By Luis Emilio Bruni
“An injustice to one is a threat made to all” is a quote attributed to Baron de Montesquieu. The “group raping” that for years has been systematically inflicted to the Venezuelan nation by a coalition of dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, drug cartels and transnational criminal financial networks is an injustice that can reveal itself to be a peril to the entire Western democratic world. Perhaps it is not the Brexit, the Islamic immigration, or the different separatists’ movements that are endangering the European Union grandiose project, but rather the erosion of some of its core fundamental values. The way EU diplomacy has been handling the liberation of Venezuela, may epitomize this erosion in terms of double standards. In democracy, strategic institutional decision-making should not be made on gut feelings, ideological biases or personal sympathies. It should rather be based on empirical evidence, intelligence reports and fundamental principles.
The nature of the Chavista regime
In the last 15 years, the Venezuelan opposition has been divided into two positions about the nature of the Chavista regime and how to deal with it. On the one hand, one position would state that no matter what an eventual institutional agreement consists of – anything written on paper, including the results of eventual elections – the regime, due to its very nature, would not comply with it, if there were not a dissuasive power to enforce what is on paper. This position recognizes the complexity of the transnational and criminal nature of the regime, putting at the center of the problem the presence in Venezuela of disruptive foreign factors, specifically Cuba, but also FARC, ELN and even Hezbollah. Under this perspective, the issue is not a problem between two opposing factions in a country, but rather an evident case of violation of the Venezuelan sovereignty by foreign countries and criminal organizations that support an illegal and criminal regime. Given this state of affairs, this position advocates for the necessity of a decisive international dissuasive intervention to help restitute the Venezuelan sovereignty, the rule of law, and provide the required feasibility for a transition government to address urgently the humanitarian disaster. Only without the regime in power and without the presence of Cubans in the Venezuelan State structure, can true free elections be hold.
On the other hand, the other position of the dichotomy has repeatedly proposed exclusively electoral solutions to the crisis. It limits the nature of the regime to the dictator and his inner circle in the executive branch (not even considering the other sequestered branches of the State). This position avoids naming and/or considering the presence of the foreign factors that sustain the regime, such as the Cuban dictatorship, the Russian influence, the Colombian guerrillas (FARC and ELN), and the links to terrorist groups. In other words, there is not a problem of lost sovereignty and criminal melt down in the country, but simply a problem of alternating with an authoritarian and corrupted government, with which one can cohabitate and collaborate, tolerating high levels of impunity for corruption, criminal activities and grave violations of human rights. Therefore, this position does not accept any perspective that considers some form of dissuasive measures. It is enough to hold elections while the regime is still in place, neglecting the fact that all the usurped powers of the Venezuelan State and the transnational criminal structure would still be dominating the country even if an opposition candidate wins the eventual presidential elections.
This dichotomy has also been present in the international community with different alliances and manifestations of support to one or the other position. Given the colossal size of the historically unprecedented embezzlement to the Venezuelan nation (by several estimates in the order of 400-700 billion dollars), there are many overlapping international interests and communicating vessels between national and foreign politicians, entrepreneurs, bankers, financial brokers, law firms, officials from international organizations, NGOs, political parties, ex-presidents, journalists and press outlets. Cyclically, every time the regime has been naked and cornered by the legitimate civil fight for freedom conducted by the Venezuelan society, an international mediator manages to impose a “dialogue” that, willy-nilly, provides time and legitimation to the regime.
In this context, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms. Federica Mogherini, provided continuous support to what turned out to be the red herring interventions conducted by Mr. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. As a citizen, I wrote twice to the High Representative in order to express my concern to the EU about the futility and the inappropriateness of these mediations given the conditions. The first of my letters was in 2016 when Mr. Zapatero’s intervention contributed to suppress the right of the Venezuelan citizens to express themselves in a constitutional legal referendum. The second time was in 2017 when she announced the support of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council to a new intervention by Mr. Zapatero, which this time contributed to demobilize the national rebellion and divide once again the Venezuelan opposition. Eventually, the World, and particularly the great majority of Venezuelans, including the opposition’s leaders that had candidly participated in those dialogues, understood the lack of transparency and clarity in the motivations of Mr. Zapatero, and the noxious effects that he was bringing with his interventions.
In 2019, the High Representative instantiated an alternative strategy in order to continue to support elections with the usurper regime in power, and without any explicit recognition of the transnational and criminal nature of the Venezuelan tragedy. In this vein, the International Contact Group was born to counterbalance the hemispheric initiative led by OAS’s Secretary General Luis Almagro. In the meantime, former Prime Minister Zapatero faded away from the scene, while his ethos was soaring due to the scandal of his previous Spanish ambassador (under Chavez’ period), who participated in one of the countless Chavista’s corruption networks. By supporting these dialogue initiatives in the recent past, the EU has cyclically contributed to inadvertently disenfranchise, divide and isolate the political opposition in Venezuela by constraining it to accept a dialogue that disappoints the aspirations and the mandate given by the majority of the civil society that elected the Venezuelan parliament.
The outcome of the most recent meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (17/06/2019) reveals one of two things: either, the High Representative and the Council are not yet clear or have not reached consensus about the nature of the Venezuelan regime, or, current EU diplomacy is succumbing to double standards.
