Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest nation, is today a devastated country. Its democratic system has been destroyed as a result of years of authoritarian rule and government corruption. Political opponents are persecuted and jailed and there is no free press. The economic mismanagement has sparked shortages of food, medicines and the most basic supplies, with a resulting humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is also a severe energy crisis and galloping inflation. And the number of pople leaving the country to escape their desperate situation is alarming.
Nicolas Maduro’s permanence in power is deemed illegitimate by most of the world’s democratic nations, as his re-election in May 2018 was clearly perceived as fraudulent. And at least 54 nations have recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s acting president.
But, despite all this, Maduro is still clinging to power. While many analysts, especially in Latin America, believe that the United States intends to remove Maduro from power by force, the truth is that, despite its strong statements, the U.S. government does not seem to have any appetite to enter into a military conflict in Latin America. And the same can be said of the governments of the region, even when some of them are disproportionately shouldering the burden of Venezuela's refugee crisis, as is the case of Brazil and Colombia.
There are two diplomatic initiatives today that are trying to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s catastrophic situation. The first one is conducted by the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela (composed of envoys of the European Union: Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal, plus Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Bolivia). This group is trying to reach a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition in Caracas.
The second initiative is an attempt by the Norwegian government to mediate the crisis. Several meetings were held recently between representatives of the Maduro regime and members of the opposition in Oslo. They were supposed to be secret but were apparently leaked by people close to Maduro. So far, none of these initiatives have yielded any results.
Even though it would be highly desirable for Maduro to agree to leave power and call for free and democratic elections through peaceful dialogue, the truth is that all the previous attempts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis that were held so far (including the one promoted by the Vatican in 2016) have failed. This is so because the regime has used these conversations to gain time, divide and weaken the opposition, and secure its permanence in power. Maduro's main interest in welcoming the current diplomatic initiatives is probably to improve his international image and curb the economic sanctions that have been imposed against his regime.
Given this background, it was a mistake for the contact group to publicly state that peaceful negotiations are "the only possible solution" to the Venezuelan crisis (clearly ruling out the possibility of a foreign intervention). The only way for any of these diplomatic initiatives to have a chance is for a credible threat of military intervention to be on the table. Otherwise, as in the past, these talks will only serve to extend the suffering of the population and the growing deterioration of the country.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has just published a report “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela.”
The report addresses the human rights situation in Venezuela by analyzing the impact that the weakening of the country’s democratic institutions has had on those rights. This report is organized around four main areas of focus, which correspond to the IACHR’s core concerns with respect to Venezuela: democratic institutions; social protest and freedom of expression; violence and citizen security; and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
It also includes a cross-cutting analysis of the specific harm done to individuals, groups and communities that are at greater risk and are victims of of historical discrimination and exclusion. These include women, children and adolescents, older persons, human rights defenders, persons deprived of liberty and migrants, refugees, or those in a similar situation, among others.
The IACHR report reveals severe restrictions to freedom of expression in Venezuela through censorship of media outlets, attacks on journalists, the criminalization of dissident opinions or of those who disseminate information contrary to government officials’ versions and the punishment of whose who spread what are considered hate messages on the internet. The report also examines the excessive use of firearms and tear-gas bombs against demonstrators, as well as the participation of members of the armed forces in controlling demonstrations.
The Commission expresses its strongest possible rejection of the harsh measures taken by the state in response to social protests, which left hundreds of people dead; thousands arbitrarily detained; allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence perpetrated by state agents; and people unjustly tried on criminal charges in military courts.
Compounding the critical situation of democracy and political rights is a socioeconomic crisis characterized by widespread shortages of food, medicine, and medical treatment, materials and supplies. The rights to education and housing have also been seriously impaired. The rates of poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela are alarming, as are the serious impediments to the exercise of people’s economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, especially for groups that have traditionally faced exclusion and discrimination.
Are there enough reactions before such a tragedy?
The Peruvian government, backed by 17 Latin American countries, has decided to ask Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to attend the Summit of the Americas in April (Peru will host it). Maduro challenged the resolution and threatened to attend “at any cost.”
