Author: Ansley Taylor
Venezuela has been the center of a rapidly growing economic, political, and humanitarian cri- sis for the past several years. Individual states and the United Nations (UN) have addressed the crisis several times, but to no avail. While doing so, the ramifications of the crisis have spread far beyond Venezuela’s borders and at present threaten international peace and securi- ty. Yet how did a nation, once so prosperous, fall to such depths? And what steps can be taken to stabilize both the international climate around the crisis as well as the crumbling Venezue- lan state itself? In order to address the complex crisis of Venezuela, as well as its solutions, it is important to first understand its origins.
Once, Venezuela was a stable democratic society and one of the richest states in the world. This wealth was supplied by Venezuela’s vast oil reserves and petroleum dependent economy.1 Venezuela is the sixth largest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)2 with oil exports accounting for 48.1% of their GDP in 2014; before the economic crisis.3 This wealth led to many opportunities for Venezuelan citizens and their po- litical leaders. Throughout the early 2000s President Hugo Chávez exacted the nations wealth to fund public projects known as the Bolivarian Missions.4 These public sector missions re- sulted in food subsidies, better public education, increased health care, and economic democ- ratization.5 By using funds from the national oil exports and foreign loans6 Chávez was able to increase public spending significantly.
At it’s height, the Bolivarian Missions required 50%7 of Venezuela’s GDP and reduced poverty rates by half.8 While this was positive for Chávez’s political popularity, it meant that Venezuela was trapped in a cycle of unsustainable economic practices that left them completely dependent on the fluctuation of the oil market and their massive foreign debt of 106 billion dollars.9 This large deficit proved unmanageable
in 2014 when the international oil prices dropped by 59.2%10 destroying Venezuela’s once prosperous economy. With no national savings, foreign reserves, or a properly diversified economy, the new Venezuelan president Nicholás Maduro chose to print money to stabilize the nation’s plummeting economy.11 This economic policy resulted in the highest case of hy-perinflation12 in the world.13 With a staggering hyperinflation rate of 946%14 the government
was no longer able to subsidize basic needs in the public sector. Because of the economic sit- uation, Venezuelans are experiencing starvation, the absence of basic health care, no proper education systems, poor infrastructure, lack of public services like transportation, wide-spread electrical blackouts, and the highest murder rates in the world.15 Currently 96% of the popula- tion is living in poverty, while 70% live in extreme poverty.16
Yet while the humanitarian crisis worsens, President Maduro has spent his time transforming the once democratic Venezuelan system into one of authoritarianism. The transition began when Maduro replaced several Supreme Court judges with loyalists17 and replaced the National Assembly opposition with the National Constitute.18 Once established, the National
Constitute rewrote the Constitution, eliminating the National Assembly opposition permanent- ly.19 This decision was made without referendum from the people and led to violent protests.20 With no opposition left to oppose him, Maduro secured his allies by rigging the Venezuelan economy in their favor. Maduro accomplished this by creating two separate exchange rates. Maduro’s loyal political and military allies are paid with Sovereign Bolivars, which carry an exchange rate of 10:1 US dollars, while the regular Bolivar carries a rate of 12,000:1 US lars.21
However, Maduro claims to have an economic strategy to reduce hyperinflation in Ve- nezuela. The current economic policy involves raising the minimum wage and providing more food stamps to the population.22 Unfortunately, these measures have proved ineffective in the wake of the growing Venezuelan crisis. To exacerbate matters, Maduro’s election fraud in 2017 and 201923 has exposed a lack of democratic institutions, such as free and fair elec- tions. Interim President Juan Guaidó24 has condemned Maduro for his handling of the crisis and demanded that Maduro resign from office for corruption.25 This blatant disregard for democracy has led to national protests,26 Latin American Lima Group member states refusing to recognize Maduro’s legitimacy,27 and economic sanctions imposed by powers such as the United States.28
Yet despite these measures, this man-made humanitarian crisis has violated the human rights of millions of people, resulted in mass migration, disrupted international peace and security, and has undermined the effectiveness of the UN in handling such crises. At its core the UN was designed to maintain international peace and security. Therefore, when peace and security are threatened by political unrest, violence, and massive human rights violations, it is the re- sponsibility of international bodies to act. In order to protect the rights of the Venezuelan peo- ple and uphold the duty of protecting international peace and security, the UN must rebuild Venezuela’s democratic institutions and stabilize the humanitarian crisis. The source of the crisis is both economic and political; therefore it requires both economic and political solu- tions for stabilization and the reestablishment of democracy and peace. While the in- ternational community agrees that action must be taken, the path of such action remains elu- sive.
