Venezuela’s crisis reached a breaking point in early 2019. At the heart of it is a constitutional battle playing out between the dueling administrations of Nicolás Maduro and interim president Juan Guaidó. Maduro, who’s been in office since 2013, is widely viewed as an illegitimate president, and several dozen countries have shifted their official recognition to Guaidó as the country’s interim president until new elections can be held.
With most national traditional media outlets shuttered and new stories swirling every hour, AS/COA Online tracks the need-to-know developments.
July 16 — The Maduro regime released 25-year-old clarinetist Karen Palacios from prison, where she’d been held for 45 days without trial and a month after a judge had ordered her release. The government said she’d violated the notoriously subjective “hate speech” law for posting a screed against the de facto administration on Twitter after she’d been told she’d lost her first chair in the National Philharmonic because she’d “signed against the regime,” an apparent reference to the thwarted 2016 recall referendum. Palacios remains on probation and cannot address the media. In 2018, 24 people were arrested for criticizing the government online. So far in 2019, 2,200 people have been detained for political reasons, according to Foro Penal, with 600 still behind bars.
Citgo’s U.S. parent company announced it plans to refinance $1.9 billion of debt due next year. The refinancing will take place as debate continues over who controls the refiner, one of the original crown jewels in the Venezuelan state’s holdings.
“The status quo is not a sustainable option for Venezuela,” said EU policy chief Federica Mogherini on Tuesday, in announcing the bloc will implement new sanctions on the Maduro regime if no progress is made in ongoing talks in Barbados, a response to UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s findings that the administration is responsible for human rights violations. Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza rejected Mogherini’s statement as “issuing unacceptable threats.”
The Trump administration declined a request by a bipartisan group of 24 U.S. senators to grant temporary protected status (TPS) for Venezuelans. In a letter dated July 11 that was publicized Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said the administration “continues to monitor” the situation in the country.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the Maduro administration is looking to use a Russian-backed international payments system as a safeguard against possible new sanctions that would prevent them from accessing the current system, SWIFT, which is used to move trillions of dollars worldwide.
July 11 — OPEC’s latest numbers show that Venezuela produced an average of 753,000 barrels per day of oil in the second quarter of 2019, down 22 percent from the previous quarter and 46 percent below the same quarter the previous year, based on secondary source reporting to OPEC. From 1980 to 2015, Venezuela produced 10 percent of all oil from OPEC countries. In the Q2 2019, it produced 2.5 percent.
July 10 — Twelve days after the death of Navy Captain Acosta Arévalo while in custody of military counterintelligence police, a government lawyer announced there would be a “controlled burial.”
July 7 — The Venezuelan opposition announced it will meet with Maduro representatives in Barbados in the coming days in another round of talks mediated by Norway.
July 5 — UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet's human rights report is released in Geneva based on her multi-day investigation in June that included hundreds of interviews. The report details and denounces the grim and systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the Venezuelan security forces over the past 18 months. Maduro’s officials responded by condemning the report. Bachelet urged the international community to stop Venezuela’s crisis from prolonging.
July 2 — Top Guaidó economic and legal officials present a plan to restructure Venezuela’s $150 billion of outstanding debt with creditors. The plan focuses on treating all creditors as equals. The exception is Russian and Chinese debt, which will be negotiated separately, as well as loans backed by commercial claims. The latter group includes the PDVSA bonds due in 2020, the last Venezuelan bonds not in default.
June 30 — The Venezuelan Defense Ministry announced the death of Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo. His lawyer said Acosta, one of more than 100 active and retired officers thus far jailed for treason, showed signs of torture at a June 28 court hearing. The Guaidó team pulls out of a scheduled third round of talks with the Maduro administration in Barbados in protest over Acosta’s death.
June 21 — The day Bachelet leaves the country, Venezuelan authorities arrest an Air Force general and a Navy captain, two of six arrests of police and military officers carried out over the weekend. As of April 2019, there were at least 152 detained members of the military, most often on charges of treason, inciting rebellion, or dishonorable conduct.
June 19 — Bachelet lands in Caracas. During her three-day visit, she meets with everyone from Maduro and Diosdado Cabello to Guaidó and recently released Congressman Gilber Caro. Before leaving, she acknowledged “serious human rights violations” and called on the Maduro government to release all political prisoners. She is scheduled to present a full report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council on July 5.
