– Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
From 26 November to 4 December 2017, I carried out the first visit to Venezuela by a UN rapporteur since 1996. Whereas numerous countries welcome rapporteurs, many do not, partly because they perceive rapporteurs as a priori hostile and not independent. If a State anticipates that a rapporteur will only grandstand instead of listening to stakeholders and formulating constructive recommendations, invitations will not be forthcoming. In my 13 prior reports to the Council and General Assembly I demonstrated a result-oriented approach, offering pragmatic solutions to concrete problems. Thus, I am pleased to have opened the door for other rapporteurs, two new visits being in preparation.
Admittedly, I am not a “super rapporteur” and my competences are limited by the terms of reference of the mandate. I could not focus on problems of freedom of expression, the independence of judges and the right to food and health, for which other rapporteurs are competent, but I received and transmitted petitions on these issues and incorporated some into my recommendations, resulting in the release of eighty detainees shortly after my visit and in new cooperation arrangements crafted between UN agencies and the government.
Prior to my visit, Venezuela had been examined under the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review in 2016. Venezuela’s fourth report to the Human Rights Committee and its third report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were examined in 2015, both Committees issuing recommendations, which I consulted before the mission, as well as reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights Watch, etc., keenly aware of the methodological imperative to listen to all sides, audiatur et altera pars. When in Venezuela I met with stakeholders of all political colours, members of the opposition, of the National Assembly, university professors, churches, non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International, PROVEA, and Fundalatin and the Grupo Sures, who helped me understand the complexities of the para-institutional and constitutional conflicts as well as the current scarcity in certain foods, medicines and personal hygiene products, hoarding, black market, contraband, corruption, sabotage and induced inflation.
It is, of course, insufficient to observe the existence of an economic crisis. The challenge is to understand its causes – which became apparent after digesting masses of documentation and statistics. One major problem is the dependence of the Venezuelan economy on the sale of petroleum – a situation prevailing since the early 20th century. Although the government has endeavoured to diversify, conversion is slow. The dramatic fall in oil prices was followed by a series of unilateral coercive measures including sanctions and financial blockades, exacerbating the situation. For example, when in November 2017 Venezuela needed anti-malaria medicine, Colombia refused to deliver and Venezuela had to purchase in India. I learned that to avoid US penalties and complications, many banks closed Venezuelan accounts and other banks refused to effect transfers, routine international payments, even for the purchase of foods and medicines. It is not difficult to understand that economic sanctions kill.
The economic war did not start with the 2015 sanctions, but already with the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power twenty years ago. Outside interference with the Chavez government included helping to organize and finance the failed coup of April 2002. This parallels the economic war against Salvador Allende of Chile 1970-73, which ended with the Pinochet putsch. As Nixon told Kissinger in 1970, an alternative socio-economic model would not be tolerated and the Chilean economy would be made to scream.
Whereas the international law principle of non-intervention and Chapter 4, Article 19 of the OAS Charter specifically prohibit interference in the political or economic affairs of States, sanctions have been imposed that aim at asphyxiating Venezuela’s economy and facilitating regime change. More and more we hear about a “humanitarian crisis” and emigration from Venezuela to neighbouring countries. The narrative is clearly intended to make a military “humanitarian intervention”, as in Libya in 2011, more palatable to world public opinion. However, the situation in Venezuela does not reach the threshold of a humanitarian crisis, as confirmed to me by FAO and CEPAL officials, nothing to be compared with Gaza, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen .
The noblest task of the Human Rights Council is to help all peoples achieve their human rights. Accordingly, the solution to Venezuela’s crisis must be through mediation, as that conducted 2016-18 in the Dominican Republic under the guidance of former Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero. On the day of signature, 7 February 2018, and to general surprise, the Venezuelan opposition refused to sign. In my report to be presented during the 39th session of the Council I propose renewed negotiations. In the meantime, if we want to help the Venezuelan people, we should ensure that sanctions are lifted and the economic war ends.
 Norman Finkelstein, Gaza, University of California Press, 2018.