Essay on Venezuela

This short piece was commissioned by the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, but the editors declined to publish it.

I commented as follows: ” I am used to enduring various kinds of censorship.

Evidently your journal is not interested in independent expert opinions or in academic scholarship

not in open debate, not in the market place of ideas, not in methodology, not in objectivity

your journal evidently wants me to sing a particular song

your journal is playing the stale political game, joins the bandwagon

like so many others in the “academic industry” — and in the “human rights industry” —

Not good for democracy, not good for the freedom of others to have access to pluralistic views based on facts.



Regardless what interventionist politicians and the media pretend, the situation in Venezuela does not reach the level of a humanitarian crisis.  True enough, there is scarcity of certain foods (, medicines and personal hygiene items, there are delays in distribution, there are long lines for rationed foods, there is anguish, there is zozobra, there are institutional and constitutional irregularities (like in so many countries of our suffering world!)  — but the situation is very far from a “humanitarian crisis” as we know from Gaza (Norman Finkelstein, Gaza, University of California Press), Yemen (, Libya (, Syria (,  Iraq (, Haiti (, Mali (, Central African Republic (, Sudan (, Somalia (, Myanmar ( Ir is significant that when in 2017 Venezuela requested medical aid from the Global Fund, the plea was rejected because it “is still a high income country…and as such is not eligible.”


During my eight-day visit to Venezuela, I discussed this issue with experts from FAO ( and CEPAL (  The 2017 FAO report lists humanitarian crisis in 29 countries.  Venezuela is not among them. ( Thanks to UNDP, we could convene a meeting with all UN agencies and other regional organizations operating in Venezuela with a view to coordinate advisory services and technical assistance, an initiative that bore fruit shortly thereafter (

In this context, it is also useful to recall the situation in Venezuela in the years prior to the election of Hugo Chavez ( The links between IMF austerity measures and privatization of the 1980’s and 90’s and the extreme poverty that affected Venezuela, leading to the Caracazo of 1989 with some 3,000 massacred peasants, led directly to the election of Hugo Chavez, a democratic choice emerging out of profound popular discontent with the corruption prevalent in the 1980s and 90s and the enormous gulf between the super-rich and the abject poor.  In 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the Caracazo and other actions of the Carlos Andres Perez government, referring the case to the Inter-American Court, which in 1999 held that the Perez government had violated the American Convention, and committed extrajudicial killings. The Venezuelan government, by then headed by Chávez, did not contest the findings and accepted full responsibility for actions of the prior government.

What are the causes of today’s economic crisis in Venezuela? The mainstream media would have us believe that it is attributable exclusively to the failure of the socialistic model … too many ideologues, too few technocrats, amateurs who do not know how to run the economy. Even if there is some truth to that, other factors weigh in, notably the fall of oil prices, Venezuela’s principal source of income.  Seldom do we read in the media about the economic war being waged against Venezuela since 1998, the internationally-inspired coup in 2002, sabotage of the economy by monopolies and the private sector, hoarding of foods and medicines to be resold in the black market, an enormous level of contraband of subsidized foods and medicines into Colombia, Brazil and Aruba, and the effects of Obama and Trump sanctions, sanctions by Canada and the European Union, all of which have aggravated the suffering.  To the extent that sanctions have directly and indirectly caused shortages in necessary medicines such as insulin and anti-malaria drugs, to the extent that sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths – sanctions must be condemned as a crime against humanity.  Already a 2000 report by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights condemned sanctions as a gross violation of human rights.  And in the 1990’s two United Nations Assistant Secretary-Generals, Denis Halliday and Hans-Christoph von Sponeck resigned their “Humanitarian Coordinator” posts in Iraq in protest against sanctions which had caused more than a million deaths and which they qualified as a form of “genocide”.

Although the Venezuelan Government is endeavouring to diversify the economy to reduce dependence on oil, it has encountered difficulties e.g. in importing seeds to increase its local agricultural production, and it is clear that it needs international assistance to produce its own generic medicines.  In the light of the high level of sabotage and contraband, the UN Vienna Office on Drug and Crime  should assist the Venezuelan government in tackling the international mafias operating in the region.

Professor Pasqualina Curcio of the University of Caracas published a book 2017, The visible hand of the market, which analyses the economic war, and reminds us that in 1970, when Salvador Allende was democratically elected President of Chile,  Richard Nixon told Henry Kissinger that the US would not tolerate an alternative economic model in Latin America and gave orders “to make the Chilean economy scream” (, and when all the boycotts and sanctions failed, Allende was removed by Pinochet’s coup in September 1973. The Spanish economist Dr. Alfredo Serrano, head of the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica,  analyses inter alia  the artificially induced inflation, the refusal of banks to process Venezuela’s international transactions, the obstacles to obtain insulin and other medicines, the closing of Venezuela’s bank accounts by Citibank, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank among others. (

Colombia’s refusal to deliver anti-malaria medicine that had been ordered to combat an outbreak in November 2017 ( and the absence of condemnation from the international community manifests the ganging-up on Venezuela to achieve “regime change”. The anti-malaria medicine had to be imported from India and the government ensured its immediate distribution – at predictably higher cost.

