WOLA’s David Smilde: Why the U.S. Should Respect Latin American Leadership on Venezuela Crisis
The ever-worsening crisis in Venezuela will be a significant challenge confronting Vice President Mike Pence on his trip to Latin America this Friday. As the 8th annual Summit of the Americas takes place this weekend in Lima, Pence needs to recognize the significant efforts of regional leaders to address the Venezuela crisis and avoid the temptation to take ownership of the issue.
Sliding into default and officially in hyper-inflation, Venezuela’s economy is projected to contract by 15 percent this year. Data from August 2017 showed that 60 percent of Venezuelans went to bed hungry because they could not buy enough food. All of this has led about a million and a half Venezuelans to emigrate, straining the institutions and resources of most countries in the region.
Change does not appear forthcoming from inside Venezuela, as the Maduro government has moved up presidential elections, trying to take advantage of disarray in the opposition as well as a large segment of the population’s disillusionment with the country’s electoral institutions. It is an excruciating situation and will rightfully be at the center of discussion at the summit.
If there has been any upside to the past year, it is the degree to which countries in the region have worked together to pressure Venezuela. During the course of 2017, it was Latin American countries that led the discussion on the application of the Organization for American States’ Democratic Charter on Venezuela. That effort ultimately failed, but after the Maduro government pushed forward with an unconstitutional call to rewrite the constitution, 12 countries in the region — including Canada, Chile and Mexico — came together as the Lima Group. They refused to recognize Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly and have said they will not recognize next month’s presidential election. Two more countries since have joined.
More recently, six countries in the region, led by the Dominican Republic, put together a dialogue process, which was not ultimately successful but generated much more concrete and focused talks than previous efforts. Just last week, Panama likewise sanctioned Venezuelan officials — and immediately suffered reprisals from the Maduro government.
It is hard to overstate how big of a deal it is for Latin American countries to so robustly pressure each other over human rights issues. The idea of sovereignty and non-intervention have been at the very core of Latin American political identity for over a century. In part, this is because Latin America has a long history of abusive leaders who are loathe to point out their peers’ human rights violations lest they themselves become targets of similar critiques.
Read the full op-ed below:
David Smilde is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University.