Maduro to speak with Santos about resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on 8 December 2016 he will speak with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 9 December about the resale of Venezuelan currency in Colombia. During an event to commemorate former President Hugo Chávez, Maduro stated he will urge the Colombian government to punish those who smuggle bolívar bills to Colombia for later resale (El Nacional). Maduro said the lack of paper money in Venezuela led to a cyber-attack on 2 December that caused a partial shutdown of the country's electronic banking system. According to Maduro, Venezuelan bills were stolen at Cúcuta and Maicao, Colombian cities on the border with Venezuela (Globovisión).

Maduro announces restructuring at PDVSA

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced an absolute restructuring and a change of direction for state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) on 23 November 2016. During a radio and television address, Maduro said the Executive would combat corruption and bureaucracy at PDVSA and increase domestic oil production (Tal Cual). Maduro also stated the working classes would lead PDVSA and denounced infiltrators in the Venezuelan oil industry. According to Maduro, saboteurs shut down three refineries on 1 September, when the opposition held a large-scale protest in Caracas (Efecto Cocuyo). 

Maduro blames imperialism for drug trafficking conviction of first lady's nephews

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on 25 November 2016 blamed "imperialism" for attacking his wife Cilia Flores via the conviction of her two nephews, Efraín Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, for conspiracy to import 1,760 pounds of cocaine into the United States. Speaking about the case for the first time after the nephews were found guilty in a New York City court on 18 November, Maduro attributed their conviction to "imperialist attacks" to undermine the Bolivarian revolution (Panorama). Cilia Flores is a current legislator and former Attorney General who previously served as the President of Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional (AN). The nephews' case was debated by the opposition-backed AN, which on 22 November approved an accord rejecting the Flores' influence peddling and abuse of power, urging Maduro to provide information about the case, and requesting the Attorney General's Office to initiate a pre-trial procedure against Maduro for his assumed links to the case. These links include the nephews' diplomatic passports and their use of the presidential hangar at Caracas' main international airport (Efecto Cocuyo).

Venezuelan dialogue process stalled

Jesús Torrealba, leader of the Venezuelan opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), stated on 23 November 2016 that talks between the opposition and the government were frozen after the government refused to show up at negotiations on 22 November (Taul Caul). According to Efecto Cocuyo, the government did not attend two of the dialogue's technical commissions after the legislature passed an accord on 22 November. The accord denounced abuse of state power after the 18 November conviction of two of First Lady Cilia Flores' nephews in a conspiracy to traffic 1,760 pounds of cocaine into the United States. 

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro contradicted the MUD's statements on 27 November by asserting that he would not allow anyone to leave the negotiation table, committing to continue talks throughout 2017 and 2018 (Panorama). In response, Torrealba on 29 November said the government is showing extreme irresponsibility by following its criminal strategy of stalling the dialogue to gain time. Torrealba added that if the dialogue does not yield concrete results, the MUD will have to evaluate its participation in talks scheduled for 6 December. As both sides accuse each other of failing to comply with the dialogue process, it appears ever more likely that the talks could fizzle out just one month after the opposition and the government agreed to meet to resolve Venezuela's crisis.

Datanálisis: Maduro's approval rating at 19.5 percent

According to Venezuelan polling firm Datanálisis, President Nicolás Maduro's approval rating fell to its lowest level, 19.5 percent, in October 2016 (El Nacional, 18 November 2016). Approval ratings for Maduro hit a previous low of 21.1 percent in October 2015, but rose to 33.1 percent in February 2016 only to fall consistently since March 2016 (La Patilla). Panorama noted that despite Venezuela's economic and political crisis, other Latin American presidents, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Brazilian President Michel Temer, currently have approval ratings that are below Maduro's.

Recall referendum suspension in Venezuela leads to Vatican mediation

After meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on 24 October 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro agreed to hold a dialogue with the opposition, with mediation from the Vatican and Unasur. According to papal envoy Monsignor Emil Paul Tscheerig, the talks are to take place on Margarita Island, Venezuela, on 30 October, and preliminary discussions between the government and the opposition took place in Caracas on 24 October (Tal Cual). However, key members of Venezuela's opposition stated they were not consulted and will not attend negotiations with the government. Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles denied a dialogue has begun, and Asamblea Nacional (AN) President and head of the Acción Democrática party Henry Ramos Allup stated his party would not be present at the talks (Tal Cual).

The announcement of a dialogue followed an especially tumultuous few days in Venezuelan politics. The government's electoral authority halted the process to hold a recall referendum against Maduro on 21 October, leading to an emergency session in the AN on 23 October. Opposition legislators passed a resolution that declared a breakdown of constitutional order in the country and accused the government of mounting a coup d'état. The resolution was passed after a group of government supporters burst into the AN, forcing a temporary suspension of the legislative session (Panorama). On 24 October, hundreds of university students across Venezuela held protests against the suspension of the recall referendum, and the opposition called for a nationwide protest on 26 October (Tal Cual). It remains unclear whether the entirety of Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition will accept the dialogue in light of increasing frustration over the government's moves to quash the recall referendum.