He was the Czar of PDVSA, the guy who signed the checks, almighty power personified in a six-foot frame. But in the last picture I saw of him, Rafael Ramírez was sitting uncomfortably, barely fitting, in a chair at some public office in Haiti as part of a Security Council country visit, paling in the background of star US Ambassador Samantha Powers. Reduced. Just another face in the crowd. His string of demotions is bleak: from checkbook holder to Minister, to Ambassador to glorified babysitter for his nominal Deputy Permanent Representative, Gabychvz (as she is known where she has more experience, Instagram).
On January 1st Venezuela joined the UN Security Council, in practice, the only UN body with legally binding decision-making (kind of, if you don’t dig too much into the particulars.)
It was sold as a victory for the marginalized, the voice of the people shaping international policy, el Embajador obrero taking to the microphone. (Really, it’s just the result of a rotating system to which countries vote by consensus based on deals cooked up from regional blocks.)
I thought the idea was to be loud. We were going to be loud, the new revolutionary conscience of the world. But the day to day of the UNSC affairs is actually pretty humdrum. Mostly the Council acts only after consensus is reached behind closed doors. The exception is when the big guns want to make a point of disagreeing, which is rare. This year 44 resolutions have been voted on in the Council and in 89% of the cases, they were approved by consensus, with Russia vetoing twice on issues dearly close to their foreign policy, Syria and Ukraine.
So has the revolution managed to rock the boat? Have we emboldened the weak and empowered the underprivileged? Not really. All I really remember is that at some point Ambassaror Gabychvz (Maby, to her buddies) arrived at the UN with her boyfriend, shopping bags and high heels, something I read, of course, in lapatilla.com about an episode that actually took place before we even joined the Council. Have you heard anything else in the media? I haven’t.
In March, we were the only country abstaining on a resolution on chemical weapons in Syria, a draft even supported by China and Russia, more papistas que el Papa, off to a loud start it would have seemed. Afterwards, barely any noise. On the two resolutions Russia vetoed, we kept our line and abstained. In April it was reported that Gabychvz had “debuted” at the UN, but it was an informal meeting of US pseudo-enemies and she did not take the floor, although she did say to the press that she was there to learn. In August, the Bolivarian socialite made her debut in the Security Council chamber, but only to read a canned statement on Ebola.
Also, there’s not much to be heard from Venezuela’s participation in split decisions of the Council. By abstaining, the Venezuelan government has sided with Russia and China but also with other developing countries, namely Angola and Nigeria. Such occasions at least give you a chance to make a speech and grab some column inches, but not even that: Ramírez’s statements have been formulaic and humdrum each time.
The only issue where we have stuck to our guns, literally, is on small arms and light weapons (SALW). We abstained on the first Council’s resolution on the subject in its history (Res. 2220, which urges cooperation in the fight against the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of SALW). Our argument was that it didn’t explicitly prohibit the transfer of weapons to non-State groups.
It’s worth noting that this resolution is closely linked to the entry into force last year of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Under this treaty, France could not sell warplanes to Chile if it considers that there was a risk that they would be used to violate human rights, commit genocide, or something along those lines. Of course, this is because both countries are parties to the treaty, however, nothing prevents us from buying Sukhois since neither Russia nor Venezuela are member states. Although the intervention at the Security Council was full of niceties, when the ATT was being negotiated in 2012 we vehemently defended our right to buy weapons to defend ourselves from foreign and domestic enemies. Now, you don’t have to go all out señora de El Cafetal and say the Government’s plan is to buy Sukhois to bomb the opposition, but it’s also clear as day that they do not want any constraints on buying weapons.
Are we playing it cool? Pasando agachados? Are we being cautious in an election year with a crumbling economy? Or have our global aspirations been “seeded” alongside the Comandante Eterno?
Look, I grew up in Venezuela and since primary school I was on the receiving end of plenty of indoctrination about Bolívar and Venezuela’s greatness and our important place in the world. Part of me still has a problem letting go of all that.
But for once, I’m happy that we have been low key. For once, I’m happy that we are just another face in the crowd, and I can’t wait until 31 December 2016 when our turn is up at the Council. And I pray to the almighty that Gabychvz doesn’t learn too much out there. The very idea makes me nervous.