Venezuela: International Mediation Efforts Splinter as Tensions Build over Humanitarian Aid

US officials maintain hardline stance while fears of armed conflict over humanitarian aid delivery grow.


Caracas, February 7, 2019 ( – A meeting of the International Contact Group on Venezuela to address the political crisis in the Caribbean country ended with a non-unanimous statement on Thursday.

According to TeleSUR reporter Madelein Garcia, Bolivia, Mexico and Caribbean countries refused to endorse a final statement proposing the holding of elections, the coordination of humanitarian aid and the establishment of a technical mission in Venezuela. Other participants included the host Uruguay, the European Union, and several other European and Latin American countries.

The International Contact Group is a EU-led initiative following calls for dialogue led by Mexico and Uruguay, with the goal of finding a “peaceful, democratic” way out of the political crisis “without the use of force.”

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini stated earlier that the crisis in Venezuela threatened the stability of the region and that the initiative did not seek to impose solutions. The group is scheduled to meet again in early March, Mogherini added.

Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary told reporters that his country did not undersign the declaration due to disagreements over the call for elections, a matter which according to the top diplomat should only concern Venezuelans.

The Mexican and Uruguayan governments had proposed a four-step “Montevideo mechanism” for dialogue after a meeting on Wednesday, which did not include pre-conditions such as the holding of elections. Both governments pledged to continue their efforts next week, with Bolivia also joining, and this group will be working separately from the EU-backed contact group.

The United States had rejected any dialogue initiatives and reportedly pressured other countries to follow suit. Elliott Abrams, appointed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as special envoy to Venezuela, told press on Thursday that Maduro should leave the country. Abrams is known for his leading role in the Reagan administration’s Central America policy, including the Iran-Contra scandal, and later for advising George W. Bush in the lead up to the war in Iraq.

Pompeo also defended hardline US actions towards Caracas on Fox News by claiming that Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has “active cells” in Venezuela. He presented no evidence to back this claim.

Meanwhile, self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido welcomed the idea of mediation from Pope Francis during an interview on Thursday, days after President Maduro also sent a letter to the Vatican requesting assistance in defusing the country’s political crisis.

The Vatican reiterated its openness to mediate, but stressed that both parties needed to be willing in order for conditions to be met.

However, on a separate occasion on Thursday, Guaido stated that any negotiation must start with Maduro’s exit. In a separate statement on Thursday, he also opened the door to an “international force” to “restore constitutional order.”

A potential flashpoint has been building up in recent days surrounding the arrival of humanitarian aid requested by Guaido. US and opposition leaders have called on Venezuelan military leaders to back the opposition lawmaker’s aid plan, which will reportedly tend to the needs of 20,000 Venezuelans.

For their part, Venezuelan authorities have warned that the attempt to bring aid across the border without government consent represented a provocation, pointing out that the amount of aid being sent pales in comparison to the Venezuelan assets and accounts frozen outside the country. The United Nations warned on Wednesday against using aid as “a pawn” in Venezuela.

“Humanitarian aid should never be used as a political pawn,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday.

A picture circulated on social media and mainstream outlets on Wednesday purported to show containers blocking the Tienditas bridge, which connects border towns Cucuta in Colombia and Urena in Venezuela. Several US officials reacted, with Secretary Pompeo calling on Maduro to “let aid reach starving people.”

However, National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello clarified in his TV program that the bridge has been closed since 2016. At the time of writing, the Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander bridges continue open as normal, while reports emerged on Thursday that aid shipments had started to arrive in Cucuta.

Likewise on Wednesday, a video emerged of aid being loaded into an airplane in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin told CNN that the shipment had made its way to Venezuela, but no further details confirming its arrival have been disclosed.

On Thursday Venezuelan authorities announced the capture of retired colonel Oswaldo Garcia Palomo, who was allegedly involved in plans to stage a coup that was set to take place in late January or early February. Garcia was wanted by Venezuelan authorities since last year for alleged involvement in the August 4 drone assassination attempt against President Maduro.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said during a press conference that Garcia’s operation, which involved taking several military installations and disrupting communications, was closely followed and foiled by Venezuelan intelligence agencies. According to Rodriguez, Garcia’s confession revealed links to CIA agents in Colombia and to Venezuelan right-wing figures.