Venezuela is mired in a protracted crisis that only its people can resolve, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council during a 20 May videoconference meeting*.
“The path of negotiation seems to be stalled,” said Rosemary A. DiCarlo. Attempts at reaching a negotiated solution have been unsuccessful, despite significant international facilitation efforts. “In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, an agreement that strengthens democratic governance, with full respect for human rights and the rule of law, is more urgent than ever.”
She said the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for a negotiated solution among Venezuelans and offered his good offices if requested. “We remain convinced that a real negotiation among Venezuela’s main political actors is the only way forward.” She called on them to resume serious negotiations, and all Member States to stand behind this call.
She briefed the Council at length on the contents of a letter sent by Caracas to the Council President, which stated that, on 3 and 4 May, armed mercenaries and terrorists — “organized, trained, financed and protected” by Colombia and the United States — illegally entered the Venezuelan territory, with the aim of “perpetrating criminal acts” against that country’s people and carrying out selective assassinations of senior Government officials, including President Nicolás Maduro.
Continuing, the Under-Secretary-General said the letter pointed to the involvement of an “extremist sector of the Venezuelan opposition”, referring explicitly to Juan Guaidó. The operation was “frustrated by the Venezuelan authorities”, the letter states, and as of 13 May, the Prosecutor General of Venezuela had confirmed the arrest of 47 people. Colombia and the United States have rejected the charges, she said, as has the leader of the opposition, who called for establishing a “national emergency Government”.
She said there is now heightened concern about the stand-off and absence of any serious negotiations between the main political parties. Until restrictions imposed by the coronavirus forced the suspension of its work, the Applications Committee of the National Assembly — established to select members of the National Electoral Council — was the only formal space bringing together Government and opposition lawmakers. It was poised to lay the groundwork for agreements on the electoral calendar and process. Legislative elections are due before the end of 2020, she recalled.
Noting that opposition members have called for presidential elections to take place together with legislative elections, she called on the main political actors to engage in a negotiation to create conditions conducive to the holding of a credible, inclusive and participatory electoral process.
On the humanitarian front, she said the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to request $750 million, in part to support the COVID-19 response. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has received reports that political leaders and journalists reporting on COVID-19 are being detained, and that threats have been made against health workers for expressing concern about the lack of equipment to fight the pandemic or for providing information on the number of cases.
She pointed to nationwide fuel shortages as another concern — an operational constraint for humanitarian organizations trying to sustain their response — and one the Government attributes to unilateral sanctions. While social and economic indicators show that the economic crisis in Venezuela predates the imposition of sanctions, the measures are exacerbating an already critical situation.
Recalling the Secretary-General’s 26 March appeal to waive sanctions that could undermine countries’ capacity to respond to COVID-19, she said the United Nations will continue strengthening its human rights and humanitarian actions in Venezuela, as well as its response to Venezuelan refugees and migrants outside the country. As of early May, close to 5.1 million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela, with more than 80 per cent of them now across Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates offered their views on Venezuela’s letter to the Council and events surrounding its entrenched economic crisis and political deadlock.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said the situation is unfolding around, not inside Venezuela. The breach of its sovereignty was a direct threat to its peace, as well as that of the region, and it violated the Charter of the United Nations. In early May, 60 armed people entered Venezuela from Colombia on 2 vessels; 47 were arrested, among them, 2 United States citizens who said their mission was to train forces in Colombia for military operations in Venezuela, and to take control of an airport to transport Mr. Maduro to the United States. There was a $200 million contract signed on 16 October 2019 by a deputy to Juan Guaidó and the CEO of Silvercorp. The aim was “to remove the current Venezuelan regime”. The operation was to be financed through Venezuelan sovereign funds expropriated by the United States from Caracas and kept in United States banks.
He said a financial document dated 28 April was published demanding that Mr. Guaidó make a $1.5 million payment to Silvercorp. Questioning Colombia’s role in the events, he said the invasion was ultimately exposed and defused by Venezuela’s armed forces. “This is an act of aggression and it must be condemned,” he asserted. Venezuela has warned about the training of paramilitary troops in neighbouring countries, he said, stressing that resolution 239 (1967) appears to have been violated. The United States has a history of treating South America as its backyard, as in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the 1973 coup of Salvador Allende and the 1986 Iran-Contra file. “Today, Venezuela is on the United States menu,” he said. The Council must condemn the attempted invasion into Venezuela’s sovereign territory and support the rights of its people to resolve their political differences themselves, including in choosing their own leaders in accordance with the Constitution. All parties should refrain from ultimatums and coercive measures, he said before reading out a draft press statement prepared by his country to address these issues.
