Venezuela Into The Unknown: Caracas Chronicles’ 2023 Editor’s Pick

Your best shot at understanding Venezuela in 2023. And what comes next.

Venezuela is entering batshit cray cray territory. In just three months, the Maduro regime and the opposition signed an agreement for electoral guarantees, the United States temporarily lifted most sectoral sanctions, the government held a dubious referendum on Venezuela’s sovereignty over the Guyana-controlled Esequibo to measure its mobilization power, María Corina Machado won the opposition primaries and started a process before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to track down her official disqualification and possibly filing an appeal following a restrictive mechanism agreed upon in the negotiations, while the infamous Alex Saab was released amid a sort of prisoner exchange in which a handful of political prisoners and all the American citizens imprisoned in Venezuela were released. In Caracas Chronicles, following a trimester of tiring work and surprising totally-unexpected news, we decided to choose ten pieces written throughout the year that explain Venezuela in 2023 and give us cues for the troublesome 2024. ¡Feliz Navidad y un próspero año nuevo! 

The economic slowdown

After a lukewarm economic recovery in 2022, Venezuela’s economy slowed down in 2023 and faced new waves of inflation, devaluation, decreased consumption and social protests. Ah, and an inter-Chavista purge. Tony painted the whole picture of the strain the very fragile “Venezuela se arregló” system endured, and how consumption-based stability fell apart, in “Bellum Bodegonicum: The Bubble Pops.” 

Bonus: despite the slowdown, Portuguesa experienced an economic boom, explained Ecoanalítica’s director Asdrúbal Oliveros.

Maduro went to China and all he got was this lousy… interest in Special Economic Zones

Venezuela has been disappointing China for over 15 years, and it has taken a toll. In the dire economic panorama before sanctions were temporarily lifted, Maduro traveled to China for help and didn’t return with much besides a weird promise of taking Venezuelan astronauts to the moon. But an analysis of Chinese officials’ statements show that China could be interested in Venezuela’s new Special Economic Zones to set a hub in the Caribbean for its companies, explains China-Latin America relations expert Parsifal D’Sola Alvarado in “China Will Not Rescue Venezuela.”

Venezuela’s prison wars

Tren de Aragua’s almost unscathed escape from Tocorón, and the rest of governmental takedowns in recent months on prisons controlled by gangs, is only a small fraction of the bigger picture: a shift in the Venezuelan regime’s security strategy to regain state control over its territory, fragmented by guerrillas and crime mega-gangs, says open source intelligence specialist Andrei Serbin Pont in “Tocorón Reveals Maduro’s Strategy to Regain Control of the Country.”

Bonus: IDB consultant Leonardo Maldonado shows us through satellite images how a common prison spawned slums with streets, a pool and zoo area and even a baseball field.

The Barbados Agreement

On Wednesday, October 18th, the Biden administration lifted a critical bundle of economic measures against state-owned companies after the Maduro regime and the opposition signed an agreement in Barbados on political rights and electoral guarantees. Which sanctions were lifted? What should the Maduro government give in exchange? How does this benefit Chavismo and the opposition? We dive in our explainer “Washington Lifted Key Sanctions on the Maduro Regime. Now What?

Bonus: we interviewed electoral expert and journalist Eugenio Martínez on what these guarantees mean and how they should be enforced. 

The opposition primaries

The Barbados Agreement also ensured that the opposition could hold its self-managed primaries. And –despite isolated cases of violence from colectivos, rainstorms, baseless fraud accusations from a rogue candidate and censorship– the turnout was surprisingly high. With over 92% of the vote, María Corina Machado won and turned the opposition on its head. Here’s Tony’s overlook “Rain or Fire, María Corina Machado Won the Primaries by a Landslide.”

Bonus: an interview with pollster Delphos’ Felix Seijas on how the primaries raised Venezuelan’s spirits. Also, Luis talked about Henrique Capriles’ debacle in the primaries and the death of the opposition’s old guard. 

The ban on María Corina

But Machado remains banned from running for office. Although she presented a four-parts plan and has moderated her positions to lead a diverse multi-party coalition, she still needs the support of the United States to have her ban lifted and to actually use the mechanism for it that was agreed upon in the negotiations. Tony and Luis González talked about this in “María Corina Won The Primaries. What Comes Now?”

Bonus: Rafa writes about how the primaries’ results were surprising despite an unsurprising victory. 

Maduro’s Esequibo quagmire

Following the primaries, the government organized a referendum on Venezuela’s sovereignty over the disputed but Guyanese-controlled Esequibo region. Its low turnout and messy numbers reveal that Chavismo’s electoral machinery is more rusty than expected. Will the regime replace Maduro, and seek legitimacy, or bet for a Nicaraguazo in 2024? Tony interviewed experts on what it means for Chavismo in “The Esequibo Referendum Reveals a Regime Unable to Compete Electorally.”

Bonus: Tony also wrote about what the regime was actually seeking with the referendum. 


But on the ground, Venezuelans weren’t hyped up. In the slums of Caracas and in towns closer to the border with Guyana, people remained focused on other problems, and saw the chauvinistic campaign as a bad thing, wrote Kaoru in “How Venezuelans See the Esequibo Campaign.”

Anyway, atrocities are still happening

And as more and more governments in the world are working to release Maduro from international isolation and sanctions are being lifted, the International Criminal Court is still working on its investigation on crimes against humanity and human rights continue to be under severe threat in Venezuela, explains Freedom House’s associate Beatriz Godoy Rivas in “Atrocities Are Still Happening in Venezuela.” 

But the economy will likely grow despite it all 

Ecoanalítica projects three possible scenarios following the sanctions relief license: one in which the license is renewed, one in which the license isn’t and Venezuela returns to the 2023 status quo, and one in which sanctions are deepened. Based on the current situation, it seems the sanctions relief will remain or even be extended, ensuring a growth of 5-12%… but the economy still needs to grow 360% to reach its pre-crisis size, Ecoanalítica economists Jesús Palacios Chacín and Asdrúbal Oliveros explain in their piece “Sanctions Were Lifted. How Much Will the Venezuelan Economy Grow Now?”

Bonus: Cristobal Picón Ball explains what the Israel-Hamas war means and doesn’t mean for Venezuela, especially considering the negotiations and the international oil market.