Discussion on the Situation in Venezuela
Council members will discuss the situation in Venezuela under “any other business” this morning (17 May). The request, which was made by the US, was prompted by the current political situation and is expected to focus on the efforts by regional organisations to address the crisis. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča will brief Council members in their first-ever discussion on this situation.
The meeting comes as Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro extended yesterday (16 May), for the seventh time, the state of emergency in the country. In late 2016, political parties of the opposition pressured the government to hold a recall referendum for President Maduro (a mechanism provided for in the Venezuelan constitution). This unsuccessful attempt, which would have led to early presidential elections only if carried out before January 2017, contributed to the polarisation of the political landscape in the country. Over the last few weeks, several developments have led to a further deterioration in the political situation, and contributed to mounting tensions. On 29 March, the Supreme Court assumed the legislative powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, in a move that was widely condemned by regional actors and which was retracted on 1 April amid domestic and international pressure. On 1 May, Maduro issued a presidential decree convening an assembly to draft a new constitution in a way that some fear will further exacerbate the current polarisation. The government has claimed it is taking these extraordinary measures in order to counter the economic war being waged against it by what it considers “enemies of the revolution”. Amid increasing political tension and deteriorating living conditions, in the last few months demonstrations by opposition supporters have seen clashes with police forces resulting in more than 40 killed and several hundred injured. A 4 May statement by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, México and Paraguay, condemned the excessive use of force by the government against demonstrators and urged it to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has expressed serious concerns regarding “allegations of repression of opposition voices and civil society groups; arbitrary arrests; excessive use of force against peaceful protests; the erosion of independence of rule of law institutions; and a dramatic decline in enjoyment of economic and social rights, with increasingly widespread hunger and sharply deteriorating health-care”.
Council members are likely to be interested in hearing of regional efforts to support a political dialogue in the country. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) tasked former Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández, former President of Colombia Ernesto Samper and former President of Panama Martín Torrijos with the role of encouraging dialogue between the opposition and the government, although these efforts have yielded no results as yet. The Vatican has also attempted to mediate. Council members might be interested in hearing from Jenča whether the Secretary-General might be able to use his good offices to facilitate dialogue and coordinate other regional and international attempts to reach a peaceful settlement to the current crisis. So far the UN’s role in support of dialogue initiatives in Venezuela has been limited. A 20 April statement from the Spokesman for the Secretary-General called on the government and the opposition to “engage sincerely to reactivate dialogue efforts, especially around the critical issues that they had already agreed to place on the agenda, namely the balance of power among branches of the State, the electoral calendar, human rights, truth and justice and the socioeconomic situation”.
Given the limited progress of dialogue initiatives, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has called for Venezuela to hold presidential elections or face suspension from the OAS. Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter allows for the suspension of a member state by two-thirds of the OAS’ General Assembly when it determines that there has been an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order and that diplomatic initiatives have failed. On 23 April, as the OAS’ Permanent Council convened a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Venezuela, the Venezuelan government decided to start the procedure to leave the organisation, which is expected to last two years, expressing concerns about interference in the domestic affairs of the country.
Several US officials have spoken out against the government of Venezuela in recent weeks. On 5 May, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met with the President of the National Assembly Julio Borges. According to a readout of the meeting they discussed the need for the government to adhere to the constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections. On 6 May, Ambassador Nikki Haley expressed the US’ concerns about the government’s violent crackdown on protestors in Venezuela and highlighted how its disregard for the fundamental rights of its people has heightened the political and economic crisis in the country. It seems that several Council members have expressed concerns that the situation does not qualify as a threat to international peace and security, and that this meeting might be perceived as interfering in the domestic affairs of Venezuela and contributing to the country’s polarisation rather than encouraging political dialogue.
Other Council members are expected to highlight the value of this discussion in raising awareness of the situation with the aim of preventing it from deteriorating further. The use of “any other business” provides an opportunity for informal discussion of emerging issues that are not in the Council’s agenda For the situation in Venezuela to be discussed formally under a specific agenda item, there would need to be agreement from all 15 Council members to creating a new agenda item, or in the absence of consensus, a procedural vote with nine affirmative votes would be needed. At the moment this does not seem within reach.