Countries that continue to wage economic war against Venezuela are estopped from screaming “humanitarian crisis”, because they themselves are part of the problem. Ex injuria non oritur jus.

To solve the immediate problems Venezuela needs facilitated entry of medicines and food, without strings attached.  The United Nations should focus its efforts on promoting dialogue between the Government and the opposition.  Alas, it is the opposition that has been asking the United States and others to intensify the economic war against Venezuela, and hence the negotiations conducted between the government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, supported by the former President of Spain Rodriguez Zapatero, advanced to a balanced document that should have been signed by all sides on 7 February 2018. The Venezuelan government signed. But, as has been reported in the press, a phone call from Colombia to Julio Borges, the chief negotiator of the opposition, stopped the months’ long process with a “No firme”.  Who gave the order?  (  Thus, it becomes evident that certain countries do not want to see a peaceful solution of the Venezuelan conflict, but prefer to prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people, perhaps in the expectation that the Venezuelans will rebel against Maduro and express this through a “voto castigo” (vote to punish),  or that conditions will further degrade so as to reach the “humanitarian crisis” threshold, which could be invoked in order to conduct a military intervention and impose regime change.  Classical Machiavellism. No doubt, this kind of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign State entails a gross violation of Chapter 4, article 19, of the Charter of the Organisation of American States, which stipulates: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.”  In the same spirit General Assembly Resolution 2625 prohibits “armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements…No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind.”

Related to the concept of “humanitarian intervention” (which, for instance could legitimately have been practised to stop the democide in Cambodia and the genocide in Rwanda) is the newer concept of “responsibility to protect”, an elastic doctrine which could be invoked – wrongly – to march in.  Obviously, what some commentators would like is R2P to overthrow certain governments like in Grenada in 1983, Panama 1989 or the anti-Sandinista campaign condemned by the ICJ in its Judgment in the Nicaragua v. United States case.  It should be remembered, however, that R2P is a “declaration” and cannot replace the jus cogens prohibition of the use of force contained in article 2(4) of the UN Charter.  Under no condition can a State invoke R2P without Security Council approval ( para 14). And yet, the increased sabre-rattling gives rise to international concern.  Any foreign military intervention in Venezuela would constitute aggression within the meaning of the ICC Kampala definition of the crime of aggression.  Government officials associated with the planning or executing such aggression should be indicted pursuant to the ICC statute.  I have sympathy with another R2P – the responsibility to prevent violence, and this can best be achieved by providing genuine humanitarian assistance without ulterior political agendas.

Bottom line:  Venezuela is a sovereign people with the right of self-determination stipulated in common article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both Chavez and Maduro were democratically elected in elections monitored by international observers, including the Carter Center.  If we are committed to democracy, we must respect their choice.  After all, the Outcome document of the 2005 World Summit was clear in reaffirming that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.” The Summit Outcome Document also stressed that “democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,” and pointed out that “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy.”

(, para 135)

The solution of the Venezuelan “crisis” lies in good faith negotiations between the government and the opposition, an end to the economic war, and the lifting of sanctions. In pursuance of the principle of international solidarity (, UN agencies should provide advisory services and technical assistance to the Venezuelan government, and rich States should facilitate humanitarian assistance.The priority today must be to help the Venezuelan people while respecting the sovereignty of the Venezuela State. My report to the Human Rights Council proposes constructive solutions.



Alfred de Zayas is an American lawyer and historian, J.D. Harvard, Dr.phil., Göttingen, retired member of the New York and Florida Bar, retired senior lawyer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chief of the Petitions Department, visiting professor of law at numerous universities, since 2012 UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. From 26 November to 4 December he conducted the first visit to Venezuela by a UN rapporteur in 21 years.

Categories UN, United Nations (UN)Tags , , ,

6 thoughts on “Essay on Venezuela

  1. This is undoubtedly an important discussion. I would simply like to add that Rodriguez Zapatero is the former Prime Minister of Spain, not the former President. Currently, Spain does not have a President. King Felipe VI is the current King of Spain.


  2. Alfred,
    I did try hard to read your essay, but with the two first paragraphs I can completely understand why the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs declined to publish your ‘essay’.
    It is simply not an essay, but a propaganda piece worth of Gramma, or your heavily cited, British based, Venezuelanalysis.
    I am not surprised at all at the level of paralysis that an organisation such as the UN shows. The lack of timely response, the ambivalent positions, etc. If the UN is full of experts like you, the world is truly doomed.
    Scarcity of medicines has been a fixture in the Venezuelan countryside since 2009, food started to disappear from shops in 2011. Far, far away from future ‘sanctions’.
    You also forgot to mention that most sanctions are upheld against individuals and not against goverment institutions. Venezuela has been default in several of its bond obligations and, therefore, the restrictions on negotiating new conditions for its debt.


