UN Special: Successful UN mission to Venezuela

Link to original article: ttps://www.unspecial.org/2018/09/successful-un-mission-to-venezuela/

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. When States anticipate that rapporteurs will mainly 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 doors for other rapporteurs, two new visits currently being prepared.

Successful UN mission to Venezuela

Admittedly, my competences were limited by the terms of reference of the international order mandate2. I was not a super rapporteur and could therefore not focus on para-institutional problems, freedom of expression, independence of judges or the rights to food and health, for which other rapporteurs are competent. Notwithstanding, I did receive and transmit petitions on these issues incorporating some into my recommendations and obtained the release of eighty detainees and the adoption of new cooperation arrangements between UN agencies and the government3.

Over the past years the media has reported extensively on Venezuela’s economic and human rights problems.
In 2016 Venezuela was examined under the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. Its fourth report to the Human Rights Committee and third report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were examined in 2015, both Committees issuing recommendations, which I carefully studied, as well as reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights Watch, 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, Fundalatin and the Grupo Sures, who helped me understand the complexities of democratic and constitutional conflicts as well as the current scarcity in certain foods, medicines, products of personal hygiene, the problems of hoarding, black-market, contraband, corruption, sabotage and induced inflation.

1Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

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 not helped by the ideological constraints of Chavismo. Then followed 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, many banks closed Venezuelan accounts and other banks refused to effect transfers, routine international payments, including for the purchase of foods and medicines. Bottom line: economic sanctions kill.

The economic war started with the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power twenty years ago.

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.4

Whereas the international law principle of non-intervention and Chapter 4, Article 19 of the OAS Charter specifically prohibit interference in the political and 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 comparable to Gaza5, Haiti6, Somalia7, Sudan8 or Yemen9.

The noblest task of the Human Rights Council is to help 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 (A/HRC/39/47/Add.1). In the meantime, if we want to help the Venezuelan people, we should ensure that sanctions are lifted and the economic war ends.

4 https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/
5 Norman Finkelstein, Gaza, University of California Press, 2018.
6 https://reliefweb.int/report/haiti/haiti-humanitarian-situation-report-april-2017
7 https://www.care.org/emergencies/somalia-humanitarian-crisis
8 https://www.unocha.org/story/south-sudan-humanitarian-crisis-catastrophic-proportions
9 https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4670011/murphy-young-yemen-murphy-saudis-deliberately-create-famine-yemen 

Some background information

Since Chavez inaugurated the “Revolución Bolivariana” in Venezuela in February 1999, neo-liberal economies in the world have been concerned that the different socio-economic model, also practised in Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua, might be copied elsewhere. The experiment launched by Chavez promoted economic and social rights partly at the expense of civil and political rights, e.g. freedom of expression and political participation. The system benefited poorer classes in Venezuela, two million low-cost apartments having been built and given to destitute Venezuelans, free education from primary to university being advanced.

When Chavez died of cancer in March 2013, his hand-picked successor, the syndicalist and former Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, was elected with a narrow majority over the establishment contender Henrique Capriles. The opposition accuses the government of being undemocratic and incapable of solving the current economic crisis, which they attribute to the incompetence and corruption of the government, combined with their inflexible ideology which demotivates business and investment. It is claimed that Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the world, has become a failed economy and that the resulting “humanitarian crisis” justifies humanitarian intervention. Maduro, however, contends that Venezuela’s troubles are caused by an economic war and illegal sanctions imposed on Venezuela since 2015, which aggravate the crisis emanating from the fall in oil prices, which constitute 95% of Venezuela’s income. In 2015 the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly, which tried to terminate Maduro’s presidential term. In response Maduro invoked articles 347 and 348 of the Venezuelan Constitution and called for the creation of a National Constitutive Assembly.

On 20 May 2018 Maduro was re-elected President with a popular participation of 46.1% of whom 67.8% voted for Maduro for a new six-year term. A part of the opposition boycotted the elections. Bearing in mind the polarization of Venezuelan society, the impasse between the government and the opposition should be solved through dialogue and mediation. The government recalls that in April 2002 the opposition tried to overthrow Chavez through a 2-day failed coup d’état and on 4 August 2018 a drone incident in Caracas appears to have targeted Nicolas Maduro himself.

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