Venezuela goes to the Security Council

The UN Security Council will discuss Venezuela today. Although informal, the meeting is a step in the right direction, with the right voices and, hopefully, the right conclusions.

The United Nations Security Council will meet this afternoon to discuss Venezuela. Unlike the more democratic and universal General Assembly, the Security Council has a very specific mandate and limited membership (the General Assembly elects 10 non-permanent members for a two-year term) as well as an exceptional enforcement mechanism for its decisions. Its 15 members, including the permanent 5, with capacity to block any decision a veto power have a responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

While the work of the UNSC revolves around an agreed agenda of issues, there are procedural exceptions for certain situations. Created by former Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.N. Diego Arria in the context of the Balkan Wars, the Arria Formula is a mechanism by which individuals, organizations or institutions are heard by the Council in an informal setting, given how their responsibilities and/or influence can contribute “to a better understanding of the situation under consideration.” This is the modality the Council will use to examine the issue of Venezuela.

Little did Arria know in 1992, when he came up with this idea, that one day it would be used to examine his own country.

The Council will hear presentations by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, and representatives from Caritas International and Foro Penal.

The fact that the meeting is exceptional means that Venezuela is still not considered a threat to international peace and security. Not yet. But the fact that it’s being considered at all, really matters especially given how bureaucratic and slow the UN can be at times. Today’s meeting will transcend what would normally be expected of Security Council treatment: it’s not only hard politics, also the humanitarian and social crises in Venezuela will be discussed.

The idea that the country and its dire humanitarian situation cannot wait for a political resolution seems to have finally sunk in.

The meeting has been framed from a preventive angle, in which inaction might result in worsening violence and severe socioeconomic consequences, particularly in the coming months. The idea that the country and its dire humanitarian situation cannot wait for a political resolution seems to have finally sunk in. Countries in the region, from Brazil to Aruba, and from Colombia to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the United States and Canada, are feeling the effects of the crisis in a variety of ways, so addressing it collectively, along with Venezuela’s potential to destabilize the region, is a sensible way to go.

I have personally been against the UN dealing with Venezuela for reasons I explained in this post (mainly the fact that Maduro still has the capacity to pull some strings and get the votes he needs where they’re required). But this new approach, while it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of voting someday, certainly opens a new alternative, albeit still remote, for the UN to act on the much needed humanitarian front of our crisis. The Latin American and Caribbean regional group (GRULAC) has also been reluctant to accept the Security Council’s help in the Venezuelan issue, but it looks like there has been a shift since the last Lima Group meeting in October, when the declaration adopted back then acknowledged the worsening food and health crisis, requesting the UN Secretary General to address it. There is an understanding that the potential for Venezuela to become a failed State, unable to meet the most basic needs of its population, is enormous.

Since this isn’t a formal meeting, it isn’t expected to have a formal declaration, binding resolution or any other document with legal status after it wraps up. But perhaps some sort of follow up mechanism emerges from it. It’s a first step towards addressing Venezuela’s multi-dimensionsional conundrum, putting the focus on the one thing that’s causing so much death and suffering.