Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, regretted that regional pressure against the Venezuelan regime’s actions took too long. In his opinion, “the pressure exerted by the Lima Group started just a year and a half ago”, and before that, the only voices of concern came from human rights organizations, Spain and the United States. As was the case with Rwanda, and more recently with Sudan, humanitarian crises and large-scale human rights violations are usually enabled by a late or insufficient response from the international community.
Venezuela is no exception.
In fact, some of the neighboring governments were happy to look the other way as the country’s democracy was receding, while keeping their arms wide open for oil-derived benefits. Now, they have to deal with the consequences of the biggest exodus in the continent’s history.
As thousands of Venezuelans cross the country’s borders, tensions have been mounting in many of the region’s countries. Outbreaks of violence in Pacaraima have led the Brazilian government to declare a state of emergency and send troops to the border (as was done in Colombia). Furthermore, President Temer recently announced that he is evaluating the possibility of limiting the entry of Venezuelans to the country. Immigration authorities in Trinidad and Tobago have captured and deported a large number of Venezuelan immigrants, an action considered as a “forced return” by UNHCR authorities. For its part, Peru now requires that all immigrants show a valid passport, which is practically impossible to get from Venezuelan authorities. Although Ecuador had taken the same measure, one of its courts recently reversed the decision, citing the need to protect human rights. On August 28, representatives of the governments of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru met in order to outline joint strategies to face Venezuelan migration, and on September 4, 11 countries signed the Quito Declaration, regarding the appropriate measures to receive immigrants.
Some of these governments have not been strangers to the Venezuelan regime’s open use of oil diplomacy as a means for gaining regional support.
However, some of these governments have not been strangers to the Venezuelan regime’s open use of oil diplomacy as a means for gaining regional support and balancing out American influence in the continent. The late Hugo Chávez struck countless deals with many neighboring countries, offering low oil prices and flexible payment plans. As economist Ricardo Haussmann explains, “There is no economic rationale behind these deals… It’s a political investment.”
Although Cuba and the members of Petrocaribe have been the greatest beneficiaries of said form of diplomacy, Venezuelan oil has been generously given out to many Latin American nations, especially Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. In fact, when Ecuadorian President Alfredo Palacio faced protests that shut down national oil production in 2005, Chávez immediately provided a generous oil loan to help meet Ecuador’s commercial commitments. In 2007, Chávez signed a deal with President Rafael Correa to receive Ecuadorian crude in exchange for petroleum products. Ecuador also benefited through financial mechanisms, such as the sale of debt bonds to the Venezuelan government.
Former Brazilian President Lula Da Silva, one of Chávez’s closest allies, closed numerous agreements on energetic cooperation with Venezuela, and Dilma Rousseff followed her predecessor’s footsteps in this matter. In 2005, representatives of the Venezuelan, Brazilian and Argentinian governments agreed to create Petrosur, an alliance which, among other things, aimed to exploit the Orinoco basin. A partnership between PDVSA and Petrobras was established in order to build and operate a refinery, though it ended when the Venezuelan state company failed to pay its dues. The now infamous Odebrecht was trusted with the execution of different public works, and, during many years, Venezuela bought millions of dollars worth of food from Brazil. Additionally, since 2011, Venezuela has been supplying Brazilians with electricity in exchange for an absurd sum that lies well below international standards, while its own citizens face blackouts that last for days.
Apart from the many benefits previously received (including massive food exports to relieve shortages in the country), Trinidad and Tobago signed a deal just last week with Nicolás Maduro, under which it is entitled to receive natural gas for processing. According to Bloomberg, “The deal has long been in the making and will throw a lifeline to Trinidad, which has seen its gas output decline in recent years”.
Because of the benefits received, many governments dared not vote against the Venezuelan State in international forums,
Because of the benefits received, many governments dared not vote against the Venezuelan State in international forums, even when faced with overwhelming evidence of its authoritarian nature. In fact, many expressed their evergrowing support. Who could forget the Mercosur countries’ statement in 2014 rejecting the sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuelan officials responsible for human rights violations? Or the shameful OAS vote that decided the meeting held to discuss the Venezuelan situation, after mass protests in which many students were publicly murdered by government officials, would be private, and not broadcast to the public?
Following the plummet of oil prices after an all-time high enjoyed by Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is now clearly unable to fulfill its promises. PDVSA has been driven to the ground, along with most industries in the private sector. Chávez’s political project has led the country to ruin. The massive amount of immigrants crossing the continent’s borders, therefore, should come as no surprise.
“Never again”, the promise made after the Rwandan genocide, has been broken time after time. We do not deny that nations should act in their own benefit, but after all, perhaps it was in their best interest to prevent this crisis from turning into a regional problem.
The opinion of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is absolutely correct: regional pressure on the Venezuelan dictatorship took too long. And its delay appears to be dripping in oil.