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Is there a space for civil society in the negotiations?

Foto: EFE

Our previous analysis focused on the role that the UN could play in this new space that opens with the signing of the “Second Partial Agreement for the Protection of the Venezuelan People”. Some reflections on the possible role of civil society within the framework of this agreement and beyond it are shared below.

The first thing to remember is that civil society organizations (CSOs) do not enter these possible spaces from a vacuum of inexperience, at least in humanitarian and human rights issues. In the last twenty years, and beyond the progressive closure of the democratic space, CSOs have not refused to go to consultation spaces on matters of national interest. Among these experiences, it is worth remembering the setting of parameters for the possible creation of a truth commission after the coup d’état of April 2002, the framework for interaction with the Ombudsman’s Office in 2015, the terms to participate in the preparation of the first national human rights plan and advocacy before the UN Secretary General in 2016 to recognize the existence of a humanitarian emergency in the country.

All these experiences had at least two characteristics in common, among which are the prior establishment of a framework of action agreed upon by consensus among the organizations, based on international standards on the matters to be dealt with and, in addition, work based on principles and forms, above the negotiation of participation “quotas”.

However, there have also been recent experiences in which mistakes were made – not recognized by all those involved – that have placed CSOs on difficult terrain, due to the risk of assuming a role that corresponds mainly to the political actors. A large part of the errors in these experiences are due precisely to the absence of a previously agreed position on the terms of acceptance of officialism’s calls, and active participation in the negotiation of quotas for bodies such as the National Electoral Council and the Court Supreme Court, without a critical vision of the legitimacy of origin of both calls.

Although it is true that the substantive aspects are of the greatest importance in participation spaces, recent experiences show that the forms, the how and the preponderance of the principles over the means are aspects that require a similar and lengthy consideration, especially when such spaces for participation are conditioned by non-democratic contexts.

In this sense, it is not enough to demand spaces for participation in the framework of the “Second Partial Agreement for the Protection of the Venezuelan People” if these demands are not accompanied by calls on the type of participation. In this regard, Transparency Venezuela has developed a set of guidelines to be taken into account with regard to the participation of civil society in the “formulation of proposals and demands, monitoring and control” of the negotiation process.

As a complement to the Transparency Venezuela proposal, it is worth adding:

  • A genuine dialogue must be open to plural and unconditional participation.
  • Civil society should be understood in a broad sense, including the trade union movement, the human rights movement, the academic sector, social organizations in the areas of development and humanitarian work, the indigenous peoples and peasant sector.
  • The civil society spokespersons cannot be chosen by the government and the unitary platform (hereinafter, the parties), but agreed upon by the CSOs themselves, as result of a consensus.
  • The United Nations system can provide technical assistance to civil society so that, at a social table, it can define its way of operating, composition, and decision-making mechanisms.
  • The parties cannot assume the voice of civil society, speak, or decide on their behalf.
  • The social table must ensure fluid channels of communication with the various sectors of Venezuelan society. To this end, free access to the media and the right to reply must be guaranteed, and their right to seek and disseminate information must be respected.
  • In certain circumstances, the social table may agree to temporarily maintain a reserved nature of topics whose public debate could jeopardize progress in the dialogues.

Finally, it is important to remember that Mexico is only one of several spaces and opportunities that are currently open for handling different aspects of the crisis that Venezuela is going through, so civil society should not exhaust its efforts in a single initiative and on the contrary, it must diversify its field of incidence. The spaces to claim workers’ rights, the negotiation scenario between the Colombian government and the ELN, the management of the humanitarian emergency beyond the second partial agreement, the right to participation of the millions of Venezuelans abroad, are opportunities to fill the areas of negotiation with content, where human rights are not reduced to the object of negotiation, but are recognized as the basis of it. All these spaces must serve to reach agreements on concrete roadmaps for the full effectiveness of human rights, without conditions.