Venezuela’s opposition women leaders seek support from International Geneva

Venezuelans protest against President Nicolas Maduro in a walkout organised by the opposition, in Caracas, Venezuela, 30 January, 2019. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A group of women political leaders and activists from Venezuela were in Geneva last week to urge international organisations and diplomatic representatives to support a democratic transition in Venezuela and increase the focus on the role of women.

“We’re sending a strong message from a city like Geneva, where the Human Rights Council is based,” said a member of the women’s delegation, Isadora Zubillaga, who also represents Juan Guaidó’s opposition government in Paris. 

Venezuela’s economic and political meltdown have been at the heart of discussions in Geneva at the UN rights body, where President Nicolas Maduro’s government has been accused of cracking down on the opposition and hijacking power through fraudulent elections in 2018. 

A few weeks later, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Guaidó, declared himself interim president and has been locked in a power struggle with Maduro ever since.

The country has been suffering from a years-long economic crisis accompanied by soaring hyperinflation and shortages of food, medicine and basic services. Since 2018, displacement from Venezuela has increased fourfold and there now are over 5.9 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide.

The group of women met with several ambassadors at a meeting organised by the Canadian mission and the advisory group Independent Diplomat, seeking to ramp up international pressure on Maduro as well as support for Venezuelan migrants from their host countries.

“We asked them to continue helping to make visible the role of women in the different issues that have to do with Venezuela and to continue supporting the process in Mexico because it is an important path forward,” said Zubillaga. “We want free and fair presidential elections. Maduro’s regime is not legitimate.”

Last week, Maduro’s government halted negotiations in Mexico with the opposition following the extradition of Venezuelan envoy Alex Saab from Cape Verde to the US to face money laundering charges. Maduro has entered talks with the opposition hoping that it will lead to the easing of international sanctions.

“This shows once again that their interests lie elsewhere and not with solving the crisis that our people are suffering most of all,” said Mariela Magallanes, another member of the women’s group in Geneva who is also part of the opposition’s delegation in Mexico.

Saab, a Colombian businessman, is also believed to have key intel on how Caracas has been getting around US sanctions and continuing to sell oil, according to the Financial Times. Maduro’s government has accused the US and Cabo Verde of kidnapping and torturing Saab and observers have suggested the operation is politically motivated.

The role of international Geneva

The group of women leaders also called on the countries to renew the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela, established in September 2019. In a report to the council in September 2020, the group of experts backed claims of crimes against humanity and pointed fingers at the authorities as possible perpetrators.

“The fact finding mission has done important work. It has to have more impact and last longer, it cannot end in September 2022,” Zubillaga noted. Come next year, the group will be ending its term and state members of the council will have to negotiate whether to renew it.

Asked about the role of the UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, Zubillaga said that she recognised the key role she had played in reopening up the country for UN oversight but stressed that “it was always possible to do more”.

Geneva Solutions reached out to Venezuela’s diplomatic representation in Geneva for comment but had yet to receive a reply by the time of publication of this article.