The UN Security Council and General Assembly have formally discussed the crisis but have not yet decided on a course of action. The international community remains divided on whether to reestablish democracy before bringing peace to the nation or if peace should be achieved before reestablishing democracy.29 Not only that, but there is indecisiveness on the UN’s intervening role in the crisis; especially where economic sanctions are involved.30 This paper will analyze the current positions of individual states, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly over the Venezuelan crisis and recommend possible courses of action for the international community via political, economic, and peace-building approaches. By approaching the crisis with a multifaceted resolution, there is more-likelihood that the crisis will stabilize and democracy be reestablished.
2.-International Responses to the Venezuelan Crisis
In 2019 the UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting of 40 member states to discuss the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.31 At the time, the council focused on the hy- perinflation, food and medical shortages, the lack of health and education services, the mass migration of 5 million Venezuelans, the deterioration of infrastructure such as water, electrici- ty, and transport, and the increasing violence surrounding the political situation.32 All of these conditions prevent the UN from fulfilling their primary duty of preventing conflict and main- taining peace and security globally. Since prevention of the crisis was no longer an option, the UN’s duty has become that of a mediator with the goal of stabilizing the current situation so that conditions for peace and security can be reestablished.
However, this duty is made diffi- cult by the fact that not all Security Council members consider the Venezuelan crisis to be a threat to international peace and security, and therefore do not see a valid reason for the UN to intervene.33 States such as the Russian Federation and China insist that the UN take an impar-tial stance on the Venezuelan crisis in order to respect Venezuela’s sovereignty.34 In contrast, nine other delegations, including the United States,35 voted in favor of holding the emergency meeting to discuss the crisis. With a division already growing concerning even debating the topic, it is no surprise that compromise was far from reach.
The United States spearheaded the pro-interventionists with a stance that the human rights violations and political instability in Venezuela have grown too great to be overlooked by the international community.36 Furthermore, the US encouraged the Security Council to acknowl- edge interim President Juan Guiadós’ legitimacy and condemn the anti-democratic Maduro Administration.37 The US presented a proposal on how to handle the Venezuelan crisis that sided with the principle that in order for peace to be reestablished, there must first be democ- racy.38 In order to transition Venezuela’s current political administration into one that supports democratic institutions, there must be international oversight, free and fair elections, restora- tion of Venezuela’s Constitution, and respect for the rule of law.39 The US recommends that the international community pressure the Maduro Administration into complying with this democratic transition through economic sanctions and supporting interim President Guiadós.40 Nine states voted in favor of the US’s proposal, while the Russian Federation, China, and South Africa voted against it.41
Contrasting the US’s proposal was the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation’s proposal argued that in order for peace to be reestablished, the international community must respect Venezuela’s sovereignty, territories, self-determination, and their current constitution.42 Rather than viewing anti-democratic institutions as the threat to peace and security, the Russian Fed- eration considered changing regimes, international economic sanctions, and freezing foreign funds as the greater threat to peace in the Venezuelan crisis.43 Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza agreed with the Russian Federation, that economic sanctions have cause far more damage to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela than the political instability ever could.44 Blame was specifically placed on the US’s economic sanctions which have cur- rently cost Venezuela 23 billion dollars.45 Rather than ending the crisis by using international economic pressure to create a democratic transition, the Russian Federation’s proposal sug- gests using the Montevideo Mechanism46 to form a national political dialogue and resolve the crisis through diplomacy without ever formally intervening. Four states voted in favor of this proposal while seven states voted against it.47
These polarizing proposals were both vetoed by permanent members of the security council48 resulting in no compromises and the stagnation of peace in the Venezuelan crisis, despite con- vening the Security Council 3 times.49 The lack or resolution and compromise is seen as a ma- jor failing for the UN Security Council. By failing to compromise, the UN Security Council has failed in their duty under Article 39 of the UN Charter to restore international peace and security through an agreed resolution.50
However, according the the UN General Assembly “Uniting for Peace” Resolution 377 the General Assembly is allowed to intervene and make recommendations in crises where the Security Council fails to come to a resolution and fulfill their duties under Article 39.51 The UN General Assembly has addressed the humanitarian cri- sis in Venezuela and Venezuelas right to peace. While Venezuela agrees with the UN that the right to peace is important, solutions to the other humanitarian issues have not been addressed by Venezuelan leaders properly.52
The UN General Assembly remains skeptical of the European Union’s (EU) and US’s use of economic coercion in the crisis,53 and maintains it’s firm support for finding a political solu- tion to the problem while assisting Venezuela through humanitarian aid projects. The UN General Assembly has recommended a dialogue between President Maduro, interim President Guaidó, and the UN themselves to come to a common resolution to the crisis.54 However, with no diplomatic compromises having occurred, the UN has shifted their focus to the hu- manitarian aid portion of their response plan. Currently the largest source of aid in the Venezuelan crisis is the UN’s 1.44 billion dollar Refugee and Migrant Response Plan.55 The response program focuses on displaced populations, basic needs, human rights, and the need for a humanitarian-development-peace nexus.56 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration have also established a mecha- nism that provides displaced Venezuelans refugee status universally.57
Despite humanitarian aid projects, the UN has also conducted several independent studies into the situation in Venezuela. Organizations such as, Human Rights Watch (HRW)58, the UN- HCR59, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)60 have all published studies highlighting the escalation of human rights violations taking place in Ve- nezuela. The UN has encouraged these studies but investigations into Venezuela’s humanitari- an crisis and foreign-aid plans only treat the symptoms of the crisis, rather than the root causes.
