Venezuela is currently grappling with an unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis. The state is failing to uphold and protect the basic rights of its people. ICTJ supports civil society organizations seeking a negotiated solution and peaceful and inclusive transition, working to rebuild democratic institutions, and pursuing justice for human rights violations.
Background: Addressing the Past to Find an Inclusive Democracy
Venezuela’s current humanitarian and political crisis traces its roots to a rentier and oil-export economy and a two-party system, which provided wealth and stability, but also led to exclusion and marginalization. The Hugo Chávez-led Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, initially broadly supported in Venezuela, has failed to deliver on its promises and overt time has devolved into an authoritarian regime characterized by rampant corruption, deteriorating public institutions, and systematic political repression and human rights violations. The resulting humanitarian crisis, made worse by international sanctions, has forced millions to leave the country.
A clear strategy for acknowledging past violations and pursing accountability for them can help parties reach a negotiated solution to the political crisis. Concerns about “revenge justice” are commonplace in Venezuela’s military barracks and civil service offices. Among those living in poor, marginalized urban neighborhoods and indigenous communities, fears of returning to an elitist democracy that excludes them run high. Trust in politics may be the scarcest commodity in Venezuela. People trust neither the abusive, authoritarian, incompetent, and corrupt government nor the divided, individualistic, and often elitist opposition, even if the government is primarily responsible for massive human rights violations and the devastating humanitarian crisis. Efforts to examine and address past abuses should not be limited to those committed by the current regime, but must include forms of exclusion and violations committed over a longer period. Venezuela cannot simply return to the previous republican period with its political elitism and social exclusion. Instead, it must establish a new democracy based on these lessons learned—one that guarantees inclusion, respect for human rights, and long-term stability.
A disparate and disorganized civil society is developing proposals for resolving the political gridlock in ways that could address its causes and consequences. These committed activists are pushing for a negotiated transition to a pluralistic democracy, not merely a power-sharing arrangement. They understand that this requires responding to victims of human rights violations and abuse, as well as addressing the fears of those resisting an agreement.
In collaboration with Venezuelan and international organizations, ICTJ is convening civil society actors to discuss and strategize around how they can influence negotiations to ensure that they address human rights violations as well as the exclusion and marginalization at the root of the current crisis. In these discussions, ICTJ encourages stakeholders to think critically about what role examining and addressing past abuses can play to advance a negotiated transition. We offer comparative experiences of transitional justice processes and lessons learned from other countries around the world. We also provide technical advice on a range of transitional justice issues, from appropriate criminal accountability mechanisms to measures that address the needs of victims and the most vulnerable without compromising the resources needed for reconstruction and provision of basic services.
ICTJ aims to create conditions favorable to negotiations, with a view to a peaceful transition to more inclusive and democratic Venezuela. We urge political actors to include justice-related concerns in their negotiation agendas. And we encourage a broader social and political dialogue on building a shared vision for the country that addresses past abuses.