June 18 — The U.S. Navy deploys the USNS Comfort—a massive hospital ship that can treat up to 500 patients a day—on a five-month aid mission to attend to Venezuelan migrants scattered throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
The Wall Street Journal reports on a maneuver by which the Maduro regime has sold upward of 7.4 tons of gold reserves worth about $300 million via Uganda in a way that allows it to avoid U.S. sanctions.
June 15 — Peru tightens its entry requirements for Venezuelan migrants, who now must present either a valid passport or visa before entering. Peru hosts the second-largest Venezuelan migrant population—more than 700,000 people—after Colombia. The United States announced the week prior that it would accept Venezuelan passports that had expired within the last five years.
June 9 — PDVSA oil shipments to Nicaragua, one of Caracas’ few remaining allies, tanked by 73 percent in 2018, reports EFE. The Nicaraguan economy contracted nearly 4 percent in 2018 as the country faces its own political crisis.
June 8 — Maduro reopens the border with Colombia, three and a half months after he closed it when international groups made a push to try and bring aid into Venezuela.
June 7 — The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration announce that the number of Venezuelan migrants will hit 4 million, almost doubling in 2019 from the 2.3 million through the end of 2018. At the end of 2015, there were 695,000 Venezuelans living outside the country.
May 29 — Talks in Oslo, Norway, between the Maduro and Guaidó camps end without an agreement. The opposition’s demand that Maduro step down as a precondition to any agreement was a nonstarter for chavistas.
May 28 — The family of an 11-year-old boy who died two days earlier of Hodgkin’s lymphoma holds an open-casket funeral, in what becomes a national symbol of grief over the health crisis.
May 21 — In a statement to the National Assembly, Hugo Carvajal, Chávez’s former intelligence chief, avows that Maduro’s electoral win the year prior was due to fraud perpetrated by election official Carlos Quintero.
Spanish oil giant Repsol, the last such Western extractor with major operations in Venezuela, says in its annual report that it will be winding down what was once a $1.7 billion operation within a few months, after seeing losses of up to 70 percent.
Venezuela’s oil production is down to its lowest level in more than 15 years, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
May 20 — The former Spanish ambassador to Venezuela gets arrested in Madrid, along with his son and two others, on charges of accepting bribes. Ten days earlier, a former Venezuelan minister was arrested in the Spanish capital on similar charges.
May 17 — Bloomberg reports that Venezuela was able to sell $570 million worth of gold to firms in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, despite sanctions.
May 16 — After 15 years in detention, Iván Simonovis—once Venezuela’s most famous SWAT cop—escapes his house arrest in the middle of the night, eventually making his way to Washington, DC.
A mayor who’d been a close confidant of chavista-turned-opposition General Figuera is found dead in Caracas.
The Guaidó administration takes control of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, which Maduro sympathizers had occupied for weeks.
May 15 — SEBIN agents seize a PDVSA tanker and force it to reroute to Cuba.
One chavista deputy joins the ranks of the National Assembly. The minority congresspeople have been boycotting the assembly’s meetings for years.
May 14 — Amnesty International asks the ICC to investigate Venezuela for crimes against humanity.
The UN Security Council holds a closed-door meeting on the crisis and the arrest of Zambrano in particular.
The chavista-stacked Constituent Assembly votes to remove legislative immunity for seven opposition deputies after removing that of nine other deputies the week prior.
May 13 — The Washington Post identifies Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno’s withdrawal of support as a key reason why the April 30 plot failed.
May 10 —The US Treasury OFAC office issues sanctions on two vessels transporting oil from Venezuela to Cuba. That same day, the Cuban government announces new rations on food and hygiene products.
May 8 — SEBIN agents arrest National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano by towing him in his car, which he refused to leave, to their headquarters. As of this point, Zambrano is arguably the most high-profile politician arrested and hails from a different party than Guaidó’s.
May 7 — At AS/COA’s annual conference at the State Department, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announces that Washington is lifting sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera for his defection from chavista ranks. The Trump administration’s move is designed to encourage others to desert Maduro.
May 6 — The Venezuelan army has been training ELN fighters to use heat-seeking missiles, Colombian officials tell Bloomberg.
May 2 — A court in Caracas issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo López on Thursday for “flagrant violation” of his house arrest, which he was able to escape on Tuesday. The Spanish government responded to say it has no intention of turning over the opposition leader to Venezuelan authorities. Late that afternoon, López appeared outside the Spanish ambassador’s residence to say that he expects Maduro to fall within “weeks” and that he is in ongoing talks with high-ranking members of the regime.
