NEW YORK (March 9, 2021) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) urges Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, to unambiguously condemn the Venezuelan dictatorship for its role in bringing about the country’s current economic and humanitarian crisis. Ms. Douhan’s incomplete and possibly misleading assessment on the effect that targeted sanctions have had in Venezuela effectively whitewash the legacy of one of the most brutal and lawless regimes in the Americas.
On February 16, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan made a statement urging the United States (US), European Union (EU), and other nations, to drop sanctions against Venezuela, claiming that the effects of these punitive measures had been “devastating” on the Venezuelan people. While the list of sanctions is long and the vast majority of them are targeted to specific individuals, the Rapporteur’s statement did not specify which measures in particular led to these effects. It also made no mention of the Venezuelan regime’s responsibility for the ongoing crisis. The statement was issued after a two-week visit to the country and less than six months after UN investigators determined that the Venezuelan government has committed systematic human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity. Ms. Douhan’s visit will be followed by an official report in September 2021.
Several democratic governments, starting with the US in 2014, have sanctioned current and former Venezuelan government officials for their role in gross human rights abuses as well as international drug trafficking. These measures include the freezing of assets in the US as well as travel bans, which have also been implemented by Canada and the EU since 2017. While the EU has also banned the export of arms and related material to Venezuela altogether, it was the US that increased the pressure on Maduro’s regime by targeting state industries and programs, preventing the Venezuelan government from doing business in the US or make use of the US financial system, among others.
“Regrettably, Ms. Douhan’s statements sound dangerously similar to propaganda from the regime, which desperately wants to avoid any responsibility for causing the largest and worst humanitarian crisis in the region’s history, while making sure its cronies continue to plunder the treasury for personal gain. Make no mistake, the dire situation millions of Venezuelans face every single day is the responsibility of the Maduro regime alone,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.
While it is plausible that the more recent sanctions might have had some moderate effect on Venezuela’s oil production — the country’s main source of income — there is clear evidence that sanctions have little to do with Venezuela’s economic catastrophe.
Since the fall of military dictator Perez Jiménez in the 1950s and into the ascent of Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez in 1999, Venezuela was among the most vibrant and stable democracies in the Americas. The election of 1992 coup plotter Chávez to the presidency gave birth to the authoritarian ruling of Chavismo — a political philosophy based on populist and socialist ideals that, in practice, led to economic mismanagement, corruption, and the erosion of democratic institutions.
During his time in power, Chávez curtailed free expression and oversaw the passage of a new constitution that eliminated checks and balances and term limits. He also implemented social welfare programs funded by windfall profits from the oil industry. But staggering corruption, economic mismanagement, price controls, overspending, and dependance on a single commodity made the model unsustainable, and the economy as a whole dysfunctional. By 2010, an economic crisis was budding, and in response Chávez declared an “economic war” — not on corruption, but on local and foreign businesses instead.
Shortly after rigged elections that gave him a fourth term in 2012, Chávez died of cancer, and his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro, assumed the presidency. Under Maduro, Venezuela’s descent into authoritarianism and economic ruin accelerated. By 2014, Venezuela had entered a recession, and is now in the worst peacetime economic crisis the world has seen in decades. Poverty, violence, starvation, and shortages of crucial supplies are now normal. By 2017, almost three-quarters of the population had lost an average of almost 20 pounds, with emergency rooms overwhelmed by cases of severely malnourished children, and citizens scavenging food from trash dumps in the city.
By 2019, 94% of Venezuelans lived in poverty. Access to clean water is limited. Hospitals lack the equipment they need to function, and shortages of medicine mean hundreds of thousands of people are at risk or dying without access to treatments for diseases like cancer, HIV, or diabetes. Preventable diseases like diphtheria, malaria, measles and tuberculosis are on the rise, as are rarer diseases like dengue and yellow fever. The rates of infant and maternal mortality have soared.
Unemployment rates are staggeringly high, and the country faces a housing shortage of millions of homes. Violent crime, especially murder, has become rampant, with Venezuela’s crime rate among the worst in the world. An estimated 10% of the Venezuelan population, close to 3.5 million people, has fled the country. The arrival of the coronavirus in Venezuela in early 2020 only worsened the situation.
The scale of the ongoing economic and humanitarian catastrophe is almost unfathomable. However, the response of Maduro and his regime has been denying that any problems exist, and violently repressing anyone who disagrees. Food aid and access to healthcare is often contingent on political loyalty, with the regime providing humanitarian relief only to individuals who are perceived to be supporters of the government.
Additionally, even if the current rules under the sanctions are potentially making the delivery of emergency aid and items of first necessity slower, the regime has done little to attempt to expedite aid, going as far has openly rejecting it and forcibly keeping it out to the country.
“A blanket call for an end to sanctions includes a vast of majority of measures that are directed at specific individuals linked to the plundering of Venezuela’s resources and to crimes against humanity that the UN itself rightfully identified and condemned just months ago,” said Halvorssen. “By advancing an incomplete and dishonest assessment of the causes that have led to the suffering of millions of Venezuelans for over two decades, Ms. Douhan is disgracing her mandate and becoming a patsy for Maduro and his cronies,” concluded Halvorssen.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For interview requests of further comment, please e-mail [email protected].