Overture at the UN

The first meeting about Venezuela's crisis was held at the U.N. Security Council on Monday. And even if it’s happening more slowly than we’d like it to, the wheels of fate are turning against the Maduro regime.

The UN Security Council talked about Venezuela yesterday in a meeting with striking, and at times moving, declarations focusing mainly on the staggering humanitarian crisis in the country. And it didn’t end without controversy.

Since it was a meeting under the Arria Formula, it wasn’t considered a real Security Council meeting, so some Council members didn’t show up, including two of the permanent five, Russia and China. Shortly before the meeting at the Economic and Social Council chamber, the ambassadors of Bolivia, Russia and China joined Rafael Ramirez in a short press conference where they rejected the meeting, based on the now usual argument of the US meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs. To them, the gathering violated the UN Charter principles and purposes and does not belong in the Council’s agenda — Venezuela is not a threat to international peace and security, something later agreed by Uruguay’s delegation.

Despite this, the meeting was extraordinary, as it was the first time the UN, albeit informally, heard about Venezuela’s dire political and humanitarian situation. OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, two of the most outspoken international figures defending the Venezuelan people from the Maduro regime, presented bold facts and figures from their past reports. Both referred to serious Human Rights violations involving Venezuelan security forces and government officials, and both referred to possible crimes against humanity, as well as the need for further investigation in order to determine if such cases could reach the International Crime Court.

Almagro called the situation “tragic,” saying the country is a “dictatorship” ruled by “a criminal scheme with official links to drug trafficking, that those in power use the state’s resources for drug dealing and money laundering.” Zeid expressed concern at reports of discrimination in food distribution through the CLAP program and its manipulation for political purposes, as well as the growing number of Venezuelans leaving the country. His office estimates that at least 600,000 Venezuelans have migrated to neighboring countries. Both Almagro and Zeid condemned the ANC, and declared Venezuela is not a democracy.

Venezuela is not a threat to international peace and security, something later agreed by Uruguay’s delegation.

But perhaps the most compelling statement was made by Caritas International, which presented the staggering reality of most Venezuelans in the face of severe food and medicine shortages, and its profound effects on families broken by ill health, death or migration. It labeled Venezuela a “failed state” unable to provide the most basic services for its population, particularly children and teenagers, saying the Venezuelan government “needs to take care of its own people.” By their estimates, there are 4 million Venezuelans who eat twice or less a day. Parents don’t eat in order to give children what little they have.

The US, Italy, UK, France, Japan, Uruguay, Ukraine, Sweden and Ethiopia took the floor, describing the need for concerted efforts in the face of the serious political and humanitarian situation.

Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador, made a moving statement, citing the case of 14 year-old Deivis Perez, a kidney patient who contracted sepsis through dialysis and died at a children’s hospital. She addressed the many hardships Venezuelans face, concluding that “justice is coming.”

And now?

Diplomacy has its ways, and they tend to be slow – particularly through UN channels.  Yesterday’s meeting is a baby step towards creating awareness on how serious the situation is and in mobilizing support in favor of the Venezuelan people (not its government). However, as long as the US continues to be the country taking the lead in pushing the issue of Venezuela, getting support from countries in different regions to back initiatives aimed at helping Venezuelans in need seems unlikely. Mainly because it sort of gives confirmation to Maduro’s calls of “imperialist ambitions,” a vision shared and feared by many in Latin America and beyond.

Nikki Haley has become a strong advocate for Venezuela, but it’s not clear if her stance is part of a larger, coherent strategy from the State Department or stems from her close relationship with Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida Republicans. Either way, the Trump Administration policy on Venezuela seems to be surprisingly coherent, and as long as Haley remains on the job, we should expect more from her corner.

Although slow, the wheels of fate are turning…