López—Venezuela's most famous political prisoner and mentor of caretaker President Guaidó—insisted that the struggle to topple Maduro is on and that he will reveal the names of Maduro's allies who were involved in Tuesday's uprising at the right time.
— Caracas Chronicles (@CaracasChron) May 2, 2019
Many countries have signaled that if the lives of top opposition leaders are threatened, that could escalate their collective response. Thursday afternoon, Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that, in Friday’s Lima Group meetings, he will be making “strong proposals,” per President Iván Duque’s instructions. The night before, U.S. President Donald Trump told FOX Business that, were Guaidó to be arrested, Washington could “help them a little…and maybe a lot.”
On Thursday, The New York Times published one of the most detailed reports yet about former Vice President and current Industry Minister Tareck El Aissami’s and his family’s ties to one of Venezuela’s top drug traffickers and also to Hezbollah via his father’s native Syria.
May 1 — Protests continued today as Guaidó led large marches in Caracas.
#Ahora Presidente encargado @jguaido habla desde concentración opositora a la altura del Unicentro El Marqués. "La protesta si funcionan. Nos escuchan, nos acompañan. Quieren lo mismo que nosotros: unir al país" #1May 12:51pm pic.twitter.com/KsLyPH4873
— Efecto Cocuyo (@EfectoCocuyo) May 1, 2019
Journalist Luz Mely Reyes and her site Efecto Cocuyo reported on the pressures facing Maduro to maintain unity among chavistas and armed forces that are too depleted to either overthrow Maduro or keep him in power. Reyes also highlighted divisions within the SEBIN intelligence police and the Supreme Court.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Tuesday evening that Maduro was prepared to leave Venezuela by plane bound for Havana that morning but was talked out of doing so by Moscow, a report the Russian foreign ministry disputed. Other senior Maduro administration officials also had told U.S. authorities they were prepared to leave, Pompeo said. Minutes prior to Pompeo’s interview, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened a “full and complete embargo” plus high-level sanctions if Cuba does not withdraw its operatives from Venezuela.
Opposition couple Leopoldo López and Lilian Tintori meanwhile moved from the Chilean embassy to the Spanish one on Tuesday. They are not seeking asylum.
April 30, 6 p.m. — Colombian President Iván Duque has deployed Colombian troops to the border with Venezuela.
López and Tintori are now “guests” at the Chilean embassy in Caracas, said Chilean Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero, along with at least one of their daughters. They join opposition leader and López’s Popular Will colleague Freddy Guevara, who’s taken refuge in the same embassy since November 2017.
Decorated journalist Luz Mely Reyes reported that Guaidó and López’s “Operation Liberty” was originally planned for later—Guaidó previously was calling on people to protest on May 1—but was moved up due to reports of Guaidó’s imminent arrest. That said, the date change gave some top Maduro officials who were preparing to defect cold feet and they stayed mum on Tuesday, thereby weakening the opposition’s plan. U.S. Special Envoy Elliott Abrams also said that Operation Liberty was not “out of the blue” and involved discussions with senior Maduro officials.
Lo que indican fuentes de la previa.
1 Operación Libertad estaba prevista para otro día.
2 Fuentes aseguran que habían contactado a altos mandos militares e incluso TSJ
3 Adelanto de levantamiento obedeció a que iban a detener a Guaidó
4 Militares contactados recularon
— Luz Mely Reyes (@LuzMelyReyes) April 30, 2019
Venezuelans have been out on the streets all day across the country, and while some security forces appear to have stepped down, much remains unknown.
Driving to Caracas across Venezuela Tue most of the usual military & police roadblocks are gone. At Nat. Guard outposts no car checks. No soldiers on main highway. Soldiers not joining protesters but not repressing either. Same wait & see FANB attitude I’m hearing across country
— Anatoly Kurmanaev (@AKurmanaev) April 30, 2019
April 30, 12 p.m. — Tuesday is shaping up to be one of the most critical in 2019 so far for Venezuela. Early in the morning, Guaidó called on members of the military to join him at the Carlota air force base and “end the usurpation,” i.e. Maduro’s regime, in what he and his allies are calling "Operation Liberty."
En el marco de nuestra constitución. Y por el cese definitivo de la usurpación. https://t.co/3RD2bnQhxt
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) April 30, 2019
Over his left shoulder stood a figure few have seen in the open air in years: Leopoldo López, Guaidó’s mentor and Popular Will party head, who’s been serving a nine-year sentence most observers call a farce. According to López, the SEBIN intelligence police who had been guarding and monitoring his house arrest released him into the protection of a National Guard unit that had defected from the ranks and were now recognizing Guaidó as their commander in chief.
