Venezuela Today: Perspectives from the Government

Ben Raderstorf / Inter-American Dialogue

Venezuela is currently mired in the worst economic and social crisis since the rise of chavismo in the country nearly 20 years ago. Recently, President Nicolás Maduro declared a state of emergency to confront what he called threats to the stability of the country. In the middle of tense relationships with the opposition as well as with the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Dialogue invited Bernardo Álvarez, Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS and Vice Minister for North America at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the government’s perspective on the country’s current situation.

The event began with introductory remarks by Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue. Ambassador Álvarez’s initial comments focused on what he called “a huge campaign against Venezuela.” Noting that there have been 1,384 negative articles on Venezuela in the recent past, Álvarez contended that this is no coincidence and that the campaign involves different forces, from some opposition parties in Venezuela to media outlets. The idea, he asserted, is to “present a situation where foreign intervention is needed” and noted that similar accusations have been made of Venezuela in the past.

Perhaps the most discussed issue was the relationship between the Venezuelan government and the OAS, which has featured confrontations between Secretary General Luis Almagro and President Maduro. Álvarez called the discussion around whether the OAS would invoke the Democratic Charter a “soap opera,” noting that Almagro is not impartial and is going “beyond his duties.” When asked about the implications of the upcoming publication of a report by the Secretary General that may attempt to invoke the Charter, Álvarez was emphatic that the report had not been requested by any of the member states. “Almagro is not president of the Americas, he is an employee of the OAS,” Álvarez argued, adding that he does not have the right to take the case of Venezuela to the Permanent Council personally. “He lost his opportunity as a diplomat because he took a position and acted on his own,” Álvarez said.

Responding to a question about whether Venezuela would remain in the OAS if Almagro did invoke the Charter, Álvarez was emphatic that he does not have the authority to do so, citing article 18 of the Charter, which states that only a member state can bring a case forward. The tense relations between Venezuela and the OAS notwithstanding, Álvarez declared Venezuela’s intention to remain in the OAS. He argued that multilateral discussions with the United States and Canada will help Venezuela solve its problems and the only space to do so is the OAS.

Álvarez admitted that Venezuela does have problems, such as having lost 70% of its oil income and experiencing a 60% reduction in imports in the last three years. “This is the end of the rentist economy,” he declared, noting that although Venezuela had successes in social welfare and inclusion, this type of spending is not sustainable when you depend on oil. He also acknowledged that the government’s electoral defeat in the December elections was an expression of anger from voters due to the worsening economic situation of the country. Nevertheless, Álvarez refuted claims that Venezuela was experiencing a humanitarian crisis and attributed them to an international campaign against Venezuela, since “humanitarian crises are always linked to foreign intervention.”

Álvarez also discussed the recall referendum being promoted by the National Assembly, acknowledging that such mechanism is always a possibility and noting that Chávez himself won a referendum vote in 2004 to remain in power. Nevertheless, he argued that it should not be used for political retaliation. Álvarez acknowledged that if all the processes for the activation of the referendum are followed, then it will be held. Asked about recent remarks by Maduro and his Vice-President arguing that a referendum would not take place, Álvarez noted that most of the recent comments about the referendum have come from the National Electoral Council and that it should remain that way.

In terms of potential dialogue with the opposition, Álvarez admitted that while open dialogue has not been as successful, implicit dialogue always exists and noted that three former presidents have been invited to lead an initiative to promote dialogue between the government and the opposition. Nevertheless, “they have been under media attack simply for accepting to participate,” Álvarez noted. Additionally, the government is currently waiting for UNASUR to enact a series of recommendations to help fix the economy, another sign that the government is willing to engage in dialogue with different actors, according to Álvarez.

Asked whether the government sees value in releasing political prisoners given the economic and political crisis the country is mired in, Álvarez asserted that such process is very complex and that the government “cannot release them without violating our own Constitution.” He noted that the appeals process is open to all prisoners and stressed that these cases should be treated as legal open processes. He further clarified that not all prisoners relating to the protests belong to the opposition, as government officials have been prosecuted and imprisoned as well.

Álvarez underlined his optimism about Venezuela’s future, stressing that while they were slow to react to a changing economic climate, they are now taking pertinent measures to mend the economy, such as importing $2.2 billion in medicine. Moreover, he affirmed that oil prices are once again on the rise.  “Things will improve,” Álvarez claimed.

 

 



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