Elected Chilean President Sebastian Piñera asked Maduro not to attend his inauguration because “he is not welcomed in Chile” (Piñera will take office on March 11).
The overwhelming report of the IACHR, the rejection of 17 countries to the Venezuelan dictatorship, the sanctions determined by the United States and the European Union against Venezuelan officials and economic sanctions too, nothing is enough to relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela’s close relation with Iran and Russia essentially protects the dictatorship. Almost 10 percent of the population has fled from the country, mostly to neighboring countries in South America and also to the United States. But proxies and indifference let the tragedy of Venezuela move forward.
Anti-Semitism is not forgotten in the official policies of the Venezuelan regime. A few days ago, Maduro announced that “he has ordered his envoys before U.N. to report the xenophobic campaign against Venezuela in different countries all over the world,” and also “Such campaigns are similar than those made by the Nazis against the Jews.”
It is not the first time that Maduro trivializes the tragedy of the Shoah. Some months ago he also said that “Venezuela is being attacked as Jews were attacked by the Nazis. We are the Jews of the 21stcentury,” he added.
This brutal way of banalizing the Shoah is not the only attack Maduro has recently made against Jews and Israel.
When the United States decided to announce the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem, Maduro made a speech before the Non-Aligned Movement and said that the U.S. decision is “a provocation and a declaration of war against the entire Muslim world, against the good people, one more in decades of ongoing aggression against our beloved historical Palestinian people.”
Several tragedies in history have been possible due to indifference, among other reasons. But indifference is very strong. We can watch it in the Syrian tragedy today. And we can also watch it in Venezuela.
If rogue governments which support those tragedies overcome indifference, hope is very little. So far, indifference prevails.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
By Eduardo Kohn
On Sunday, after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that the election he promoted to create a Congress with similar power to the Soviets some decades ago had been successful and that eight million people voted, countries around the world not only rejected what they called “a fraud of election” but also said that Maduro had become a “dictator.”
Unfortunately the results mean that the Venezuelan people—who don’t have enough food and medicines and are under a social and economic tragedy—have been suffering under a dictatorship for a long time. . The judiciary is a mockery, the Congress that was elected two years ago has been under attack every minute and has not been able to make one single decision, there are thousands of political prisoners suffering torture in prison and media have been closed down.
So, when European officers say that after what they call a fraud election on Sunday, Maduro has become a “dictator,” they are coming late.
The Assembly that has been established now will sweep away any seed of opposition and the dictatorship will be installed definitively. But in reality, it is the culmination of a process of many years, and the countries of the Americas and Europe have watched without taking serious actions, related to, among other issues, the violation of human rights. Now the situation looks very bad, as it usually happens when the world finally sits up and takes notice.
After the election, the Venezuelan regime found full support in Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador in Latin America. But most important for Venezuela, Maduro received public support from Russia, China and Iran. Those are the friends of this regime.
The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on Maduro. The U.S. government froze any American assets Maduro may have and banned Americans from doing business with him.
But even with international pressure building and Venezuela’s economy collapsing, opposition activists were facing a new challenge. How could they confront a machine that now controls all branches of government?
The new super-congress, made up entirely of government backers, will have sweeping powers to rewrite the constitution and redraw Venezuela’s governing system.
Maduro dismissed the U.S. measures, saying on television that they were imposed because he didn’t obey the “North American empire.” He added: “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.”
Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s attorney general, who broke with the government in March, on Monday declared the vote fraudulent. She suggested that Maduro and his inner circle, including a vice president accused by the U.S. government of narco-trafficking, would now seek to use the new assembly to monopolize money and power. “How will we control the public budget now? How will we know how much and in what things money is being invested?” she said. The answer is simple: there will be no control.
Latin American nations from Argentina to Panama to Brazil, including Peru and Colombia, have also declared the vote illegitimate, with regional foreign ministers set to meet in Peru next week to review the crisis. But nobody expects that crucial decisions will be made.
Last Sunday one important question was whether the domestic opposition can sustain the pressure it has brought to bear on Maduro’s administration. The brutal answer from Maduro came between Monday and Tuesday: in the middle of the night, the secret police took Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, two of the major opposition leaders, to prison.
