THE ROSTRUM DIALOGUES: Crisis in Venezuela
Welcome to the Rostrum Dialogues, a new series by The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs that encourages Fletcher students to engage in debate with each other over issues that are most relevant to international relations and foreign affairs today. This edition of the Rostrum Dialogues will feature reflections on the current political crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuelan Dead Ends
Pedro Cardenas Casillas, MALD ‘19
The debate surrounding the current crisis in Venezuela has created a fake dichotomy, generating two camps. On the one hand, there are those who posit that Maduro’s dictatorship has gone too far and that intervention by all means necessary is needed. In the other camp, there are those who profess that the current situation is a U.S.-led coup in Venezuela, using human rights discourse as a smokescreen to justify its actions. The high level of polarization creates an atmosphere of “you are either with us, or against us” where centric voices are relegated to or forced to pick a side.
The issue must be separated into two questions before action is taken. First, is there a crisis, and if so, what caused it? Second, does this justify intervention by all means necessary?
The first question is easily answerable. There is a plethora of evidence pointing towards failed economic policies since the Chavez regime: dependency on oil and lack of food production led to almost 90 percent of the Venezuela’s population living below the poverty line by 2018. Additionally, repression is rampant in the country. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the IACHR have all reported on prosecution, unlawful detentions, and torture by the regime. The UN reported more than 3 million refugees from Venezuela in neighboring countries, a critical situation with increasing risks of malnutrition and sickness for refugees, as well as an added economic burdens for host countries.
The second question is more complex. While the concept of Responsibility to Protect has not been invoked, western and northern states have started crossing dangerous lines regarding sovereignty and the international legal system. The United States has been explicit since the beginning in its intentions. Vice-President Pence called for protests in Venezuela, while John Bolton spoke of the benefits of opening Venezuela’s oil industry to U.S. companies and casually displayed a notepad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” written down. When recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido, allegedly under U.S. pressure, the EU parliament not only recognized him, but declared him to be the “legitimate President” of Venezuela. The Secretary General of the OAS, without a General Assembly vote, recognized Guaido as interim president.
Such understandings of the Venezuelan situation therefore pose two dead-ends: either another example of U.S.-intervention in Latin America, or abandoning Venezuelans to a humanitarian crisis. Why has the community been so quick to ignore more creative and diplomatic means, instead focusing on an all or nothing approach? The consequences of either course of action would be dire.
Regional Ripple Effects of the Venezuelan Crisis
Caleb Weaver, MALD ‘19
While working in Colombia last summer, I witnessed first-hand both of the regional dynamics caused by Venezuela’s crisis. I encountered migrants sleeping outdoors or crowded into tenement-like conditions and spoke with labor leaders who reported that desperate Venezuelan migrant workers were being exploited and abused. The trade unionists and civil society activists with whom I worked all expressed concern that Venezuelan migration would produce resource strains and social tensions, closing political space for reforms and the implementation of the FARC Peace Accords.
These concerns are reverberating across the region. Ecuador and Peru have moved to crack down on Venezuelans as locals scapegoat migrants for crime and economic problems. The UN Global Pact on Migration, already roiling politics in Europe, is now on the rocks in Latin America as Chile and Brazil have withdrawn their participation.
I also witnessed the hardening of the region’s political alignment. During Colombia’s 2018 presidential elections, President Ivan Duque took advantage of the crisis to tie his progressive opponent to the specter of Castro-Chavismo. Rhetoric about Venezuela has been a powerful tool for right-wing governments across the region. Pro-market governments have replaced left-leaning ones in Argentina and Chile, while Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno, the handpicked successor of Rafael Correa, has surprised observers by abandoning his mentor’s anti-neoliberal and alter-globalization orientation. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, a virulent misogynist and homophobe nostalgic for military dictatorship, has also made hay of the situation.
On the other side, the United States’ inept attempts to weaponize humanitarian aid against Maduro have eliminated the possibility that the region’s left-wing governments (Bolivia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Cuba) will join the fold. Participating in a U.S.-led regime-change effort is a nonstarter for Mexico’s enigmatic new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with whom partnership should be a U.S. priority. Now that the United States has revealed its intention to mobilize its bloc for such ends, governments and parties in the region are likely to only be more open to Chinese and Russian involvement. As a result, the white whale of regional integration will move further out of reach.
Migration in the Context of the Venezuela Crisis
At first, it was a trickle, but in July of 2016, Colombia received over 132,000 Venezuelans in one weekend. Since then, the seemingly infinite flow of migrants continues to swell through Colombia’s borders, with famished but resilient families leading the hunt towards a better life.
Once the wealthiest nation in South America, Venezuela now faces an inflation rate of 2.3 million percent. Shelves in super markets are bare, hospitals are empty, and those who oppose the government are crushed under the dictatorships’ force. Venezuelans have been left with no other choice for survival but to pack what little they have and embark on a treacherous journey through former FARC-occupied territories and current drug trafficking routes. The wealthier portion of Venezuelan emigrants have avoided this perilous fate, instead taking flights to Costa Rica, Mexico, and even Spain. However, the majority of those currently seeking asylum can barely fund their walk next door to Colombia.
Colombia has now officially welcomed over 1.5 million Venezuelans, with less conservative estimates pointing to over 2 million Venezuelans in the country. Despite goodwill, Colombia is overburdened with immigration, an unfamiliar challenge that the country is braving to overcome. Similarly, other countries in the region are also hosting Venezuelans with varying degrees of hospitality.
Almost a year ago in April 2018, in response to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and seventeen countries in the region agreed on an approach to support host governments and displaced Venezuelans. The Regional Action Plan requires over $32 million over the two years to ensure proper integration of Venezuelan migrants in their countries. More importantly, it requires host governments to remain open to the continued flow of migrants and respectful towards human rights. However, given the ongoing crisis and growing social and economic pressures, the latter will only become more challenging as the situation continues to fester.
Courtesy of alexcocopro / Wikimedia Commons