Crowds gathered at the air force base, and there were reports of tear gas fired between rival Maduro- and Guaidó-aligned National Guard units. Though there were several instances of military members and units breaking from Maduro to come to the Guaidó administration, by mid-morning Guaidó had left the Carlota base and was rallying supporters at a nearby park, a potential sign that the plan to take control of the base did not go as intended.
By early afternoon, the situation on the ground had turned violent and remains in flux. (Note: the below video is graphic.)
— CNW (@ConflictsW) April 30, 2019
April 29 — Peru is deporting 50 Venezuelans for providing false declarations saying they had no criminal history in their residency applications, Reuters reported on Monday. Peru is home to the second-largest population of Venezuelan migrants after Colombia, with about 700,000 migrants in the country of 32 million.
April 26 — Early on Friday morning at an arepa shop in east Caracas, Venezuelan police arrested Congressman Gilber Caro, a close ally of Guaidó’s and a fellow member of the Popular Will party. Caro, who is supposed to have parliamentary immunity, was previously jailed in 2017 and held for a year and a half without trial, reports Bloomberg’s Andrew Rosati.
Also that morning, the U.S. Treasury added Jorge Arreaza, Maduro’s foreign minister, to its OFAC list of sanctioned Venezuelan individuals.
April 25 — There were protests on Wednesday in several parts of Maracaibo that had spent more than 40 hours without power, and notably without air conditioning units in the city where springtime temperatures are already hitting triple digits Fahrenheit.
April 22 —Two sources close to Venezuela’s Energy Ministry tell Colombian daily El Espectador that the Guri hydroelectric plant is operating on its last transformer. If it blows, it will collapse and could shut down Venezuela’s entire electric grid for more than five weeks. The only three companies in the world that manufacture the necessary replacement parts are located in Austria, Germany, and the United States—three countries that recognize the interim Guaidó government.
The Maduro government is using Russian state oil firm Rosneft to bypass U.S. sanctions and fuel its cash payments, Reuters reported over the weekend. In response, Rosneft asked Russian authorities to ban Reuters from the country.
April 17 — The Trump administration announces sanctions on Venezuela’s Central Bank, removing Maduro’s access to U.S. currency and reducing the bank’s capacity to engage in international transactions.
April 16 — The first Red Cross shipment of medical and hygiene products for Venezuela arrives at the Caracas airport. The 24 tons of humanitarian supplies are expected to help up to 650,000 Venezuelans.
April 10 —The International Monetary Fund suspends Maduro’s access to $400 million as members debate who the president is, Bloomberg reports.
Also on Wednesday, the UN Security Council holds meetings on Venezuela, at which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence calls on the body to recognize the Guaidó interim government.
April 9 — The OAS votes to switch its recognition from Maduro to Guaidó. The measure passed with 18 countries voting in favor, nine votes against (including the Maduro representative voting for Venezuela), six abstentions, and one absence.
April 8 — The World Bank projects the Venezuelan economy will contract 25 percent in 2019, according to adjusted figures released April 4, triple its previous estimate. The country is expected to see 10 million percent inflation, as well. The contraction will be even greater if blackouts persist, say researchers at the Institute of International Finance.
We think Venezuela's economy will shrink 25% this year. Even more if blackouts persist. The cumulative contraction since 2013 is worse than Zimbabwe's in the late 90s, the deepest we could find in modern times. pic.twitter.com/xqgVDY6KXu
— Sergi Lanau (@SergiLanauIIF) April 6, 2019
On Saturday, Guaidó led thousands in rallies in Caracas and elsewhere as unrest and concerns about water shortages and the spread of water-born illnesses increase. According to analysts, roughly two-thirds of the entire population—about 20 million people—have faced water shortages or completely lost water in the last couple of weeks, and physicians are reporting increases in cases of diarrhea, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A.
April 4 — Washington hosted NATO ministerial meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about growing threats from Russia, including in Venezuela. In addition to two military planes that landed near Caracas, Moscow has also sent an oil tanker to help get embargoed Venezuelan oil out of the country. A report this week by Reuters found that Venezuela was able to keep export levels stable at about 1 million barrels per day last month, in spite of U.S. sanctions.
April 2 — On Tuesday, the Constituent Assembly—a chavista body not recognized by much of the international community—approved a solicitation from the Supreme Court to remove Guaidó’s parliamentary immunity, which could open him up to prosecution and/or detention.
