In October 2021, Maduro’s representation withdrew from the negotiating table that had been hosted by Mexico and facilitated by Norway, in protest of the extradition to the US of Maduro’s Colombian front man, Alex Saab.
For more than a year there were no new meetings between the government and the opposition in Mexico, although there were behind-the-scenes meetings, which gave rise to the “Second Partial Agreement for the Social Protection of the Venezuelan People”, released in November 2022, by which some 3 billion dollars of international funds from Venezuela that the interim government had managed to safeguard would be unfrozen and would now go to a social fund administered by the UN.
The public announcement of the signing of this agreement was followed by great expectations inside and outside the country. However, three months after the news was known, not only has there been no progress in putting the agreement into practice, but everything related to it is shrouded in mystery, silence and, judging by the consultations carried out by AlertaVenezuela, even fear. No one dares to speak, and it is even considered inappropriate to do so, perhaps for fear of hindering the progress of the process.
The truth is that the agreement is not only covered in secrecy, but also blackmail. In mid-January Jorge Rodríguez, who heads the Maduro delegation, threatened to withdraw from Mexico if progress was not made with the “return” of the funds committed in the second agreement. A month later, on February 15, 2023, Maduro reiterated his threats to leave the Mexican table. On both occasions there were disqualifications towards the representation of the opposition, which was branded as thieves, but there was no mention of the substance of the matter, such as the mitigation of the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
These are funds from disputed resources, so the focus of the discussion is political, as if it were loot, and the recipients who would eventually benefit from its use have passed into the background. Perhaps the politicized tone that the funding debate has taken has led the UN to take a more careful stance not to get involved in that dispute. Meanwhile, the United States emerges as a third actor at the table, since it certainly holds the key in its hands to unlock not only the funds to which the agreement refers but other assets and operations of interest to Maduro.
In fact, accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has its own space of rapprochement towards Venezuela, thanks to which the agreement was reached for the return of Chevron to the country, which will allow it to collect the accumulated debt, through the exemption of royalty payments. The access of this oil company – and of those that manage to follow in its footsteps – have no impact on the population that continues walking due to lack of fuel or standing in endless lines to fill up the tanks of their vehicles. It is worth saying that it is an agreement for 6 months, that is, held by a short rope, which could make it dependent on Maduro’s blackmail.
How to react to these threats? The policy of quiet diplomacy has its limits and must give way to increased pressure aimed at ensuring a road map focused on the substantive aspects of the social agreement, especially to the extent that it is observed that the negotiating table is instrumentalized with political objectives, while the needs of the population, supposedly a priority, are pushed to the background.
It is paradoxical that Maduro withdrew from the table in Mexico when his figurehead was extradited, accused of shady deals with housing and food for the poorest Venezuelan population and, a year later, he once again threatened to retire for not being able to appropriate resources that would have the same purpose. It is clear that, faced with the use of the Mexican table as blackmail, those who lose are the most vulnerable inhabitants of Venezuela, who need immediate humanitarian aid. Ensuring the continuation of the negotiations in Mexico is a challenge for the international community, but a greater challenge is ensuring that the direction of these negotiations is not lost, such as the humanitarian needs of the population and the path towards redemocratization, establishing a leaf path that allows moving forward.