How Maduro Became Useless in the UN General Assembly

The chavista regime owes so much money to the UN that it lost its voting rights, just when Vladimir Putin needed them

Sebastián Casanas

Photo: General Assembly of the United Nations

Since its ascension to power, chavismo has worked at expanding its sphere of influence in various supranational organizations. Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, cultivated and valued the political ties with a plethora of nations that shared their anti-U.S. hegemony stance. Actually, Maduro was instrumental for this, working as foreign minister for years before he became the acting president during Chávez’s final months and was elected in April 2013. This cooperation with countries like China, Russia, or Iran was decisive, not only when it came to exporting oil, importing food and military equipment, but also when they were involved in resolutions related to their geopolitical interests in the United Nations. 

Resolutions like the 68/262 subjecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine in 2014; its vote at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) related to the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran; and how it has reacted to resolutions associated to its allies abroad expose the tone of Venezuelan foreign policy in the last 20 years. In the case of Ukraine, Venezuela was one among eleven countries (Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe) that voted against that resolution in 2014, which affirmed the commitment of the General Assembly to recognizing the territorial integrity of Ukraine and invalidating the Crimean referendum. At the time, the Kremlin’s spokespersons said it legitimized the annexation of the peninsula. On the other hand, Venezuela voted with 31 other countries against the resolution urging the Islamic Republic of Iran to protect and promote human rights and comply with the Charter of the UN.

Venezuela, once a loyal and close ally of the U.S., switched its position and started to gravitate toward the anti-liberal block of countries led by Putin and Xi Jinping. At the sight of the political conflict in recent years, the U.S. government has tried to replace Maduro’s ambassador Samuel Moncada with a Guaidó-aligned one. Despite the efforts made by the U.S. and other actors in the region to isolate Maduro´s regime, the UN approved his diplomats’ credentials in December. 

Unfortunately for Maduro, the influence exerted by its representatives in the UNGA has been put in jeopardy. According to a letter from Guterres dated January 10th, Venezuela and other countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran or Congo have lost their voting rights in the UN General Assembly. According to Article 19 of the UN Charter, a member of the organization which is in arrears in the payment of its contributions loses its voting right in the General Assembly if the amount due equals or exceeds the contributions owed in the preceding two full years.

Because of nearly 40 million dollars of debt for the 2020-2021 period, Venezuelan representatives can’t vote until the arrears are paid. 

In contrast to other organs of the UN, all 193 member states in the Assembly have equal representation, each having an equal vote in the decision-making process. The resolutions issued here control the UN budget, appoint non-permanent members to the Security Council and the Secretary General, and members propose recommendations through resolutions. The most concerning questions voted in the Assembly are decided by a two-thirds majority. The suspension or the absence of any member is decisive for the outcome of resolutions.

Events such as the resolution of the 11th Emergency Special Session on March 2nd against the invasion of Ukraine perpetrated by Russia on February 24th, evidenced the existence of two blocks in the Assembly: one composed of U.S.-aligned countries and the ones led by the Sino-Russian alliance, which oppose U.S. hegemony. The resolution was sponsored by 96 countries and enjoyed enormous support at the General Assembly; scenes like the staged walkout while the Foreign Minister of Russia was addressing the military operation in Ukraine evidenced the backlash against the invasion. On the contrary, some countries with historical affinity with Russia abstained, demonstrating their ambiguous stance on the resolution. Allies like Cuba, China, or India, once indisputable supporters of the Kremlin, abstained at the UNGA, apparently in order to keep distance from the conflict. Among the former Soviet countries aligned with Russia, Belarus was the only one openly supporting it. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, well known for their pro-Kremlin stances, abstained too.

Venezuela was expected to vote in favor of Russia. But even though the Venezuelan government and some of its most prominent politicians have repeatedly assured they support Russia, it couldn’t abstain or vote against the resolution demanding the withdrawal of all occupying forces due to its suspension.

Venezuela can’t do much damage in the UN General Assembly

This revealed the financial and geopolitical weakness of Maduro’s regime, now that it lacks both the charismatic international activism of Chávez and the powerful oil income of ten years ago, and how that weakness affects the interests of its allies in matters discussed and decided at the UNGA. The government’s impossibility of increasing revenue after the economic collapse has led the country to a political cul-de-sac, which has negatively impacted Maduro’s options in the geopolitical arena. 

The debts owed by chavismo to international organizations and transnationals have significantly reduced the political capital it obtained when oil prices were booming. For that reason, the government, seeking to fill the state’s coffers, has liberalized or turned a blind eye on once regulated sectors of the economy in order to improve its financial balance sheet. 

On the geopolitical level, Maduro still wields leverage in some institutions. In 2019, Venezuela won a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, which Maduro celebrated as an “important achievement”. In spite of the criticism from various representatives of different countries, Venezuela will keep the seat until the end of the term, in late 2022. In addition, Maduro’s regime enjoys legitimation or repudiation depending on which international institution we focus on. In the Organization of American States (OAS),  the Venezuelan government notified the organization of its withdrawal in April 2017. Shortly before the culmination of the two years period for the withdrawal, Juan Guaidó,  in his capacity of caretaker president recognized by many members of the OAS, expressed his desire to remain in the OAS via a letter to the Secretary General Luis Almagro. Therefore, the delegate of the de facto government of Maduro is absent, and was replaced by Gustavo Tarre Briceño, the delegate representing Guaidó’s government, recognized by the OAS. On the other hand, supranational organizations like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have failed to unify the countries across the region due to the ideological schisms between them. UNASUR was created as a competitor for the OAS and only Venezuela, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname remain. ALBA, a left-wing organization composed of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela, depended essentially on the stream of resources that originated in Venezuela, but it has lost its economic pillar.

Chavismo has been struggling to regain its political influence abroad. That’s why it’s been trying to revitalize organizations like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and stimulating relations with some of its pre-existing international allies such as Iran, Russia, Cuba and China. Although those alliances have hindered the total exclusion of the Venezuelan government on the international field, the suspension of the right to vote and its gradual isolation could change the perception of Maduro’s most loyal allies of his government. If Maduro starts to be seen as an irrelevant political actor and only an economic partner, it could damage these countries’ support even more and, in the end, put Maduro’s regime in a more fragile position.