The representative of the United States called the letter that prompted the meeting a “long-winded compilation of fantastical accusations and demonstratable falsehoods”. The Russian Federation has indulged its client regime’s habit of blaming others. “The United States has no plans to cooperate with such attempts to avoid responsibility,” she said, noting that, since 2018, the regime has overseen 7,000 extrajudicial killings, used food as a political weapon, engaged in torture and detained journalists for attempting to inform the public about COVID‑19. It would be inconvenient for it to acknowledge its decisions to murder, traffic and starve Venezuela’s people. Instead, it distracts with claims of a supposed coup attempt. “The United States has not entered Venezuela and categorically rejects any claims to the contrary,” she said, denying its involvement in the alleged incursion. It appears that the Russian Federation and Cuba are violating Venezuela’s sovereignty, routinely sending military officers and mercenaries into the country. “We encourage the Council to look closely into the role of the Maduro regime in creating this supposed crisis,” she said, and into interference by Cuban intelligence. She reiterated Mr. Guaidó’s call for unbiased investigations into round-ups, extrajudicial killings and torture. The alleged operation was publicly noted almost a week before it unfolded in a public address by the regime, which laid out its plans. The focus must remain on Venezuela’s people, she said, the return of democracy, aid delivery and the undeniable abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said the current situation is an enduring feature in the hearts and minds of people across the Caribbean who stand in solidarity with Venezuela. The attempted incursion is only the latest in a series of unwarranted aggressions meted out against Venezuela over two decades. The internal political dispute does not constitute a threat to international peace and security, nor threaten the territorial integrity or political independence of any State. These flagrant violations of international law undermine internal political processes. Now, following the $15 million bounty for the capture of an elected leader, new sources of instability have created a more volatile environment. An inclusive national dialogue is needed that meets people’s legitimate needs — free from geopolitical machinations designed to interfere with the outcomes of the internal political process. The convergence of external economic and political forces to advance the “regime‑change agenda” places unnecessary strain on the socioeconomic fabric and produces immense suffering. She called for an end to all aggressions against Venezuela’s sovereign rights and political freedoms. As the multilateral system faces a credibility crisis, “we cannot afford to deviate from the rules and norms of international cooperation”, she said, expressing support for the proposed press statement, which her delegation considers to be factual and balanced.
The representative of France said the use of force must be strongly condemned. Respect for international law applies to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — and Venezuela has an obligation to guarantee the normal functioning of all foreign embassies in Caracas. France, with its European Union and Latin American partners, has engaged in diplomatic efforts to promote resolution of the crisis through dialogue, taking into account the results of the Oslo/Barbados process. Venezuela’s people must be able to freely choose their future, and the prerogatives of the National Assembly must be respected, in accordance with their country’s Constitution. Millions have fled. The European Union will hold a donor’s conference on 26 May to support the neighbouring countries welcoming them. The response must be collective, under United Nations leadership and take into account COVID-19, whose impact in the region could be terrible. He urged all actors to ensure unhindered aid access and to reject politicization in that regard. Venezuela must implement all recommendations by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, particularly on the release of political prisoners, he added.
The representative of the Dominican Republic rejected any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or independence of any country. Santo Domingo’s interest in resolving the Venezuela crisis was demonstrated when it facilitated a dialogue between the Government and the opposition to “clear a path” for a democratic process. Such efforts were made in solidarity and based on the belief that only through dialogue and peaceful means could a solution be found. He condemned acts of terrorism under any circumstances, recognizing the need to combat such acts, as well as the illicit trafficking of drugs, money and small arms and light weapons by international criminal groups. While the regional implications of the crisis are great, they are greater for Venezuelans, with refugees who have endured the crisis for years now paying the highest price. He expressed serious concern over the dire humanitarian situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that priorities must be established on providing and facilitating assistance and taking measures to contain the virus. A democratic transition — carried out through free, fair and credible elections — must be at the centre of all international efforts, in full respect of the Charter of the United Nations — and of Venezuelans themselves, including those living outside their country. Given the accusations presented, he also called for an independent investigation before jumping prematurely to conclusions.
Tunisia’s representative said the situation in Venezuela — which is characterized by a tense political standoff and socioeconomic meltdown — is at risk of being seriously exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting with concern the absence of any space for serious negotiations, he voiced regret that the Council, despite the good intentions of its members, is not speaking with the same voice. “The divisions in the Council will not help us walk Venezuela to stability,” he said, adding that a negotiated political solution is even more important in the context of the pandemic. The actors should put aside mistrust and animosities to work on durable solutions, he added.
South Africa’s representative reiterated that only a Venezuelan-led political dialogue will resolve the political challenges facing the country. The international community should support an internal peace process and resolution without imposition or preconditions, he said, emphasizing the need to respect Venezuela’s Constitution. He urged all parties to respect the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence in the provision of assistance, calling for the removal of economic sanctions.