Any effort to abduct @jguaido should be considered a coup d’ etat by every nation that has recognized him as the legitimate Interim President of #Venezuela. And anyone who cooperates with this should be treated as as a coup plotter & dealt with accordingly.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 2, 2019
Earlier in the day, Colombia rejected insinuations by the Russian parliament that Bogotá was considering military intervention in Venezuela and reaffirmed its commitment to a democratic transition. This came after the Russian upper house issued a letter on March 28 to Colombia’s Congress that said it would consider “illegitimate use of military force against Venezuela by other states that support the opposition…as an act of aggression against a sovereign state.”
On the ground, rolling blackouts, paired with water shortages throughout Venezuela, are heightening unrest. Protests, which the armed forces are finding increasingly difficult to contain, are essentially continuous at this point.
March 29 — Red Cross head Francesco Rocca said that his group is preparing to deliver much-needed aid supplies to up to 650,000 Venezuelans in the next 15 days. Rocca said the Maduro government had met conditions, which include no interference, for the group to carry out the humanitarian work.
The Red Cross announcement is the first crack on Maduro’s wall. Maduro has been anti aid, while opposition has been pro foreign aid for years.
— Guillermo Zubillaga (@Guillermo_Z) March 29, 2019
March 28 — The Maduro government said on Thursday that it had banned Guaidó from holding public office for 15 years on the basis of supposed financial improprieties. But the interim administration brushed the charges aside as a chavista tactic of disqualifying members of the Venezuelan opposition from public office on either electoral or criminal charges. Moreover, Guaidó has consistently said he is serving in an interim capacity until free and fair elections can be held, in which Leopoldo López, Guaidó’s mentor currently under house arrest, is expected to run.
La supuesta inhabilitación en contra de @jguaido demuestra que el régimen de Maduro selecciona a quienes pueden optar a cargos públicos, como sucedió con el fraude del 20M. Otra muestra de que en Venezuela no hay condiciones de integridad electoral.
— Jose I. Hernandez G. (@ignandez) March 28, 2019
March 27 — It was known that Fabiana Rosales, a journalist and Guaidó's wife, would meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Washington on Wednesday. But she also ended up also having a surprise meeting at the White House with the president himself. Donald Trump spoke with Rosales about Venezuela’s crisis and pledged to “fix it.” Romy Moreno Molina, wife of Guaidó’s jailed chief of staff, joined the meeting as well.
During the same meeting, Trump delivered a message to Moscow—which sent troops to Caracas over the weekend—saying, “Russia has to get out.”
March 26 — Government workers stayed home, schools shut down, and streets emptied after another blackout hit much of Venezuela on Monday. The blackout is affecting 21 of 23 states plus the capital, reports The Guardian, and comes two weeks after a six-day blackout hit the country.
March 25 — The BBC reports that two Russian military planes arrived in Caracas on March 23 and Venezuelan journalist Javier Mayorca tweeted that some 100 troops, along with 35 tons of military equipment, were on the ground. This morning the Maduro government said a Russian general had also arrived with the troops to service equipment as part of a military pact, reports Bloomberg.
March 22 — The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) opted to cancel its upcoming annual summit to be held March 26–31 in Chengdu, China. Sources told Reuters that the IDB took the step after Beijing wouldn’t give a visa to Guaidó's representative, Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann.
Also, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Washington would apply new sanctions, this time on Venezuelan development bank BANDES.
March 21 — Early Thursday morning, Venezuelan intelligence police known as the SEBIN detained Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, in Caracas and raided both his home and that of a congressman from Guaidó’s party. The day prior, a former SEBIN agent testified before an OAS hearing of the torture practices carried out by the Maduro regime, with the aid of Cuban agents, and provided video he’d secretly recorded from inside a SEBIN detention center.
1. Plant evidence to stage as fake proof of violent intent;
2. Torture him to give false testimony on Guaido;&
3. Testing international response to calculate how & when to arrest Guaidohttps://t.co/bb6ySKTNoi
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 21, 2019
The effects of U.S. sanctions on Caracas’ oil are starting to take effect: U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude fell to zero last week, according to government figures published on Wednesday. The United States has imported oil from Venezuela every month since the U.S. government started tracking the data in 1973. The lack of oil from Venezuela, coupled with drops in shipments from Saudi Arabia amid a general OPEC production cut, pushed the price of U.S. oil to over $60 a barrel this week for the first time since November.
