The Bolivarian Elephant in the UN General Assembly

Tuesday was the first day of debate of a UN General Assembly session and Venezuela was, to put in mildly, the talk of the town, without even having the floor yet, mainly due the migration crisis that has affected the whole region.

Photo: retrieved

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly opened this Tuesday, this year’s edition of the annual debate where world leaders gather in New York City to discuss global issues. With a lineup that includes heads of state from Brazil, Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, Peru and Argentina, it was impossible not to address the Bolivarian elephant in the room.

Michel Temer, president of Brazil and the very first leader to have the floor, started saying one million Venezuelans have left their country. With help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, his government has made an effort to accommodate them and grant them access to work, healthcare and schooling.

But, he stated, “the solution to the migration crisis will be forthcoming when Venezuela finds again the path to development.

The solution to the migration crisis will be forthcoming when Venezuela finds again the path to development.

And just as a new round of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department came on members of Maduro’s inner circle (including First Lady Cilia Flores, Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez, Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López), U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the auditorium, dedicating more than few words to the Venezuelan crisis, criticizing undocumented immigrants coming from Latin America and saying that “the only long-term solution to the migration crisis is to help people build more hopeful futures in their home countries. Make their countries great again.”

“Currently, we’re witnessing a human tragedy as an example in Venezuela. More than 2 million people have fled the anguish inflicted by the socialist Maduro regime and its Cuban sponsors. Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the richest countries on earth. Today, socialism has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty. Virtually everywhere, socialism or communism has been tried. It has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone. In that spirit, we ask the nations gathered here to join us in calling for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. Today, we are announcing additional sanctions against the repressive regime, targeting Maduro’s inner circle and close advisers.”

The impact of his speech, though, was quickly overshadowed by typical boasts, posturing and, what was no doubt the low point, an astonished laugh when he claimed that his administration “has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.

Now, Trump’s talk about Venezuela wasn’t over there. Later, he met with Colombian President Iván Duque and commented on the possibility of a regime change by the Venezuelan military. “It’s a regime that frankly could be toppled very quickly by the military if they decide to do that.”

Take a moment to picture Nicolás’s face when he heard those words.

Peru’s new president, Alberto Vizcarra, stressed the importance of international trade and declared his “unshakable solidarity” to Venezuelans, calling for a humanitarian response to the severe crisis the country is facing.

I have no doubt that human rights are systematically violated in Venezuela, trampling over the opposition and the overall population.

But the strongest words by a Latin American president came in the afternoon session by Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, who declared that, in a few weeks, he’ll bring Venezuela’s case to the International Criminal Court: “I have no doubt that human rights are systematically violated in Venezuela, trampling over the opposition and the overall population.”

Measures taken so far against the Maduro regime have been ineffective, Macri says, and he’s not an optimist on whatever could happen inside Venezuela in the short run.

This Wednesday afternoon will prove interesting, with Cuba and Colombia in the morning session and Venezuela in the afternoon. Some speculated that Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, who reunited on Tuesday morning with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, would address the floor, but so far the schedule lists Maduro himself as the speaker.

Whoever takes the stage, in front of representatives of over 190 member states, will do his best to defend the Venezuelan government’s actions in a year that has placed it in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. He’ll blame external factors for the tragedy while trying to present the same old narrative in a brand new dress.

If they have a memory and a tiny sense of irony, they’d do well to remember how, a long time ago, Hugo Chávez spoke about the devil on that same scenario. Fortunes change, the glory days are gone and, while Hugo was praised for his speech, today everyone agrees on who the devil really is.

And my money says that perception will only be enhanced today.

José González Vargas

Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.