Venezuela Rebukes Tillerson

CBC News / Youtube

Interviewed by Carole MacNeil for CBC Network, Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, discusses the Venezuelan crisis, its upcoming elections, and the response from the US, China, and other Latin-American countries to this crisis. 

Comments by Michael Camilleri:

“The situation in Venezuela is bad and getting worse, it is critical. Venezuela is living through an economic crisis with four-digit inflation and an economy that is shrinking in double digits. It is going through a humanitarian crisis with serious shortages of food and medicine, and it is going through a democratic and governance crisis with levels of violence and repression that are very serious, systematic human rights violations, and a government that has an increasingly tenuous connection to any desire to govern democratically.”

“Systematic mismanagement of the economy by the Venezuelan government over the course of now decades is the source of these problems. This is a country that should be a rich country that has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. Traditionally it was a country that the rest of Latin America looked to as a model with high standards of living, but as a result of having wished away and having spent in a very irresponsible and unsuitable way for many years and a lot of corruption, it now finds itself in a place where it cannot feed its people.”

“The Venezuelan government spent a lot of money in ways that were unsustainable, it spent a lot of money on handouts but not actually creating the conditions for a growing economy that was well diversified and that could withstand low oil prices. That was ok for a while when oil was above one hundred dollars a barrel. But as the price of oil came down and as Venezuelan production dropped, since there was no investment in the oil production infrastructure, now Venezuela finds itself in this extremely dire economic situation.”

“All outside appearances suggests that despite the economic disaster in the country, Maduro’s grip is quite firm. He has been effective at dividing, side-lining, and repressing the opposition. He has been effective at using force to repress peaceful protests, and he has actually used the economic crisis in the country to hold his population hostage, to hold jobs and food hostage to loyalty and support for the regime. By using this combination of repressive methods, and doing away with any semblance of democratic governance in the country, he has managed to, if anything, tighten his grip to power in the last year.”

“The opposition is certainly credible. It represents a lot of different points of views. It has been weakened by the tactics of the Venezuelan government, which have included imprisoning unfairly and unjustly its leaders, by banning them from running for election, by forcing many of these leaders from the country. So they are operating in a very difficult circumstance, in which, if they cannot go to the elections, elections are unfair. That said, when elections do happen, they manage to present a unified candidate and present an alternative for the Venezuelan people. If the elections were fair and free, there is no question that the opposition would be winning these elections, but the elections have not been free and fair.”

“[Tillerson’s comments on the possibility of a military coup in Venezuela] were a little too casual, maybe designed to send a subtle message to disgruntled cornels in Venezuela, but I think they are ill-considered. They had the effect of diving the US from some of its allies in the region on the issue of Venezuela, as well as allowing the Venezuelan government to wave the flag of anti-imperialism. They also reflected a lack of historical perspective – when militaries in Latin America have intervened in politics, it has not been to restore democracy and peace. It has tended to be to grab power for themselves and often stay in powers as dictators for years if not decades.”

“Venezuela finds itself increasingly isolated. In its own hemisphere, it is almost without allies and the allies it does have are very weak. US sanctions now are being accompanied by sanctions from Canada and the European Union. There is an important group of Latin American countries called the Lima Group that is meeting regularly to analyze the situation and isolate Venezuela. So the country doesn’t have many friends left and it is increasingly forced to turn to China and Russia as its friends and lenders of last resort. Certainly, that is troubling because it has allowed Maduro to keep the money flowing to a certain extent because he has had access to Chinese credit.”

“I think we can say that Venezuela is in a stage of economic freefall. It is a country that is still producing about a 1.5 million barrels of oil a day and that does generate some cash flow and it gives the government some ability to pay its people and provide food and well-being for at least its loyalists in the population. But certainly, it is on a deep downward slide in terms of governance.”