March 19 – The New York Times’ Nick Casey published a report on Monday detailing how chavistas used Cuban doctors in the country as a tool to manipulate Venezuelan elections over the years. For example, during Maduro’s May 2018 election—widely considered a sham—doctors said they were forced to withhold life-saving treatments from patients until closer to election day. That same day Casey’s story came out, a young doctor became the third in two weeks to be removed from his job after speaking up about the humanitarian crisis. His dismissal letter cited “serious lack of respect” for higher-ups.
Expresidente del IVSS, general Carlos Rotondaro: Medicamentos de la @opsoms no fueron entregados. Autoridades decían que había que guardarlos para las elecciones de la constituyente (...) El Ministro Luis López decía que había que guardar los medicamentos. Vía @NTN24 #18Mar pic.twitter.com/ttyF2mz11H
— Gabriel Bastidas (@Gbastidas) March 18, 2019
Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said over the weekend that Maduro has asked all the members of his cabinet to submit their resignations as part of an “in-depth restructuring” of his administration.
U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams said his meetings with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Rome on Monday and Tuesday regarding the situation in Caracas were “positive” but not fruitful. Abrams previously testified on Capitol Hill that he’d met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and had “not yet” met with the Chinese. On the trip to Rome, Abrams also met with officials from Italy, one of the few EU countries that does not recognize Guaidó, and the Vatican, which has not engaged in Venezuela since failed peace talks in 2016.
March 13 — Power is coming back slowly and intermittently to Venezuela’s cities, but one sociologist said the country is effectively in a state of anarchy. Few outside the Maduro regime believe the chavistas’ claim the outage was due to a cyberattack since most of the grid is analog and not networked.
Late Tuesday night, Venezuelan intelligence police, known as the SEBIN, arrested high-profile investigative journalist Luis Carlos. They also raided his home and pocketed cash savings of his and his wife, a Caracas Chronicles journalist who is in remission from cancer. They released Carlos 30 hours later but with several restrictions on his liberties in place. The regime did so while a team from the UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights was in Venezuela preparing for Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s upcoming visit.
Yesterday, the U.S. State Department announced it was pulling all diplomatic personnel from the country and said the embassy in Caracas would no longer provide consular services. It also advised all U.S. citizens living or traveling in Venezuela to leave the country and advised against traveling there.
March 11 — Venezuela marks its fourth day of a national blackout, an outage experts say could continue indefinitely, according to a report from The New York Times. The article details how the San Geronimo B substation, which supplies power from the Guri hydroelectric dam to 80 percent of Venezuelans, failed on Thursday. The Maduro government tried four times since then to restart the Guri’s turbines with no success; the latest attempt even caused a second substation to explode and internal reports suggest a major equipment failure. Government plant workers were told to stay home on Monday, and the Maduro government called a national holiday, closing schools and businesses across the country.
But despite the government’s attempts to keep people off the streets, anxiety is rising. So far, at least 21 deaths in hospitals have been linked directly to the blackout, according to the NGO Médicos por la Salud. Looting is taking place across the country, as are arrests of some of the looters. By Monday, thirsty residents of Caracas had taken to collecting water from the notoriously unsanitary Guaire River. Hugo Chávez pledged to clean up the river back in 2005 and took in $150 million in investment for the project within five years, but little to no progress was made.
Caracas has been crumbling for years, but it finally feels the bottom has completely fallen out. Residents in San Augustin are flocking to a terribly polluted river today to collect water that would ever bathing in — let alone drink. pic.twitter.com/wa6UeYq9cY
— Andy Rosati (@andrewrosati) March 11, 2019
With oil production already flagging, the blackout has also shut down exports from Venezuela’s primary port. If and when PDVSA is able to resume production, it won’t be until after the national grid is back up.
March 8 — By midday Friday, Venezuela hits 20 hours of a nationwide power outage. All but one state reported outages. The one that didn't report any was the jungle state of Amazonas because news site Efecto Cocuyo couldn't get in touch with anybody there.
Nicolás Maduro, predictably and yet improbably, blamed the outage on an “electric war” caused by U.S. imperialism.
Blackouts have become frequent in Venezuela of late, but never seen the likes of this: most states, Caracas in the dark for 16 hours. @AP watched nurses taking vital signs of preemies by candlelight as mothers despaired looking into powerless incubators https://t.co/CXpp1hRv9n
— Joshua Goodman (@APjoshgoodman) March 8, 2019
The World Bank dealt the Maduro administration another blow on Thursday when its tribunal ruled that the Bolivarian country must pay ConocoPhillips $8 billion in losses stemming from oil assets lost when Chávez expropriated them in 2007. The Venezuela Central Bank reported having $8.75 billion in international reserves at the close of 2018.