    1. That’s rude. And disingenuous if not simply misinformed. Does it matter what the majority of sanctions are against? Or is it more useful to consider the harm done by the anti-institutional sanctions that do effectively harm the already poverty-stricken people? US has waged economic war since way before those shortages via sanctions AND supporting the opposition. And what’s this about people like him? You mean the type to protest the vicious machinations of the imperial war machine? I’m all for peace. Weird, I know. You say he’s biased? Who in their right mind is NOT biased in favor of the well-being of our fellow people? And why do you think they’re in debt? Do you think the US plays a fair game? I don’t see Maduro spending absurd amounts of money on himself, like US govt ally leaders do (Saudi, Israel, UK). But hey, by all means, sweep the leg Johnny. Blame the democratically elected presidents who brought education way up and poverty way down, to name just 2 positives. Criticize the man who clearly resists the insatiable, bloodthirsty empire. Why not? It’s all the rage right now.


  3. It would be interesting reading about sanctions, international affairs and its impact on Venezuela, and possible solutions.

    Unfortunately, at is seen from the essay its really biased, written by strong “Bolivarian Revolution” supporter.

    “Bottom line” just kills all the neutrality.

    Author says “Venezuela is a sovereign people with the right of self-determination”, but as it seen later it only applies to “Bolivarian Revolution” supporters, not Venezuelans. Majority of Venezuelans today are anti “Bolivarian Revolution”. Only outsiders may doubt it. If any reader doubt it, its very easy to check it. Just speak with regular Venezuelans, if you don’t know to many of Venezuelans, just simply post a poll in facebook on a not political Venezuelan groups. And for example if you add 2 leaders from both sides like Maduro on one side and Lopez on other side, I can guarantee, Lopez would win by very very high margin in your poll.

    And read further “Both Chavez and Maduro were democratically elected in elections monitored by international observers, including the Carter Center. If we are committed to democracy, we must respect their choice” – but we are silent on who are those international observers… its international far left Bolivarian Revolution supporters, and one independent observer Cartel Center, which doesn’t see Venezuela as democracy anymore. I believe there may be quite democratic elections before Maduro became a president, but obviously not today, there are no independent observers left in the elections who would be allowed verify results. And the last most important elections Venezuela Constituent assembly was elected by 41,53%, that would mean that more than half of Venezuelans supported it? I’m sure even Alfred de Zayas don’t believe in it, if he knows well Venezuelans. So if there are no any independent observers seeing it as democratic elections, author Alfred de Zayas is just confusing the outsiders and lying about democracy in Venezuela, by manipulating information with his knowleadge to present like Venezuelans still have a choice to choose their government. Probably in the next step Alfred will promote presidential elections between Maduro vs Falcon, with easy win for Maduro, and no real opposition in place, just so in order to legitimize Maduro.

    I hope one day Alfred de Zayas will start to care more about todays Venezuelans human rights, and their self-determination, not just defending Bolivarian Revolution.


    1. Ok. First, a huge percentage of Venezuelans are a part of the Bolivarian revolution, named after Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan revolutionary from early 1800s. “Easy to check up on it” you say. On what? Mainstream media propaganda saying who the majority is? Yeah. We know. It’s everywhere. Doesn’t make it true. The opposition is the minority, the lingering remnants of an elite class of European descent (hence their lighter complexion) that isn’t profiting from socialism, as their source of wealth was nationalized (resources in the ground and profits from it belong to the people. Agreed?)… The biggest political party is the Chavistas, those who support Maduro, darker skin, obvious indigenous descent. Man, you’re blindly consuming so much misinformation. Next, the election process is considered the cleanest in the world. Objective truth. Just is. No evidence of the contrary. Finally, think about what you said about polls on FB. Not that you believe it, and I don’t have evidence of it, but qho do you think are the majority of Venezuelans on social media, so outspoken against Maduro? Could it be that your “real” Venezuelans, those who moved to the states or, are anti-Maduro opposition because there is an increased probability of that particular demographic 1. actually wanting to move, maybe dont feel a deep connection to the land or culture and 2. angry with the govt because they don’t enjoy the luxuries they’re accustomed to getting/ feel entitled to?

      I’m sure there’s more but I’m sure my effort to provide an opposing view is futile. All I can say is don’t trust the media. Or politicians. Or people who cate more about money than human well-being. Consider the possibility that you’ve been lied to. Inconvenient. But always possible. In this case, probable.


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