Venezuela: Open VTC
Today (20 May) Security Council members are scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting on Venezuela. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief.
The meeting was requested by Russia. It appears to have been prompted by a letter that Venezuela sent to the Security Council on 13 May (S/2020/399) in which it alleges that there was an attempt by groups of mercenaries to infiltrate Venezuela between 3 and 4 May, with the aim of perpetrating criminal acts and assassinating high-level officials in the country. The letter claims involvement by Colombia and the United States in the alleged attempted infiltration, and asks the Security Council to hold discussions on the matter.
Venezuela remains a highly contentious issue in the Council. There are likely to be strongly competing narratives about the nature of the accusations made against Colombia and the US. Most members will want to hear the Secretariat’s assessment of the allegations. There may also be a general condemnation of any use of mercenaries.
Entrenched positions could be reiterated. The US is among a number of members that argue that the Maduro government is illegitimate and that corruption and economic mismanagement have played a significant role in the dire humanitarian challenges facing the country. Other members, including China and Russia in particular, strongly oppose what they view as external interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, and have raised concerns about potential military intervention. They have blamed bilateral sanctions for creating hardship for the population and exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the country; Russia has referred in particular to financial measures taken against the Maduro government by the US and EU member states. In response, EU members have argued that the EU sanctions target individuals in Venezuela responsible for human rights violations and do not impede humanitarian assistance or have a negative impact on the general population.
At today’s meeting, several members may reiterate the need to find a political solution to the current crisis, call for the convening of elections and emphasise the role of international initiatives such as the Oslo process.
Some members are also likely to stress the importance of delivering humanitarian aid to Venezuela in accordance with humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence). They may also refer to the dire situation of Venezuelan refugees, and call for an increase in international assistance for their support. In that regard, some members may mention the donor conference planned for 26 May organised by the EU in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency in support of Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
More than four million Venezuelans have left the country in the past five years, the majority of whom have settled in neighbouring countries. Following the severe downturn in economic activity in their host countries due to the spread of COVID-19, many lost their livelihoods and are facing hunger and lack of access to medical care. According to OCHA, the dire economic situation caused by the pandemic has prompted more than 40,000 Venezuelans to return home, creating fresh needs for further assistance from humanitarian agencies in the provision of shelter and medical supplies to returnees.
This will be the third time that Council members have discussed Venezuela in the past month. On 22 April, members engaged on this issue at the request of Russia during “any other business” following Venezuela’s 3 April letter to the Council (S/2020/277) referring to the US announcement that it would deploy warships to the western Caribbean Sea. The letter maintained that the US disingenuously described this deployment as a part of its counter-narcotics efforts in the western hemisphere, whereas according to Venezuela it represented “a new action framed in the plans of military aggression against Venezuela”. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas Miroslav Jenča delivered the briefing, describing the political divisiveness in the country and recalling the Secretary-General’s offer to provide “good offices” if requested by the government and the opposition.
On 28 April, members held an informal closed VTC to discuss the humanitarian situation in the country, at the request of the Council’s EU member countries (Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany). In her briefing, Reena Ghelani, OCHA’s Director for Operations, stated that the “humanitarian situation in the country remains serious”, with the population in Venezuela facing challenges in accessing food, medicine and basic services such as electricity and safe water. Ghelani called for enhanced funding for the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan and said that a more regular presence for international non-governmental aid organizations in Venezuela was needed. She further observed that early quarantine and response measures by national authorities had helped keep COVID-19 cases down in Venezuela, which has recorded 618 cases at time of writing; some members commended the government’s response to the coronavirus. Ghelani nonetheless warned that if the virus spreads, there will be a substantial strain on the fragile health system and the economic crisis will likely deepen. At the meeting, South Africa and other countries argued for the waiving of sanctions on Venezuela in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Some members emphasised the political origins of the current crisis, and also called for enhanced access to humanitarian assistance.