March 6 — Venezuelan military counterintelligence agents detained U.S. journalist Cody Weddle and his Venezuelan assistant Carlos Camacho early Wednesday morning on two unspecified charges, according to Venezuela’s National Union of Journalists, known as SNTP. Weddle’s housekeeper told media she saw the officers raid his home, and force him out with his passport, other documents, money, and equipment in hand. A graduate of Virginia Tech, Weddle has been based in Caracas for close to five years, working for his first two and a half for teleSUR and later as a freelance journalist. Organization of American States head Luis Almagro, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and U.S. Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary of State Kimberly Breier, among others, all called for Weddle’s immediate release. Camacho was released that afternoon, and later, after 12 hours of detention, Weddle was also and will be deported.
.@StateDept is aware of and deeply concerned with reports that another U.S. journalist has been detained in #Venezuela by #Maduro, who prefers to stifle the truth rather than face it. Being a journalist is not a crime. We demand the journalist’s immediate release, unharmed.
— Kimberly Breier (@WHAAsstSecty) March 6, 2019
Weddle’s detention came the week after Maduro had Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos and his team detained and then released, but the regime confiscated their equipment and tapes. Weddle and Ramos are the two most high-profile foreign journalists detained in Venezuela of late, among many other journalist arrests. In 2019 alone, the Maduro regime has detained 36 members of the press, according to SNTP’s count. While some like Weddle, Ramos, and three EFE journalists were since released, others such as German freelancer Billy Six and Venezuelan multimedia reporter Jesús Medina remain in detention.
U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams this week said that Washington had other “stronger” measures against Caracas “ready.” He’s scheduled to testify on Thursday morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, along with AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth.
March 4 — All eyes were on Caracas’ main airport today, where Guaidó landed after completing his five-country tour. Diplomats from several countries in the Americas and Europe were there to await his arrival. Though there were concerns the Maduro administration might detain Guaidó on the basis that he violated a prohibition on his leaving the country issued by the chavista-stacked Supreme Court, Guaidó entered without incident, something he attributed to a broken chain of command. “I got in. Somebody did not follow orders,” he said. Guaidó is calling for more nationwide rallies on March 9.
— AlbertoNews (@AlbertoRodNews) March 4, 2019
March 1 — Guaidó visits Paraguay to meet with President Mario Abdo Benítez, after meeting with Jair Bolsonaro in Brasília on Thursday. The interim president says he plans to return to Venezuela on Monday, in spite of threats against his and his family’s life.
February 27 — Government sources reveal that, desperate for cash, the Maduro government surreptitiously removed roughly $500 million in gold from the Central Bank last week in a bid to sell it abroad illegally. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s oil inventories have hit a five-year high as the regime is unable to sell the little oil it’s been able to produce due to U.S. sanctions, forcing laden tankers to sit idle and Maduro to dip into precious metal reserves. At the end of 2018, the government reported 140 tons of gold in the Central Bank vaults, the lowest level in 75 years.
Today also marks the 30th anniversary of the event known as the Caracazo, a fateful string of days during the Carlos Andrés Pérez administration when, under the blanket of Marshall Law, troops killed several hundred civilians. The event is considered a pivotal moment that contributed to the rise of Hugo Chávez.
February 26 — U.S. oil refiner Citgo breaks with parent company PDVSA in order to be in compliance with U.S. sanctions. Citgo is the eighth-largest U.S. refiner and was, until today, the crown jewel of Venezuela’s foreign assets.
Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council holds meetings on the crisis in Venezuela. While the United States and several European countries urge action on aid and elections, Caracas allies China and Russia along with South Africa push back.
The number of Venezuelan military members who’ve defected and now recognize Guaidó as their commander-in-chief is over 320, doubling since Saturday, according to Colombian migration officials. One soldier tells reporter Dylan Baddour that “90 percent” of the ranks want Maduro to fall but don’t break ranks out of fear. The Colombian foreign minister says there are “serious threats” against Guaidó and his family should they return from Bogotá to Venezuela.
As pressure mounts on the regime, word gets out that two children of chavista power broker Diosdado Cabello were flown to Beijing over the weekend.
February 25 — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Guaidó, Duque, and others at Lima Group meetings in Bogotá and announces new U.S. sanctions as well as $56 million in aid. While the White House and the Venezuelan opposition seem the most determined to up the ante militarily against Maduro—with both Guaidó and Pence echoing an “all options” on the table line on Monday—leaders from Brazil, Chile, and Colombia each rule out foreign intervention on their part.
