Photo: France 24

A First Partial Agreement at the Mexico Negotiations

Both delegations and the Norwegian mediators signed a commitment to revise sanction over-compliance and access to Venezuelan funds abroad to buy vaccines… but it will depend on chavismo’s will to teamwork and accountability

The Agreement

The Venezuelan government (also referred to as the Maduro regime) and the Unitary Platform (also referred to as the moderate, majoritarian opposition) closed the first round of negotiations in Mexico with a “partial agreement for the protection of the Venezuelan people,” based on the memorandum of understanding signed on August 13th and “the need of putting the people at the center.”

In six points, they agree to make partial agreements to protect the people, starting with measures to manage food provision, healthcare, and pandemic management.

Government and opposition will appoint three representatives at a Mesa Nacional de Atención Social, which must produce measures “in a short time” and “could” require advice from experts. Government and opposition will appoint two other representatives to “establish a process to revise the problems in the financial system derived from over-compliance of the ‘sanctions,’” (this last word between quote marks in the original), “in order to guarantee the resources needed to assist the Venezuelan people in the measures considered in this agreement.” Both parties will propose measures to ensure follow-up, transparency, and accountability, which will be integrated into this agreement.

Signed by both delegations and the mediator:

  • On behalf of the government: Jorge Rodríguez (chief of the chavista delegation), Nicolás Maduro Guerra (better known as “Nicolasito,” Maduro’s son), Francisco Torrealba, Genesis Garvett, Diva Guzmán, Gabriela Giménez, Margaud Godoy, Larry Devoe and William Castillo. 
  • For the opposition: Gerardo Blyde (chief of the opposition delegation), Roberto Enríquez, Stalin González, Tomás Guanipa, Freddy Guevara, Mariela Magallanes, Luis Aquiles Moreno, Luis Emilio Rondón and Claudia Nikken. 
  • Mediator: Dag Nylander, chief of the Norwegian delegation. 

What the Parties Are Saying

The Unitary Platform issued a statement that begins with a warning, appealing to its audience’s expectations: this process will be long and complex because the problems are too big and too many. They also say that its goal continues to be the return to institutionalization and democracy. The Platform says this partial agreement that “we achieved” is inspired in the previous Technical Table for Vaccination (which didn’t work very well), and that they are using its “recognition” (the legitimate government’s recognition, they imply, without saying it) and “access to the international system” to find resources and establish mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable Venezuelans and accelerate the arrival of vaccines for all. They ratify the commitment to “defending Esequibo as part of the national territory,” promise to face the issue of judicial reform in the next negotiation round, and report that the Platform accepted the regime’s delegation request of discussing the access of funding in multilateral organisms. 

Jorge Rodríguez presented the partial agreement as a step towards recovering the funds and assets that belong to Venezuela and are being held abroad, to solve the needs of the Venezuelan people, specifically food and healthcare. He defended the negotiation process in terms of “we can be totally different but we can sit down and discuss on behalf of all Venezuelans.”

Our Take

The partial agreement starts by saying that the parties acknowledge the effects of sanction over-compliance in the country’s economy (an effect that is indeed taking place, because there is over-compliance) and the same paragraph reads that the nation can’t renounce the rights of “independence, freedom, sovereignty, immunity, territorial integrity, and national self-determination.” It’s clear in that paragraph that the regime agreed to talk about the effects of over-compliance instead of simply mentioning the sanctions as a whole, but we can hear chavismo speaking loudly in the rest, saying “stay out of our business.” Everything but “immunity” is transmitting the same message, “Venezuela is free and sovereign,” in a list of words that practically mean the same and that the opposition can’t discuss because they are historically sacred. That is the message the regime sends when someone denounces human rights abuses, for instance, and in this case, we think it’s a not subtle warning: the regime won’t be willing to accept real international supervision of the commitments it’s acquiring here. Which is coherent, chavismo never ever submits to any accountability. 

The partial agreement is vague in terms of accountability and provides no precision regarding the timeline to design and implement the measures. Maybe having precision at this stage is expecting too much, but that’s the perfect place for a regime used to ignoring all commitments (the Maduro administration even falls behind with allies like Cuba and China). What we can see now is that the opposition and its international backers will be reluctant to release funds if they could fall into the regime’s hands, and the regime accusing the opposition of sequestering those funds and avoiding the purchasing of vaccines, food, and health supplies. Things will be better if a third party like COVAX receives those funds abroad and sends vaccines to Venezuela, but in any case, the regime will do anything to prevent anyone else from taking credit for that, especially the opposition. International cooperation in this matter will be critical, but it has its limits: on the ground, it’s chavismo, not the Unitary Platform, who has more influence on how things end up happening. 

In the meantime, while humanitarian and COVID-19 measures are arranged, the Maduro regime will win the public opinion competition: it will be easy to present this as a chavista victory, where foreign funds start to be returned to their hands and sanctions begin to be revised, and where the negotiations are a step into dismantling the “international conspiracy” against Venezuela that the international community and the opposition formed in the regime’s blockade narrative.

Behind the propaganda language and the confusing references to the Essequibo issue, the purpose of the agreement is clearly about money.

Beyond all the declarations in favor of the Venezuelan people’s wellbeing, the driver of the government becomes quite evident and we arrive at that old crossroad we’ve come to know so well: where the opposition asks for the government to allow humanitarian aid in, and chavismo saying “outside the revolution: nothing. Give me my money.” That money is requested by a corrupt, impoverished dictatorship that claims it will use it to take care of a population thrown into a humanitarian emergency by that same dictatorship’s policies. The access to funds, either eventual through funding by multilateral institutions or current in accounts and assets protected in foreign banks, depend on institutions that consider the opposition (or the “caretaker government”) as those fund’s legitimate administrators. Chavismo’s endgame is to diminish that recognition with this negotiation process, therefore accessing funds or the possibility of loans. 

Three things keep chavismo in this negotiation process, and all three are deeply related. The first one was partially addressed in this agreement: access to assets controlled by the caretaker government. These range from cash and gold in banks to the control of Citgo in the U.S. Por ahora, the opposition has (mostly) full control over this piece of leverage. 

Then, we have the matter of the sanctions, which mostly depend on third parties (that may be swayed by the opposition and whatever is agreed upon in these talks). There are different levels of sanctions, of course, from those that are more critical and hurtful to the government (like the limitations to engage with PDVSA) to those that have more of a derivative nature, and that could easily be lifted under humanitarian reasons (the limitations over diesel swaps, for instance). Also, there are the individual sanctions, which most people are ok with, don’t have much of an effect directly on Maduro & Co. (they are impactful at the level of front men and chavismo’s business associates), but may be harder to lift because most of them are tied to human rights abuses or drug-related charges. 

The third one has to do with the elections and the possible legitimation of the Maduro regime. If the government is able to somewhat play by the negotiation rules and is able to present a process in November that meets the low standards that the international community currently has for chavismo, it’s quite possible that, at least, the first card the opposition has (control over assets) will start vanishing if the chavista government strengthens its legitimacy—and it may very well lead the way to direct conversations regarding sanctions.

The Unitary Platform’s leverage in the negotiation is deeply tied to Juan Guaidó’s caretakership, as it’s become very clear. But what we call “the opposition” and the caretaker government are not the same thing, nor do they have the same drivers. As we see the latter’s influence dissolving, we wonder what will happen to the opposition’s ability to keep the government at the table once Guaidó’s influence completely disappears.