With the support of Russia and Iran, with Hezbollah cells installed in the country, Venezuela, now a full dictatorship, is a great threat for the Americas. Its sponsors, mainly Iran, mean terrorism. And terrorism, under this picture is at the front door in the region.
The Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council should find a way to protect Venezuela and its people, as well as the rest of the region, from such a threat. It is not only their duty, it is an urgent need.
Facing economic collapse and a great shortage in public support, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has chosen as his vice president one of Venezuela's most controversial and feared politicians, government critics say—Tareck El Aissami.
El Aissami has climbed from student leader in rural Venezuela to the country's number two in power in just over a decade.
El Aissami, 42 years old, is one of a number of Venezuelans under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged participation in drug trafficking and money laundering. He played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America. A young star in the so called socialist party, El Aissami is viewed by both supporters and critics as extremely dangerous, far from any political ethics and skills.
Maduro, whom former President Hugo Chavez chose as his own successor, has been under pressure to step aside because of the country's potential default, widespread social unrest and a demanding opposition. He has so far avoided—through his control of the so called legal system—the opposition's attempt to hold a referendum on his removal before his term ends in about two years. Many analysts say if things continue to decline, the main risk to him is from within the military.
El Aissami's selection addresses Maduro’s concerns. Those seeking to oust Maduro probably will be more careful facing El Aissami and might hesitate to pursue their efforts. And the new vice president is a strong man with tight control over internal security forces and little loyalty to the military. He would be less tempted to take part in a military-led coup than to resist it.
In the weeks since El Aissaimi became vice president, Maduro has granted him wide-reaching decree powers and helped him to lead a newly formed “commando unit” against alleged coups and officials suspected of treason. The “Unity” has already arrested “opposition” members without hesitation or embarrassment.
El Aissami first met Chavez when he was a student. According to three witnesses, El Aissami openly celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, and has served as one of Chavez's closest allies ever since. In his last post as governor of Aragua, he regularly denounced government opponents as traitors. A court in Aragua annulled the recall referendum there, charging the opposition with collecting fraudulent signatures.
El Aissami has publicly denied any alleged drug ties, saying they are little more than media lies, but traces of all sort of media investigations end in his family circle and his people in Aragua.
El Aissami won a seat in congress as a representative of Merida in 2005. Chavez named the young congressman as vice minister and later minister of interior. Much of what El Aissami tried as interior minister was resisted by the military. In 2012, El Aissami won the governorship of Aragua and the opposition has since labeled El Aissami "the narco (nark) of Aragua,” alleging that he has used his vast political network to help turn the country into an international hub for drugs and Middle Eastern extremists.
Since at least 2011, Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been investigating El Aissami for money laundering to the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
In this context, CNN has made this week the following announcement:
“Passports In The Shadows,” a two-part joint investigation by CNN and CNN en Espanol airing on February 6 and February 8 within AC360°(8-9pm ET, CNN), uncovers an alleged sale of passports and visas from the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, as well as how U.S. officials have known about other passport irregularities in Venezuela for more than a decade. The yearlong investigation showcases an account by a whistleblower, the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, who provided CNN with comprehensive reports of the alleged activity inside the embassy and the government officials’ dismissal of the allegations.CNN tracks down the former general in charge of the country’s immigration office, now living in Miami under political asylum, who details the corruption he says he witnessed for years, including the issuing of fraudulent passports. CNN and CNN en Espanol conducted interviews in the U.S., Venezuela, Spain and the UK over the past year. Additionally, CNN has obtained a confidential intelligence report from Latin American countries that links the new vice president of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami, to the issuance of passports to individuals from the Middle East as well as people linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Countries and governments all over the world know what has been going on in Venezuela for the last ten years, and the absolute lack of any freedom in the last five years. Everybody knows the violation of human rights, the absolute absence of judiciary, political prisoners under inhuman conditions and the total disrespect for the law.
Why the silence then? Why isn’t there a vote in the Organization of American States (OAS) or any of the U.N. agencies to try to change the situation? The OAS secretary-general speaks out, but is never endorsed, why?
There are no positive answers to these questions. As there are no answers, Tareck Al Aissami can rule “de facto” as it happens today, and Iran and Hezbollah can celebrate.
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