Venezuela Exposes the Weaknesses of Regional and International Organizations
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
I firmly defend collective action by intergovernmental organizations acting responsibly to resolve intractable problems which have proven to be beyond the scope of domestic institutions within the affected state. I do not grade these organizations by their successes or failures, but on whether they have the political will and the moral authority to make a good faith effort to bring about a resolution which serves the interests of the people. I grade them on the basis of how the geopolitical interests of the powerful members of these organizations hinder or serve the interests of the international community. This is my rationale for concluding that both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have failed on the situation in Venezuela.
Political opposition and a large segment of Venezuela’s population have cried out for help in restoring rule of law, democracy, and human rights protection in their country. Lack of good governance and domestic and external factors have contributed to the collapse of institutions, and the safety and security of the people of Venezuela are threatened. Government and opposition have different views and reasons for the country’s problems. The blame game is circuitous and unending. Reality is there is no indication the people of Venezuela has a fair chance of resolving the problems on their own. Without outside intervention, the situation continues to deteriorate.
Idealists will argue that the problems are domestic and strictly within the internal affairs of Venezuela; the remit of the Venezuelan people. Realists hold to the view that left entirely to the people of Venezuela to resolve, the situation has deteriorated constantly with no resolution in sight. Further, what happens in Venezuela does not stay within its borders, it affects neighboring states and the region of which Venezuela is a part. Somewhere in between idealism and realism lies the resolution. The people of Venezuela have primary responsibility for their own fate, but there is no level playing field. Because of the intractable nature of the issues, and the entrenched positions on both sides, the political intergovernmental organizations in which Venezuela holds membership have a responsibility and duty to intervene.
So far, the inability of the OAS to act has been exposed. The reasons have been discussed in many fora, including in The Ward Post. There has been no shortage of blame levelled among member states; there are broad divisions within sub-regions, including in CARICOM; sub-groups of countries in the region have usurped the OAS responsibility to lead in resolving the situation, and have resorted to coercive measures to pressure the Nicolas Maduro regime; and a number of governments, including the United States, have imposed unilateral sanctions against Maduro’s government and individuals close to him. The Trump administration is actively pushing for Maduro’s isolation in the region, and, as seen from the result of Secretary Rex Tillerson’s recent trip to five countries in LAC, Maduro has not been invited to attend the Summit of the Americas in Peru in April.
When regional organizations are unable to take meaningful action to solve issues which threaten peace and security within their respective regions, they generally turn to the UNSC whose mandate is the maintenance of international peace and security. Experience has shown that the UNSC seldom acts responsibly on human rights sanctions due to the geopolitical dynamics of its permanent members. Most often, imposing sanctions on governments abusing the human rights of their people don’t make the agenda which is controlled by permanent members protecting their geopolitical interests.
That is not to say the UNSC is unable to act to protect the human rights of peoples under threat; because it has. However, it is increasingly difficult to act responsibly when permanent members’ rivalries are a major factor. The first sanctions regime approved by the UNSC was for human rights violations against Rhodesia, and sanctions were also imposed later on apartheid South Africa. These sanctions proved to be effective because there was shared political will among the permanent members of the UNSC and of neighboring states to implement and enforce them. Sanctions for human rights violations have been agreed by the UNSC on a number of other occasions since.
In Venezuela’s case, use of the veto power by either China or Russia to defend the Maduro regime is a certainty, which makes chances of the UNSC considering or imposing sanctions on Venezuela slim to none. Russia is fully engaged in Venezuela’s energy sector, and for Russia, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. China’s economic interests coupled with its unyielding adherence to sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of nations makes protection of human rights in Venezuela a non-starter. There is little room for morality in the geopolitical interests of certain states.
Clearly, it would be best if the UNSC could exercise the political will to deal with the situation in Venezuela. Also, asking the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) to use his good offices to urge Venezuelan leaders to negotiate in good faith on ways to restore rule of law, democracy, and human rights protection is a meaningless exercise without the threat of sanctions from the UNSC. The effectiveness of the UNSG is directly related to the possibility of future sanctions by the UNSC. Without the possibility of coercive measures, there is no incentive for opposing parties to cooperate with the UNSG. This brings Venezuela full circle back to the OAS.
We already know the OAS has been unable to act. Sub-regional groups and individual countries are filling the void. However, in leaving the situation to the geopolitical interests of individual powerful countries, actions taken even when justified, hardly gains broad support. The situation in Venezuela is at a stalemate favoring the Maduro regime. Maduro will retain power, likely by all means necessary, and there will be no appreciable change to the status quo. It doesn’t matter which side of the issue one supports, such a situation is untenable. It can only lead to the worsening of the situation.
Venezuela has rescheduled elections for May 20, 2018, and outside observers have been invited. The UN will send observers. Elections could have the appearance of being conducted free and fair. However, that is not the whole story. Other questions, not evident on the day of election, include: whether any political voice was silenced, or potential candidates barred from participation; whether the voters list is credible; whether the conditions will ensure the safety of voters; and whether government actions will suppress the vote.
These and other issues not evident on polling day could significantly determine the outcome of the vote. Under these conditions the incumbent government has a significant advantage. If these conditions are unresolved prior to the vote and the incumbent government retains power, nothing will have changed. The problems will persist or become worse. The disenfranchised will either accept their fate or become rebellious and resort to violence. The oppression will increase, the situation will become worse, and many lives will be lost.
Conflict prevention invariably requires responsible and timely outside intervention. Unilateral sanctions are not the answer. Only the regional and international organizations exercising the political will to act responsibly, or threat of UNSC sanctions can coerce the change necessary in situations such as Venezuela.