Viet Nam’s representative expressed concern over reports of recent armed incursions in Venezuela, while voicing his delegation’s opposition of the use or threat of use of force against the sovereignty and independence of any State. Calling on the parties to exercise restraint, he said it is the Council’s responsibility to uphold the fundamental principles of the Charter. Viet Nam supports dialogue between the Constitutional Government and relevant parties in Venezuela, expressing concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating the situation. The most important task now is to combat the virus and provide humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans in need, he said, also voicing support for the Secretary-General’s appeal to waive sanctions that can undermine the capacity of States to respond to the pandemic.
Germany’s representative said his country is aware of the Maduro regime’s attempts to instrumentalize reported incidents to divert the world's attention, recalling that the regime is responsible for the political and economic crisis. He called for the restoration of democratic institutions and the rule of law through free, transparent and credible presidential elections, noting that the European Union, through the International Contact Group, stands ready to support this process. Germany also supports the proposal for a transitional Government for Venezuela, representing both sides. Humanitarian actors need unimpeded and sustained access and he urged the regime to grant access nationwide. Aid must never be exploited for political purposes, he said, clarifying that European Union sanctions on Venezuela do not apply to humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance.
The representative of Belgium said the incident described in Venezuela’s letter and in the Russian Federation’s request for today’s meeting raises questions. “Where is the line between fact and interpretation?”, he asked. “Who is benefiting most from this situation?” He condemned the use of mercenaries in all circumstances, as well as the use or threat of force, urging respect for sovereignty. He expressed concern over the human rights situation in Venezuela, absence of the rule of law and lack of democracy, and called for free and fair Presidential and parliamentary elections. There can only be a political solution to the ongoing crisis. The politicization of humanitarian aid is unacceptable and he called for unrestricted access, noting that the European Union is the largest donor to Venezuela.
The representative of the United Kingdom described the incident as an independent operation by a rogue group of mercenaries in speedboats. He rejected the “ridiculous notion peddled by the Russian Federation” that it was an attempt supported by the United States and Colombia to assassinate Mr. Maduro and impose a substitute Government. “We see no evidence that the United States or Colombia were involved in this operation,” he said, welcoming Washington, D.C.’s, launch of an investigation into Silvercorp, and an inquiry into events by Colombia. The only positive way forward is through a negotiated, democratic and peaceful solution stemming from free and fair elections in accordance with international norms. So far, Mr. Guaidó has engaged in several dialogues, but the Maduro regime has rejected the United States democratic transition framework without considering its potential. The regime attempts to distract from the humanitarian catastrophe it has brought upon Venezuela’s people by focusing on the thousands who have returned to the country. It continues to repress the opposition and stifle the media, failing to provide basic rights to detainees. He called on the Maduro regime to treat detainees in accordance with international human rights standards, allow unhindered humanitarian access and to depoliticize aid.
The representative of Indonesia said dialogue, reconciliation and negotiation are required to find a durable solution in Venezuela. Underlining the principles of non-interference, sovereignty and territorial integrity, he appealed to all parties, within and outside of Venezuela, to put serious efforts into reducing tensions. It is critical that the Council stand united and take the right action, he added, recalling that the last time members met to discuss Venezuela they were not even able to agree on a set of press elements. Despite their divergent views, they should seek consensus. He called on all parties to accept the good offices offered by the Secretary-General, while urging them to refrain from any action that could result in a further deterioration of the already fragile situation. “If we really care about the people of Venezuela […] we must demonstrate a united front in the Council and find a common ground,” he said.
The representative of Venezuela described terrorist and mercenary attacks that took place on 3 May in his country. He cited a 13 May letter to the Council which offers irrefutable evidence that the United States and Colombia facilitated the planning, training, financing and protection of those involved, aiming to kill innocent civilians, senior Government officials and President Maduro. “This is a manifest violation of the United Nations Charter,” he said, as well as resolutions 239 (1967), 1269 (1999), 1373 (2001) and 1456 (2003).
He said the United States and Colombia have refused contact with Venezuelan authorities, violating bilateral treaties governing criminal matters. Venezuela is aware of other attempts by mercenaries to commit crimes in other areas of the country, he said, citing a 14 May attack against the national water system, which breaches resolution 2341 (2017) on protection of critical infrastructure. Evidence continues to point to Washington, D.C., and Bogotá.
He denounced statements made by the United States on 13 and 14 May that Caracas does not cooperate with counter-terrorism efforts, and that consideration is being given to designating Venezuela’s security agencies as terrorist organizations. The United States has admitted to exerting pressure on companies to stop supplying gasoline to Venezuela, and further, threatened military force against five Iranian fuel tankers en route to his country. If materialized, that threat would constitute an armed aggression against a civilian Iranian vessel — and the Venezuelan people. “A naval blockade is an act of war under international law,” he warned, particularly if unauthorized by the Security Council.
