiations. Therefore, we can expect the international debate about sanctions or parliamentary elections in Venezuela to be tainted by the terrible light this report throws on the regime, which was immediately reviewed in world’s top newspapers the same day. The International Contact Group on Venezuela, which used to have a more moderate stance than the Lima Group, called yesterday for both legislative and presidential elections as a way out of the crisis, and called for the December legislative elections—for which they don’t believe current conditions are adequate—to be postponed to provide time for the EU to prepare a mission of electoral observers and for the government and the opposition to negotiate.

The report will also have an effect on the domestic political arena, with a negotiated solution looking more palatable to regime figures not involved in the crimes reported by the Fact-Finding Mission. However, as we have reported before in the Political Risk Report, these relatively clean figures have steadily lost influence in the regime, as Maduro continues to rely on the worst chavismo has to offer to hold on to power. It’s also possible a negotiated way out could look more attractive to Maduro and his clique in the months to come, but that would require him to trust that whoever is on the other end of those negotiations can guarantee his safety, and that level of trust is close to zero at the moment.

In our full report, you can read what our sources from both sides have to say about such scenarios, and what’s happening inside each camp.