Tens of thousands of Venezuelan students took to the streets of Caracas to peacefully protest against an inefficient government in February 2014. Shortage of food and medicine, and the high rates of corruption and crime were among the many on-going problems for which the protesters demanded solutions. The Venezuelan government responded to these demonstrations with extreme violence and repression; thus resulting in 17 deaths and hundreds of injured and imprisoned students. Taking into consideration these events and the country’s track record of human rights violations, its recent election to the U.N. Security Council appears completely incongruent and concerning not only to the vast majority of Venezuelans, but also to the international community. How will the Venezuelan state manage to engage in global peacekeeping and security missions when it has domestically been the perpetrator of constitutional abuses and fundamental rights violations on its people for over 15 years?
As the uncontested nominee for the South American and Caribbean region and with an overwhelming majority of 181 votes from U.N. member states, on October 16, 2014 Venezuela secured a seat in the U.N. Security Council for the 2015–16 period. While the socialist government and its U.N. representatives celebrate this triumph, many Venezuelans see these results as a slap in their faces.
The fact that a country with one of the highest levels of crime, censorship, and corruption in the world has been given the opportunity to represent a region already in decline is preposterous. Venezuela ranked as the least secure country in the world with a score of 41 on a scale from 0 to 100, according to Gallup’s 2013 Law and Order Index. Similarly, another report published in 2013 showed that Venezuela came out with the second highest homicide rate in the world with a total of 24,763 murders—over twice as many deaths as in Iraq for that year. Moreover, Venezuela has been repeatedly ranked in the top 20 of the most corrupt countries for the past several years, as reported by Transparency International.
As the Venezuelan government continues to incarcerate opposition political leaders and severely censure the private media, the civilian population heavily relies on actions from other countries—such as sanctions on government officials and peacemaking interventions—to bring upon justice and peace. Shortly after the February demonstrations, Leopoldo Lopez, one of the most prominent opposition leaders, was unjustly jailed for criticizing president Maduro’s repressive regime. This is often the case for any political leader whose views do not align with the government’s “socialism of the 21st century.” Antonio Ledezma, another opposition leader and mayor of Caracas, was recently arrested for seemingly arbitrary charges.
The extreme war against the private and international media has limited the amount of non-distorted information that could leave the country. Similarly to what happened during the Arab Spring, people have now been using social media to denounce the situation and make their voices heard around the world. This global social media campaign has, to a degree, succeeded in bringing awareness of the oppression outside national borders.
Given all of this, how can we explain and make sense of Venezuela’s popularity in the United Nations? The evident answer that comes to mind is that national political and economic interests of many member states have clearly overshadowed one of the core missions of the United Nations: the protection of human rights.
Venezuela has been building a network of international support since Chavez’s accession to power in 1999. The country has been giving away oil to its political allies in the region—many of which have authoritarian tendencies as well—and it has strengthened its ties in the Middle East—partly as a collateral benefit of a decline of U.S. support in the region. In addition, Chavez and now president Maduro and their team have eloquently disseminated their socialist political project in South America. This is particularly true if we look at Chavez’s role in the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in 2004 and the socialist approach in the political and economic agendas of all the member states.
What can the international community learn from this paradox? Answers are not simple, but there should be a call for immediate action to reconfigure the nomination and voting structure for the Security Council. Furthermore, the United Nations should design and implement an intensive and thorough screening process on nominations and candidates. This examination could be done by looking at data and reports conducted by nongovernmental institutions, such as Transparency International. Although some may argue that this could be a threat to the sovereignty of member states, this would not be the case, since the process would not interfere with the country’s domestic policies. It would, however, limit the country’s power and role in policy making at an international/global scale. This would ideally prevent repressive and violent regimes like Venezuela’s from playing any important roles in peacebuilding and conflict resolution operations around the world.
If the United Nations does not engage in deep reforms of its guidelines and overall internal structure, it will lose its already corroded validity and credibility in the world.
Jesus Miguel Casado is a graduate student at NYU pursuing a MS in Global Affairs (NYU- School of Professional Studies). In 2013 he graduated from Arizona State University with two B.A. degrees in Political Science and Global Studies with a focus in human rights, violence, and conflict. He also completed a certificate in International Studies. His main areas of interest are peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and Latin American studies.