He also denounced the existence of a “Venezuela Reconstruction Unit” in the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth Office, where discussions were held with Venezuelan opposition members and plotters of the 3 May incursion on providing preferred status to United Kingdom companies in Venezuela. Along with the pillage of $1.7 billion in Venezuelan gold by the Bank of England, this proves that London is an accomplice in the colonial looting of Venezuelan wealth, he said. United Kingdom warships off Venezuela’s territorial waters — along with those from the Netherlands, France and the United States — are disguised as anti-drug‑trafficking operations, but actually aimed at illegally establishing a naval blockade.
Just hours ago, he said the Colombian Los Pachenca drug cartel, which supported the 3 May mercenaries, said it knows the locations of Colombian and United States warships in the Caribbean. The cartel is using this information to avoid those counter-narcotic operations. “This proves that the real purpose of warships in my region is not to fight drug trafficking, but to attack Venezuela,” he insisted. Behind it all is the same mind that applied this strategy in Nicaragua in the 1980s: Eliot Abrams, one of the darkest characters in the region’s history.
Citing General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX), which defines aggression as “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State,” he pressed the Security Council to determine the threat posed by these warmongering policies, recognize the acts of aggression committed against his country and demand that the perpetrators end their crimes. “The United States and its allies are creating a lawless space in international relations,” he said. The Council must enforce the notion of legality. “Our country does not represent a threat to anyone,” he insisted. “Venezuela is not for sale, it will never be a colony.”
The representative of Colombia said Bogotá, and more than 50 countries and multilateral organizations, have disavowed the illegitimate Maduro regime for more than a year, recognizing interim President Juan Guaidó. As part of the Lima Group, Colombia supports efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. Colombia’s relationship with Venezuela is strategic, with tight bonds — forged by proximity — guiding their international policies. Both share an extensive border described as “the most alive border in America”. For two decades, Colombia’s policies have aimed at integrating and supporting the development of border regions. However, these efforts stand in stark contrast to Venezuela’s permanent support for terrorism and collusion with transnational organized crime.
Recalling that both [former President Hugo] Chávez and Mr. Maduro have turned conspiracy theories into core tenets of their propaganda, he said it is the regime’s hostile policy against Colombian institutions that contravenes international law. Venezuela has gone from being among the most prosperous nations in Latin America to being widely considered a failed State. Between 2014 and 2019, it lost two thirds of its wealth, hyperinflation stood near 10,000 per cent in 2019 and oil production fell from 3 million barrels a day in 1999 to 622,000 a day in April 2020. Half of its population lives in multidimensional poverty. “Who could believe that the country with one of the largest oil, gas and minerals reserves in the world would end up in scarcity?”, he wondered.
Moreover, he said that, since 2018, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented the increasing repression of political dissidents, inhumane treatment of detainees, beatings, electric shocks, suffocation and threats of sexual assault. More than 5 million citizens have abandoned their homeland due to poverty and repression; 1.8 million of them have established residence in Colombia. Confronted with this challenge — ranked as the world’s second-largest displacement crisis — Colombia has acted with unfailing solidarity.
In response to a 23 February 2019 call by Venezuela’s National Assembly and interim President Guaidó, he said an effort was made to provide food and medicine. With Brazil, Curaçao, Chile, Paraguay, United States and Puerto Rico, Colombia allocated supplies at the border city of Cucuta, intending to deliver them to volunteers who would carry them to Venezuelan territory. The Maduro regime responded with violence. Paramilitary armed groups known as the “colectivos” frustrated the delivery and border tensions led to the expulsion of all Colombian diplomatic and consular personnel. Diplomatic ties were broken.
He said the Lima Group has appealed for a democratic transition that would allow for restoring the rule of law and the economy, a process that must take place peacefully under Venezuela’s Constitution. The European Union has promoted initiatives, such as the International Contact Group, while Norway and Sweden have worked to find solutions through dialogue. As corruption provides enormous proceeds to Mr. Maduro and his collaborators, losing control of various activities would affect their lucrative businesses, he said, noting that Transparency International has ranked Venezuela as the most corrupt country in Latin America and the fifth most corrupt in the world.
While the Maduro regime accuses Colombia of tolerating the commission of crimes that could affect Venezuela, he said “nothing is farther from reality”. Colombia’s law enforcement and criminal prosecution activities are in the document he delivered today to the Council President. “Colombia has never been an aggressor country,” he insisted. It has devoted its efforts to strengthening its institutions, consolidating its capacities to ensure security and raising the quality of life of its citizens.
Also participating in the meeting were representatives of China, Estonia and Niger.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.