Photo: Alimenta la Solidaridad

NGOs: the Missing Part of Political Dialogue in Venezuela

In the incipient negotiations, there must be a seat for those who can really help improve living conditions for most Venezuelans

Several analysts are praising the recent appointment of opposition actors to the board of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the approach towards negotiations and consensus. However, the Maduro government has been busy showing that it still holds the monopoly of power with no intention of changing its model of centralized, unipolar governance, while managing to legitimize their process through concessions in other spheres, such as the seats in the CNE or with the World Food Program. They want to impose the conditions in any political move, leaving any social initiative repressed. The CNE concession happened in the same timeframe as the admission of WFP activities in the country, a new bill against non-profit organizations that tried to curtail their funding, scope and activities, and the rejection of the vaccine agreement with the opposition through the COVAX mechanism. 

Despite all this, it seems the upcoming negotiations between the different actors in the political sphere are going to take place in Mexico. Many actors have been mentioned as likely attendees and progress will be slow and difficult. 

In this context, the negotiations should focus on the least relevant concessions until the conditions allow reaching the most fundamental ones, and this should begin with guarantees for social organizations and NGOs and establishing a collaborative framework between the democratic actors in the path to democracy. 

Many Partial Narratives, One Hidden Truth

Although it isn’t essential in order to preserve power, the Maduro regime usually expects to control who helps the Venezuelan population and to which extent. Now, they accept the work of the WFP, which we could all agree is important for most of the population experiencing hunger, but to show their footprint and relevance by allowing WFP to work while repressing other national social initiatives that could affect their monopoly of power. Additionally, if the government allows these international organizations to work, it also gains legitimacy, in the country and abroad.

On the other hand, with the opposition still betting on the incentives to reduce sanctions, the government says the opposition doesn’t want to sit for negotiations. This narrative puts the regime as the giver and derives the pressure over the different oppositions that struggle to get to a consensus on their own. 

In this context, the negotiations should focus on the least relevant concessions until the conditions allow reaching the most fundamental ones, and this should begin with guarantees for social organizations and NGOs and establishing a collaborative framework between the democratic actors in the path to democracy. 

While all this occurs in the political sphere, the negotiation formula needs to include the third sector (civil society organizations, NGOs, foundations, academia, and so on) which is widely weakened. Besides a new CNE, the country needs to articulate a civil society that monitors, evaluates and corroborates that the population’s needs are being considered. The third sector acts as part of the checks and balances that could speak for the social sphere.  

It seems that political actors are disregarding these fundamental actors and negotiations are pointing only towards elections. Not only has chavismo instated an electoral-driven political logic, but the opposition is also playing the same game, leaving aside the role of society and social organizations.  

Remembering the Main Goal

In the winding road ahead, any political negotiation in Venezuela faces several challenges. First, even with newly appointed democracy-driven actors like some rectors in the new CNE, the process is still controlled by the chavista regime. Second, the opposition hasn’t reached a consensus on which strategy to adopt. There are dissidents to the López-Guaidó formula and “non-polarized” actors such as Claudio Fermín who make the decision-making process a muddy terrain. Third, society has little space to pressure from the streets, after so many years of frustration and violence, and the power of government subsidies during a humanitarian emergency. Finally, there’s no cooperative framework that integrates the different actors in the country, the private sector and non-profit organizations seem to be struggling on their own. 

In the pursuit of democracy and the Rule of Law, both the international community and opposition political leaders need to integrate the third sector into the negotiation formula. On one hand, social organizations are the only ones dealing with the complex humanitarian emergency on a daily basis. Their work is pivotal for Venezuelans that rely and depend on their programs to survive. Lastly, if the current priority is to attend and save as many Venezuelans as possible, then those organizations that are dealing with that should be protected, their rights guaranteed and included in the political discussion and in a broad coalition for democracy. 

Mikhael G. Iglesias L

Expert in Latin America and the Caribbean Affairs with a focus on at-risk populations and comprehensive policy implementations. Former Professor and Researcher at Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Venezuela) with a Master's degree from New York University. Avid runner and writer.