Back in Caracas, the Maduro administration detains high-profile Univision journalist Jorge Ramos and his six-member crew after an interview the president sours. The government confiscates the Univision host’s tapes and equipment and holds the team for several hours, eventually releasing the team but not their equipment.
February 23 — The plan to forcibly bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela is met with lethal force. Venezuelan armed forces and armed civil gangs known as colectivos kill six people—four along the border with Colombia and two in the Brazil border area—in clashes with those accompanying the aid and protesting the Maduro regime, bringing the weekend’s total fatalities to eight. Venezuelan security forces fire rubber bullets and tear gas across the border into Colombia at those protesting for the aid to be let in. Reporters later find shotgun shells as well.
Images of trucks laden with aid burning on the Tienditas Bridge dominate social media that day, though there was dispute as to who or what started the fires. In any event, while the supplies burned, Maduro dances at a rally in Caracas. By day’s end, around 160 members of the armed forces have defected.
With attention on the borders, the Maduro administration transfers Juan Requesens, a jailed congressman from Guaidó’s party, from the infamous Helicoide prison to the Palace of Justice for a preliminary hearing after his August 2018 detention.
That evening it’s announced that Freddy Superlano, also a congressman in Guaidó’s party, and his cousin Carlos Salinas were poisoned at a restaurant in Cúcuta, Colombia, that morning. Salinas passes away, though Superlano survives and files a claim with the Colombian authorities that they investigate what he said was an assassination attempt. The Maduro administration claims the two were poisoned by prostitutes in the border city.
February 22 — British business mogul Richard Branson hosts the Venezuela Aid Live benefit concert on the Tienditas Bridge on the Colombia-Venezuela border. Presidents Mario Abdo Benítez (Paraguay), Iván Duque (Colombia), and Sebastián Piñera (Chile) join Guaidó at the event. Chavistas, meanwhile, host a rival concert on the other side of the bridge, attended by fewer people, and many of those in uniform.
While the concerts played out amid high hopes for the following day’s plans to deliver humanitarian aid, two members of the Pemón indigenous group are killed by Venezuelan troops near the Brazil border, and another 14 injured in clashes as the community tries to forestall a convoy on its way to the border to block aid.
February 4 — After Maduro fails to respond to the call for new elections by the previous day’s end, 13 European countries announce they will now recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s head of state.
January 28 — The United States issues sanctions on $7 billion worth of assets held by state-owned oil firm PDVSA. National Security Advisor John Bolton says the measure could lead to an estimated $11 billion in export revenue losses for the Maduro regime.
January 23 — At a rally in Caracas, Guaidó administers the oath of office to himself, citing the Venezuelan Constitution. The people in the crowd also raise their hands and take an oath to defend the democracy, in accordance with another article in the Magna Carta.
That day, the Trump administration announces the United States will recognize Guaidó instead of Maduro, with several other countries following suit.
January 22 — The deadly secret police known as the FAES raid poor, formerly chavista-friendly neighborhoods and begin terrorizing residents in an attempt to intimidate them so they won’t turn against the Maduro regime and attend the opposition’s rally the following day. In the next two weeks, at least 43 people will be killed by security forces and another 900 arrested.
January 11 — Guaidó, the newly elected speaker of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature, calls Maduro a “usurper,” and says that the presidency is effectively vacant. Guaidó says he’s ready to assume the office on an interim basis, per the constitutionally mandated order of succession, until new elections can be held, and he encourages Venezuelans to attend rallies across the country on January 23.
January 10 —Maduro’s second, six-year term begins. Just four Latin American presidents attend his inauguration: Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, El Salvador’s Salvador Sánchez Céren, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. They were joined by the prime ministers of Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The only other heads of state in attendance were from the de facto and partially recognized Caucasus states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
January 4 — Thirteen members of the Lima Group—including neighbor Colombia and not-too-long-ago allies Argentina and Brazil—announce that they won’t recognize Nicolás Maduro’s second term when he’s sworn in the following week due to the fact that his May 2018 election “lacked legitimacy,” among other reasons. The group affirms its recognition of the National Assembly as a democratically elected constitutional institution. Mexico, under the leadership of new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was the only member that did not sign the letter, instead calling for dialogue.
This timeline was originally published on February 27. Carin Zissis contributed the March 22–27 updates, Fernanda Nunes the April 16 and 17 ones; and Luisa Horwitz for June 30, July 5, 7, and 10.