Venezuela, Left Home Alone

by Daniela Flamini

In this Nov. 5, 2016 photo, Virginia Vargas rests with her 1-day-old baby in the maternity ward at the public hospital in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. According to obstetrician Javier Vegas, his hospital lacks basic supplies, so doctors have to wash and reuse materials like sutures, and many new mothers get infections as a result. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is dire, with severe shortages leading to mass starvation, extraordinary inflation leading to poverty and unemployment, unprecedented government and police corruption leading to violence and crime, and unrestricted government action resulting in stifled freedom of speech and a terrified, helpless population.

As it seems that any involvement or intervention in Venezuela is a very distant possibility as far as the big global actors go, regional politics and regional organizations may be the best the people have to hope for, though these actors also come with their fair share of limitations.

UNASUR, Unión de Naciones Suramericanas, and OAS, Organization of American States, are the two most prominent regional organizations that have denounced the actions of Maduro’s government, which have created a dying socialist country full of corruption at every bureaucratic level. But they have been incapable of enforcing any real change in the government’s inhumane policies. In June of 2016, “OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said the government in Caracas was responsible for the near-collapse of Venezuela’s economy and had resisted offers of humanitarian help to rescue the country from its downward spiral of chaos and violence.” Almagro urged OAS’s other member states to take action to “back up meditation efforts” between Maduro’s government and its opposition, but the organization did not vote on whether Venezuela has violated the principles of OAS’s charter. In January of 2017, UNASUR stepped in and tried once again to repair this dialogue between Venezuelan government and opposition, but no tangible improvements have come of these meetings.

The limited capacities of surrounding Latin American countries have in affecting the crisis is the alliance many of them have with Maduro as well as their dependency on Venezuelan resources. Specifically, many Caribbean nations “receive subsidized Venezuelan energy,” and Cuba even provides the Maduro government with intelligence and other advisory services in exchange for such favors. Havana is “economically reliant on dwindling shipments of cheap Venezuelan oil,” and unless it is somehow compensated for this resource by an outside actor or other country, Cuba will not turn its back on Venezuela. Ecuador and Bolivia are also “staunch supporters” of the Maduro administration, and are unlikely to do anything soon that will sever ties between themselves and Venezuela.

Other countries have each, for different reasons, remained fairly aloof to the steadily worsening humanitarian and economic crisis that is Venezuela. Mexico, given its lack of vital interests in Venezuela, is currently unwilling to act, probably out of reluctance of antagonizing the United States. Colombia has had many recent tensions with the Maduro government over issues that have risen from their shared border, including smuggled resources as well as floods of Venezuelan people crossing to Columbia to escape their desperate situations.

In this Nov. 3, 2016 photo, the relative of a public hospital patient pushes water out of the emergency room after flooding triggered by heavy rain in Cumana, Sucre state, Venezuela. The hospital lacks medicine and beds, and the lack of hygiene is so serious that some patients who come to the ER end up dying from a bacterial infection caught there. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Paraguay and Peru are very disconnected from Venezuelan political life, while Uruguay and Costa Rica lack the necessary power and leverage to “put any real pressure on Venezuela.”

Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are the three actors who are most likely to efficiently and effectively have any influence, but, again, the complexities of their own individual politics have resulted in their aloofness. Volatile political conditions in all three countries have caused that they most recently remain silent.

When Venezuela inevitably collapses (inflation is predicted to hit 1,500% by the end of this year) it should be regional actors, not more distant international ones, who step in to aid the reconstruction of the country and the care-taking of its people. Until now, no state or international organization has seemed to find the grounds from which to make any impact on the actions of the Maduro regime. Though there is some hope for the presidential elections of 2018, the last few months have been enough to ensure that without stronger and more threatening international intervention, the elections will be another round of corrupt politics that result in the securing of Maduro’s power.

The time will soon come when Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and perhaps the other Latin American countries who are no doubt lacking in resources will have to put aside their individual stakes and come to the aid of a dying Venezuelan people. The question remains whether they choose to remain silent and motionless until that collapse.