A refreshed move to instil more pressure on the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro came on the 22nd July when the Lima Group—a group of a dozen Latin America countries along with Canada—called for fresh elections. With roughly 30 million people in need of aid, food, and water, the country is undergoing its worst bout of economic and political hardship in its 108-year history. While the country undergoes an intense episode of hostility, the international community is presently divided over the solution with what seems to be a revivification of an old Cold War realpolitik.
Earlier this month the United Nations released a report damning the Maduro government’s treatment of its citizens, calling for an immediate cessation to grave human rights violations. While some have condemned external sanctions on Venezuela by the U.S.A., EU and Canada, there is no denying that the actions of Maduro are the cause of the present level of crisis in the Latin American nation. Echoing the rhetoric and policy approach of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, Maduro has categorically failed to continue the work of his much-loved predecessor. While Chavez’s rule was marred by his failed military uprising in 1992 and his heavily restrictive media control—Maduro brings a new tinge of authoritarianism that has led to one of the region’s worst humanitarian crises.
Unlike Chavez, Maduro is unpopular within Venezuela as well as the international community. His support amongst the international community owes to the fact that Russia, China and Iran are contesting the great-power status of the United States. Russia, China and Iran support the Maduro government out of a desire to contest U.S.A. influence in the region – nothing more. As such, a historical trend is re-emerging where great powers treat the region as a ground of contention between themselves at the cost of the nation itself – A New Cold War.
In an unfortunate set of events for the Venezuelan people, the plight of their suffering is forming the backdrop for a new cold war between two rival powers – the U.S.A. and China. With the U.S.A. administration increasingly sceptical of its role in international affairs short of economic sanctions, China has sought to increase its involvement throughout the world both politically and economically. The question as to why China has chosen to help a small Latin American nation dates back to 2010 when China increased its trade relations in the region. Through increasing its trade portfolio with Venezuela from approximately $500 000 to $7.5 billion, the seeds of a trade relationship were planted some ten years ago.
China is not the only country to have increased its presence in the region, however. Russia has done similar albeit in a less subtle way. Prior to the end of the Cold War, the USSR had a keen interest in the region supporting both Cuba and Nicaragua in the late 80s. Presently the Russian interest in Venezuela is in providing military and economic support compared to the old USSR that coupled both of these with an ideological one in the region in general. Russia is only capable of limited support, however, the rise of Chinese soft power in the region provides a clear path of opportunity for the Asian powerhouse to develop further relationships in the region. This will likely mean that Maduro will remain in power for as long as China wants to contend with the U.S.A. in the Latin American region. As such, the cause of improving the human rights situation in Venezuela may take longer than what the international community desires.
While the remainder of the international community supports Guaido’s bid for President, his likelihood of success is heavily dependent on international support and whether or not he can obtain enough domestic support. It seems as though his preference is for the latter given the recent actions by the National Assembly in rejoining the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. This small act is itself a sign of Guaido’s continued interest in pursuing a course of non-violence in attempting to take the Presidency arguing that the TIAR “In itself, it is not the solution – it obliges us to take to the streets with greater force to exercise our majority.” Venezuela walked away from this agreement in 2012 and despite the fact that it has little to say on human rights, its diplomatic clout cannot be underestimated. Now that Venezuela has signed the agreement it gives the Guaido movement a much-needed morale boost—ensuring that any act of hostility on Venezuela has the collective defence capabilities of all parties in the treaty. While in itself not providing any specific protections for human rights in Venezuela, it acts as an assurance for Guaido’s security if he does indeed gain the presidency.
The developments in Venezuela have had a spillover effect in Colombia to the extent that the Colombian Government is now receiving help from the U.S.A. in defence and military capability. Colombia’s fears are also bolstered by the fact that Maduro recently extended an offer of help to one of Colombia’s oldest guerilla movements in the National Liberation Army (ELN) by helping them enforce the eastern border of Colombia to work with the Venezuelan Armed Forces who are one of Maduro’s key partners. In what is clearly a flagrant attempt to prevent opposition forces fleeing the country, Maduro has held onto power in almost every way imaginable. As it stands there have been approximately four million refugees who have fled the Bolivarian Republic into its neighbour. If the situation continues unfolding in the way it has then it is likely that Colombia’s role in the crisis will be increased, not only diplomatically but economically and militarily as well.
Despite his iron-fist approach, Maduro continues to receive a certain amount of support both at home and abroad. His support within the country itself comes from the military and supporters of Chavismo who believe that Maduro is the best candidate to carry the legacy of Hugo Chavez forward. What this ignores, however, is the reality of Maduro’s grasp on power, his anti-democratic approach and his disdain for human rights – all things his predecessor was meant to have upheld and valued. The Supreme Court of Venezuela has upheld that Maduro is the rightful president owing to the fact that it is stacked in favour of the authoritarian leader. Some left-leaning governments in South America have supported Maduro, however, a majority of the region’s nations have outlined support for Guaido.
The fact of the matter is that Chavismo—the legacy of Hugo Chavez—is over. Those that cling to the legacy of the old President run the risk of undermining the value of human rights, individual freedoms and economic success that Venezuela is capable of achieving. This won’t come through Maduro. If Guaido can garner enough support both domestically and internationally, then the livelihood and human rights of Venezuelans stand a greater chance of being protected. Unwavering support for a long-gone legacy won’t improve the situation in Venezuela.
While Guaido continues to build support domestically and internationally, the United Nations ought to take a renewed interest in the direction of international human rights and introduce a vetting process for member states. As of November 2018, authoritarian and repressive states were members of the UN Human Rights Council which included Eritrea, China, Saudi Arabia to name a few. With such a membership the cause of international humanitarian protection and rights takes a backwards step where great powers can jostle for supremacy in a world governed solely by political power absent of any consideration for humanitarian values. While calling out Venezuela’s abuse of human rights, the legitimacy of the claim is significantly undervalued when states like Eritrea and Saudi Arabia are given equal consideration.
The next two or three years will be vital for the future of Venezuelan human rights and indeed the likelihood of a Guaido presidency. While Maduro may continue to receive support from the likes of Russia, China and other international actors his own grasp on power in Venezuela is slowly reaching its limit. With a shift in aid support to Guaido on the behalf of the U.S.A. the chances of his Presidency are increasing by the month. This would provide a new opportunity for the alleviation of poverty, unemployment and restoration to the democratic norms that Venezuela so desperately needs.