Who Cries for Venezuela?
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(02 Aug. 2017) — I have been pressed by my own inner thoughts and by several individuals to express my views on the situation in Venezuela, including on the responses of Caribbean governments to this crisis. I am compelled to respond.
There is limited media attention given to Venezuela, and the dangers facing that country are being drowned out by the turmoil surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration. Yet we saw the U.S. imposing unilateral sanctions on July 31, 2017 against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Moros. While not unprecedented, the U.S. government seldom imposes sanctions on the political leader of a country directly, but rather on a leader’s inner circle, as well as on targeted critical areas of a country’s economy, especially sectors controlled by the government or on which the government depends for its survival.
Maduro’s designation under Executive Order 13692 means any assets, financial and other economic assets (including beneficiary assets) owned by him found within U.S. jurisdiction, now are in the future, are frozen immediately. Furthermore, U.S. persons – individuals and entities – are prohibited from doing business with Maduro and are subject to significant fines as sanctions violators. All individuals that are within U.S. jurisdiction during the effective period of these sanctions are considered U.S. persons for purposes of sanctions enforcement. While U.S. unilateral sanctions are not generally applicable to non-U.S. persons outside U.S. jurisdiction, there are circumstances where prohibited relationships with targeted individuals might be considered in violation of U.S. sanctions.
In applying these new sanctions the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, in consultation with the U.S. State Department relied on existing law and E.O. 13692, which was issued by former President Barack Obama on March 8, 2015 granting the requisite authority to impose sanctions against specific targets in Venezuela deemed to be responsible for human rights and other specific violations, as elaborated in the E.O. Recent developments in Venezuela suggest the situation in Venezuela is much worse now than in 2015 when sanctions were first imposed. Television images and other reports coming out of Venezuela support the conclusion that democracy, rule of law, and protection of human rights have been severely undermined and are deteriorating quite rapidly.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with unilateral actions taken by the United States government, the conditions in Venezuela needs our attention, in particular the collective attention of the countries of the Hemisphere. The failure of the Organization of American States (OAS) to engage objectively on the situation in Venezuela sets back democracy and rule of law in the region and opens the door even wider for U.S. unilateral actions.
My two years’ experience on the United Nations Security Council and subsequent engagements with the UN shape my perspective on emerging conflict situations, the root causes of conflicts, the timeliness of interventions, and conflict prevention. It also provides me with a clear understanding of the role of geopolitics in the mix. No two conflicts are exactly alike but all share common characteristics, common causes and origins. Most have their roots in the absence of democracy and rule of law, or are exacerbated by gradual erosion of democratic and rule of law institutions in cases where these fundamental elements of good governance existed beforehand. Ethnic, social and economic discrimination and exclusion often take advantage of weak or non-existent democratic institutions and lack of opportunity to address grievances in a peaceful manner.
The history of the Western Hemisphere, in particular Central and South America is replete with despotic leaders, dictatorships, and gross violators of human rights. In the last few decades democratic institutions and rule of law have been taking root. Unfortunately when undemocratic forces and gross human rights violations re-emerge, our collective paralysis in dealing effectively invite unilateral actions.
Lest we forget, the Caribbean is not immune, and we have had our share of conflicts in the past 55 years of independence of English-Speaking Caribbean nations. Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, both celebrating 55 years of independence during August 2017 can boast of strict adherence to democracy and rule of law. Both of these countries, as well as others in the Caribbean have transferred power repeatedly by the ballot, respecting the political expressions of the people. This does not suggest that these countries have been without problems and that their democracies and rule of law have not been threatened during this period. Lest we forget, there was a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Trinidad & Tobago, and the political violence which threatened Jamaica’s democracy in 1980, fueled by outside destabilization of the Michael Manley government, failed to destroy the country’s nascent democratic institutions. Under what may be described as the most difficult of circumstances in Jamaica’s history as an independent country, power was transferred in 1980 through the ballot and not at the end of a gun.
During the same period we have had coups in Haiti, and a democratically elected government in Grenada was violently overthrown. The reason other countries in the Caribbean have avoided similar fate rests primarily on the strong democratic institutions we inherited and nurtured, and the principles of rule of law and protection of human rights we respect deeply. We have avoided to some extent the interference of dirty external hands, thanks to the commitment of our political leaders to democratic ideals, even when they expect to be denied by the people the right to govern. The people’s wishes are sacrosanct.
However, recent trends suggest there are anti-democratic forces at work, and some erosion of rule of law in parts of the Caribbean which should give us pause. We need to fix our own houses but we cannot ignore the hemispheric house in which we must all co-exist – North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Our experiences show that the English speaking Caribbean can lead the process of democratization in the Latin American and Caribbean region, including among CARICOM member states that seem to be faltering. Lest we forget, enlightened Caribbean political leaders of the past have an enviable record of being on the right side of history when balancing sovereignty and protection of human rights. We subscribe to the principle of collective responsibility and the right to protect vulnerable individuals, groups, and populations.
Ominous signs of bloodshed and widespread conflict in Venezuela’s future cannot be ignored. We should not conflate Caribbean peoples’ support of the Venezuelan people and support for Maduro’s regime. Support for Maduro based on the Petro Caribe discounted oil supply program, or personal self-interest cannot be the determining factor. Leaders come and leaders go. Caribbean loyalty must be to the people of Venezuela. Economic benefits that accrue to participating countries in Petro Caribe, should not, and cannot detract from Maduro’s actions against the people. Timely diplomatic intervention is needed now. Friends from within and outside the region have an obligation to make peace happen in Venezuela. It is a regional priority that requires action before Venezuela reaches a point of no return. Failure is not an option; there will be no more Petro Caribe; there will be no more Venezuelan oil on the world market and oil prices will sky rocket. Most importantly, the people of Venezuela should not be used as geopolitical pawns by the United States, Russia or any other outside forces.
Who cries for Venezuela? We all do!
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post