Mediation in Venezuela Is Doomed to Fail

Caracas Needs to Face Consequences

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at a military parade in Caracas, July 2017. Marco Bello / Reuters

Since May 2016, the Union of South American Republics (UNASUR), an intergovernmental organization comprising 12 South American states, has attempted to mediate between the government and the opposition, in the hope of averting a meltdown. In October, after the Venezuelan government-controlled electoral commission (CNE) waved off a constitutional referendum and indefinitely suspended local elections—blocking an electoral resolution until the 2018 presidential elections—the Vatican stepped in.

Those mediation efforts have predictably failed, thanks to an inability on the part of the mediators and other outside parties to impose real costs on the government. Since March, the Maduro government has violently repressed street demonstrations, resulting in over 70 deaths, and it continues to imprison at least 120 of its political opponents. The government has resisted calls to hold elections before 2018, refused to recognize the right to a constitutional recall referendum, and, most recently, called for an illegal constituent assembly to revise the constitution. However, it has faced no consequences from the mediators.

Meanwhile, the economic and social situation in what was once one of the region’s richest countries is collapsing. Some 11.4 percent of Venezuela’s children are malnourished and 10.5 percent of its workforce is unemployed. The economy is on track to shrink for the third straight year, with GDP set to drop 20.7 percent below its 2014 level, and inflation expected to reach 1,700 percent.

As the mediation efforts first floundered then stalled, Venezuela’s economic, humanitarian, and political crises continued to deepen. The country is now on the brink of becoming a failed state. To stop Venezuela’s slide into chaos, Latin American states and actors outside the region, such as the United States, need to develop a coordinated policy that pressures the Venezuelan government into respecting human rights and threatens it with real consequences should it fail to do so. 


To effectively mediate a conflict, mediators must make sure the parties involved face real consequences for their actions. Outside actors must threaten to impose costs for noncompliance—sanctions, for example—or promise to provide benefits for

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