As it stands, the UN continues to recommend diplomatic discussions and and compromise as the solution. Yet discussions have not led to any compromises and the international community has stagnated on the resolution of humanitarian aid packages. While humanitarian aid manages the short term implications of the crisis, the only way to fully resolve the situation is through a combination of economic reformations, the restructuring of corrupt political institu- tions, and the implementation of peace building strategies.
3.1. Peace Building Approach
Peace building requires the sustainable reconciliation of divided societies. The best way to approach this reconciliation is by uniting the 3 sectors of the divided society. The largest group that must be reconciled with are the grassroots leaders. This includes, local leaders, community developers, local health officials, refugee camp leaders, and leaders of indigenous NGOs.61
These local community leaders can be turned towards reconciliation with the othersectors of society through local peace commissions, grassroots training, prejudice reduction, and psychological aid.62 The second societal group to be addressed are those in middle-range leadership positions. This group holds roles such as ethnic/religious leaders, academic intel- lectuals, and humanitarian leaders.63 This societal sector can be reconciled with through prob- lem-solving workshops related to their current crisis, raining in conflict resolution, and partic- ipation in peace commissions.64 Lastly, the smallest group of top leaders must be won over. This group consists of important military, political, and religious figures.65
These individual must contribute to peace building through high-level negotiations that are driven by a highly visible mediator.66 This model of peace building has proven effective but time consuming, education-based, and driven by negotiations within the 3 societal groups. There must be a willingness for compromise between the sectors of society and long-term dedication from the peace-building services. Another aspect of the peace-building approach is strategic non-vio- lent resistance from different sectors of civil society. In an authoritarian government, the pop- ulation and community links must be maintained in order for upper-leadership to prosper.67 Therefore, pressure against the government can effectively shift the power dynamic from the administration to the citizens. This peaceful transition lies with civil societies, student groups, labor unions, women’s organizations, and national campaigns.68 In Venezuela protests from these sectors have led to international interventions from the Union of South American Na- tions (UNASUR),69 the Organization of American States (OAS),70 and the EU.71
Together these two approaches create multi-track diplomacy.72 Track one diplomacy involves official diplomacy, communication, and interactions between governmental channels.73 While track two diplomacy involves unofficial interactions between non-state actors.74 For sustain- able reconciliation of the three sectors of society, track two diplomacy is used for professional conflict resolution between non-governmental leaders throughout all sectors of society.
The strategic non-violent approach is also a form of track two diplomacy. It requires sectors of civil society to peacefully change the situation. However, while both the sustainable reconcil- iation and strategic non-violent approaches rely heavily on non-governmental diplomacy, both allow governmental bodies to negotiate amongst themselves and compromise with international organizations. For example, sustainable reconciliation maintains the goal of involving political leaders in peace building activities and strategic non-violent resistance has resulted in the Venezuelan government interacting with international organizations like UNA- SUR, OAS, and EU. While peace-building approaches preserve the structural integrity of so- ciety, the Venezuelan crisis specifically requires economic solutions.
3.2. Economic Approach
When oil prices drastically dropped in 2014, Venezuela was immediately thrown into eco- nomic disarray. This economic crisis has destabilized Venezuela’s democratic institutions and violated the human rights of millions of Venezuelan citizens. Yet when looking back on histo- ry, this socio-economic crisis is not unique. Foreign debt, a monopolized resource dependent economy, and unsustainable national deficits that lead to hyperinflation can be seen through- out history. Hyperinflation cases contain a common theme in how they were resolved. In many cases, the hyper-inflated national currency was no longer salvageable and needed to be abandoned. Governments introduced a new currency, no longer associated with hyperinfla- tion, and legitimized its fiscal value through tangible resources such as land, gold, oil, etc. In order to protect this new currency, new fiscal policies were also introduced. Possible fiscal policies included, shock therapy,75 wage and price controls, currency boards,76 and in extreme cases dollarization.77 The countries budget and GDP would also be reevaluated.
