The Path Forward in Venezuela


  • Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1999 and the subsequent Nicolas Maduro regime, Venezuela’s conversion to a “Bolivarian Socialist Republic” has devolved into a populist authoritarianism that has destroyed the country’s institutions, economy, industries, and created a major humanitarian crisis that forced millions of Venezuelans to migrate to neighboring countries. Venezuela suffers from severe shortages of food, medicine, and basic household goods.
  • Nicolas Maduro’s regime is based on a criminal structure that allows it to evade sanctions and maintain power through repression, violence, social control, and the population’s impoverishment. The illegal mining of gold, oil, drug trafficking, and the smuggling of these products have created a method by which the government has been able to circumvent sanctions.
  • Numerous opposition leaders have been accused of receiving money from figureheads of the Maduro regime. The strategies of opposition leaders have been erratic and poorly planned. The failed attempt to establish a fictional “interim” government led by the former president of the parliament, Juan Guaido in January 2018, left no room for alternative movements in Venezuela.
  • Supporting a fictional transitional government and engaging in multiple efforts to strengthen an alliance of opposition parties that are penetrated by the corrupt Maduro regime without strengthening other movements and leadership has proven to be a mistake after two years.
  • The progressive implementation of sanctions with a lack of long-term strategy and coordination in multiple areas has resulted in the regime finding alternatives to circumvent the sanctions and transfer the impacts to the rest of the population.
  • The regime has been using false dialogue and the negotiation process to manipulate the international community and the opposition. Lack of real conditions for negotiating and of consequences for the regime, along with coopting negotiators by the opposition allowed the Maduro regime to gain time and get stronger after each process.
  • Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) has been following the situation in the country closely with experts in DC and developed multiple studies on the current political, economic, and social situation, as well as put forth policy recommendations.

Policy Recommendations

  • The U.S. must urge the Venezuelan opposition to rethink its strategy. The opposition created a fictional interim “government,” which has been in operation with an illusion of power. The opposition played the game of parallel government instead of looking for strong partnerships and networks among all the internal forces. A more coordinated effort with different groups such as unions, farmers, producers, students, and territorial leaderships will create a stronger opposition movement. This will also reduce the central role of the failed political opposition and substitute it for a more cohesive diverse movement.
  • The U.S. must encourage a transformation of the opposition so that it is united and a popular mobilization that effectively involves the entire nation with diverse territorial spots that converge with enormous international support.
  • The U.S. must counter the growing “Hands-off Venezuela” thesis–elections in several Latin American countries. The “Hands off Venezuela” movement is growing with the support of Argentina, Mexico and Bolivia, plus the alliances with Cuba and Nicaragua. Potential victory of Correa’s candidate in Ecuador, as well as changes in Honduras, Chile and Guatemala, will reduce the Organization of American States (OAS) engagement with Venezuela.
  • Sanctions against members of the regime must continue to be carried out and expanded towards allies outside the government, such as the military, collectives, armed groups, and front men. However, sanctions are less effective if they continue to avoid illegal economies including smuggling, illegal mining, and drug trafficking. Lifting sanctions without real change benefits the Maduro regime.
  • The U.S. must counter the support for Maduro from countries such as Russia, Turkey, and China that allow the regime to maintain some level of maneuvering and support. The international community’s fatigue and the exhaustion of other alternatives will lead to new negotiations between the government and a small group of opponents.
  • The U.S. must counter Cuba’s influence. Cuba seeks to play a starring role in organizing negotiations that give it advantages and eliminates sanctions for Cuba and Venezuela in exchange for better electoral conditions and the promise of a possible referendum. Following this path will be a mistake.
  • The U.S. must not support the international community’s numerous attempts to seek negotiation between the government and the opposition. Negotiation is only viable if representative opposition factors participate and are not coopted by the regime in a planned process with clear rules and roadmaps that have precise objectives, a reliable and neutral arbitrator, and serious repercussions for the regime in the event of non-compliance or manipulation of the process. A new dialogue without real conditions favors the regime with more time.
  • The regime continues to finish capturing political power coupled with strong social demobilization, instigating division in the opposition, and persecuting the government’s enemies. Regarding this last point, it is worth highlighting the regime’s threats of capture or exile toward the opposition National Assembly former members, which was replaced by the fraudulent elections held a few months ago.
  • Humanitarian aid must continue so that the regime does not co-opt the mechanisms to obtain food. Organizations that are acting in these areas should be monitored and supported in pursuing their mission.

Scenarios and Policy Recommendations for Venezuela

After more than two decades of Hugo Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution and his subsequent replacement with Nicolas Maduro, the crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen with little chance of short-term improvement. The error on the part of the US and international community has been the simplification of the many aspects of the crisis in Venezuela including seeking miraculous solutions, poorly planned negotiations, and comparison with other countries facing different realities. These actions have allowed Maduro to consolidate his power overtime and strengthen his regime.

The progressive implementation of sanctions with a lack of long-term strategy and coordination has resulted in the Maduro regime finding alternatives to circumvent the sanctions and transfer the impacts to the rest of the population. Supporting the fiction of an “interim” government and engaging in multiple efforts to strengthen an alliance of opposition parties which are penetrated by the Maduro regime without strengthening other movements and leadership has proven to be a mistake after two years.

Nicolas Maduro’s regime is based on a criminal structure that allows it to evade sanctions and maintain power based on repression, violence, social control, and the population’s impoverishment. The international community’s numerous failed attempts to seek negotiation between the government and the opposition, and the attempts of various political and religious actors to do so as well, have only benefited the regime. The policy of threatening “all open alternatives” has also not worked. The situation in Venezuela is variable and requires permanent monitoring.

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) has asked experts in political analysis and scenario development in the country for multiple studies on the current political, economic, and social situation. This report carries out an analysis of short and medium-term possible scenarios on the political, economic, and social situation in Venezuela at the beginning of 2021 and gives recommendations for action on the subject. The work is based on consultations with specialists in the country.

The most predictable scenario will be the regime pushing for a manipulated dialogue or negotiation with the political opposition and using the card of the municipal and governor election and the political prisoners as negotiation chips. Even in this scenario, the international community needs to plan ahead of time. In the short term, the outlook is for no improvement in the current situation. In the medium term, a change is possible, but it requires placing greater pressure on the regime and building a broad opposition alliance. The recommendations are focused on being able to modify the perspectives that are held about the country gradually. Given the current scenario, we can say with a small chance of error that the inertial scenario and further scenarios (as desired by the regime) are very likely.

Scenarios announce themselves through early signs. These signs, events, developments, and conditions signal the development of scenarios. However, even the worst scenarios at sight have left traces that unequivocally can be judged as their fingerprints. The scenarios in front of us could be perceived decades ago, although certainly with more uncertainty.

VOC wants to reflect those scenarios and some public policy recommendations to address some of the most credible possibilities for Venezuela.

These Short-Term and Medium-Term Scenarios can be found here.