Monopolized resource dependent economies face the issue of being too reliant on one sector of the econo- my. Therefore, the countries sources of income must be diversified and there must be more emphasis on national savings to avoid future unsustainable deficits. For the sake of avoiding national deficits, it is important to restructure the countries foreign debt repayments in a way that does not bankrupt the national economy. This is in the interest of both the borrower and debt collectors. Lastly, in order for the economy to fully recover, international sanctions must be lifted.
However, given Venezuela’s current political situation it is unlikely that economic sanctions will be lifted while President Maduro remains in power. Unfortunately, the economy is intertwined with the political climate surrounding Venezuela. While it is possible for Ve- nezuela to embark on these drastic fiscal reforms, diversify their economy, increase national savings, and introduce a new untarnished currency; these measures will fall short if Venezuela is unable to participate in the globalized economy. Yet, participation in the globalized econo- my can only be accomplished through international diplomacy and compromise.
3.3. Political Approach
In order for Venezuela to recover, the government must win back its people and the in- ternational community. This requires a transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Similar to past democratic transitions, Venezuela has experienced bottom-up social mobilization in the form of civil unrest, protests, growing opposition in civil societies such as NGOs, labor unions, and student groups, and international recognition for interim President Guaidó from more than 50 countries.78 However, civil unrest alone is insufficient to achieve a successful democratic transition. Only the authoritarian regime’s willingness to transfer power to the op- position can achieve full democratization. The international community has played a role in pressuring President Maduro’s regime to negotiate with opposition leader interim President Guaidó through economic sanctions and refusing to recognize President Maduro’s legitimacy.79
The only way for the Maduro regime to regain legitimacy and end the economic sanctions is by negotiating with the opposition and the UN.80 Concessions by the Maduro regime must be made in order for the transition to be successful, including restraints on exec- utive power, independent and separated branches of government, and a Constitution that pro- tects fundamental political rights.81 These compromises are necessary for a democratic transi- tion to remain successful long-term. Compromises can be achieved through the international communities economic leverage over Venezuela and the oppositions use of civil-societal pres- sure.
Once the opposition transitions into the role of the official Venezuelan government, there are several consequences of post-authoritarianism to address. The new government must create civil order, end violence, and ensure the security of their citizens within their borders.82 They must then inspire trust in political institutions with free and fair elections.83 This will conse- quentially also provide them with international legitimacy. The new government must address the human rights violations of the previous regime in a way that holds the guilty accountable while still preserving the loyalty of the nations security forces.
Lastly, the new government must actively protect the autonomy and authority of independent sectors of the society such as the media and judiciaries that have the power to hold national executives accountable for their actions.84 Accountability is vital for the preservation of a true democratic society. Once the democratic institutions have stabilized, the new government can begin expanding the econo- my, controlling inflation, lowering unemployment, and providing basic needs and services to the population.85
4. – Conclusion
In closing, the crisis in Venezuela is a threat to international peace and security. Hyperinfla- tion, starvation, mass migration, and countless human rights violations have left the people of Venezuela in a state of incomprehensible dread. The crisis has been discussed by the UN Se- curity Council, but due to a lack of compromise no resolution was determined. By failing in their duty to protect international peace and security, the UN General Assembly has taken it upon themselves to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela, recommend diplomatic negotia- tions, and stand against economic sanctions. In order for Venezuela to fully recover from this crisis and become self-sustainable, drastic economic and political reforms must be made with the assistance of peace-building approaches. This bottom-up approach fueled by peace-build- ing education programs mobilizes all levels of leadership within civil society to pressure the Venezuelan government into democratization and effective fiscal policy changes.
The Venezuelan economy must change drastically to eliminate hyperinflation but in order for the economy to prosper globally, the Venezuelan government must negotiate with the in- ternational community to remove economic sanctions. Given the current political corruption within Venezuela, and the illegitimacy of the current Maduro regime, the main way to appease the international community and remove economic sanctions is through a democratic transi- tion. Therefore, the long-term resolution to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is a combina- tion of international and domestic pressures on the Maduro regime to democratize, thereby freeing their economy from international economic sanctions, and reforming their economy in a way that eliminates hyperinflation so that the new democratic government can begin re- building the society and providing for the Venezuelan people with international support.
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