Venezuela, Cuba and Sudan
Every Venezuelan citizen of goodwill would be envious about the treatment that the EU Foreign Affairs Council has given in its last meeting to the Sudanese case in comparison to Venezuela. Besides Sudan, in this meeting Venezuela and Cuba were also in the agenda. In the outcome document of the meeting, Venezuela was dispatched with four lines. The Council expressed a (generic) concern with the political and humanitarian situation and reiterated their call for a negotiated solution that would lead to free, fair and credible presidential elections, without never elucidating what does that imply in the present context.
On the other hand, one could take the full one-page-statement about Sudan and substitute throughout the document the word “Sudan” for “Venezuela” and one would obtain the precise and necessary statement of which the suffering Venezuelan nation would be eternally grateful. In this statement, the Council praises how the Sudanese civilians have “clearly and bravely demanded a new path for their country, one of democracy, political plurality, security and prosperity.” Have not the Venezuelan citizens been braved enough for the EU? The document goes on stating that “A peaceful, united, democratic and prosperous Sudan remains crucial, including for the peace and stability of the region, and is a priority for the European Union.” With its 600.000 European citizens, is not Venezuela a priority for the EU and for the stability of its region? In Sudan, the EU strongly condemns the brutal killings of civilians and unambiguously places the responsibility on the regime, urging that “All human rights violations and abuses committed must be investigated in an independent and transparent manner, and perpetrators held accountable for their acts.”
This is something that with the more than 700 Venezuelan political prisoners, thousands of cases of extrajudicial executions and horrifying tortures documented at the International Penal Court, and now also by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venezuelan people have never heard from the High Representative and the EU Foreign Affairs Council. Instead, in Venezuela, the perpetrators that are to be held accountable for their acts are asked to organize and participate in the alleged free elections. In the Sudanese case, the document calls for the cessation of extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, torture and disappearances. Furthermore, the Council demands that arrested civilians must be immediately released and that restrictions placed on freedom of assembly and freedom of the media must also be lifted. Lastly, in Sudan, the EU expresses its concerns and demands that “Obstacles to the timely delivery of the humanitarian assistance need to be removed [again] immediately” to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 8 million people in need; but for the Venezuelan perhaps even larger humanitarian crisis it asks for presidential elections under those disastrous conditions. Without acknowledging the Cuban economic exploitation of Venezuela and its active participation in the systematic repression perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime, the Council actually defends Cuba from the US sanctions that among other things are also intended to pressure the Cuban regime to cease its violations of the Venezuelan sovereignty.
The Norwegian Diplomacy and the Barbados Dialogues
The Norwegian diplomats were among the main brokers in the recent peace negotiation between former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrilla. It was not a secret that president Santos was campaigning to be honored with a Nobel Peace Prize while the negotiations were still in development. Independently of how one wants to interpret the results of that negotiation process, incidentally the prize was awarded to president Santos. This may look somehow as if the Norwegian institutions indirectly gave a prize to themselves. The paradox does not stop there. In the period of the negotiations, President Santos arrested in Colombia the Venezuelan student leader Lorent Saleh in order to deliver him illegally to the Venezuelan regime, which afterwards imprisoned and cruelly tortured him for four years. While Norway awarded the Nobel Prize to the man who delivered the young activist to his torturers, the European Parliament awarded Lorent Saleh the Sakharov Prize for his fight and for the tortures he received. One common denominator in the Norwegian diplomatic brokerage in Colombia and the one now proposed for Venezuela is the Cuban unconditional support to such negotiations.
As in the case of the High Representative Mogherini, the Norwegian diplomacy conceptualizes the Venezuelan case as if it is a problem of two symmetrical parts in discord, which can be brought together by conventional conflict resolution technics. Methodologically, an International Relations student would need to consider two things: first, the transparent intentions and neutrality of the mediator. Second, the nature of the “dispute”, if it is really a dispute what we have at hand. First, to qualify as an effective and non-partisan mediator, in order to be convincing, Norway would have to produce a public statement explaining in detail the past and current relations of the state-owned Norwegian Statoil company with the Venezuelan regime and its strategic alliances with the Russian company Rosneft for certifying the Venezuelan offshore gas reserves. Secondly and most importantly, the Norwegian diplomats would have to make explicit the premises with which they understand the nature of the Venezuelan case. Is it really a misunderstanding between two symmetric parts? What is really needed from the good will of the international community is not the mediation in a dialogue with pre-determined outcomes. What is needed is a non-partisan fact-finding committee to clear doubts about the real nature of the regime that rules in Venezuela in order to properly inform international decision-making at the UN Security Council. Such international committee should clear doubts and document among other things:
- The extension of the Cuban control on the Venezuelan regime and the presence of its agents in the intelligence services, in the management of repression and torture, in the arm forces, and in the national identification system.
- The control of Colombian guerrilla groups of vast extensions of the Venezuelan territory and their participation in criminal and illegal activities in alliance with the regime and the Venezuelan Arm Forces.
- The veracity and extension of the illegal activities of Middle East organizations considered as terrorist groups.
- The quantity and diversity of paramilitary groups armed by the regime.
- The status of the thousands of already documented cases of human rights violations.
- The extension of the humanitarian and immigration crisis.
- The magnitude of the international embezzlement to the Venezuelan Nation and the location of the funds (many of which are in European banks)
According to the new report recently presented by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Michelle Bachelet – and now fully backed by the European Parliament’s resolution of 18 July 2019 – there is not one single conceptualized human right, which the Venezuelan regime has not systematically violated for years. These includes civil and political rights, freedom of opinion and expression, economic and social rights, the right to food, the right to health, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment, assassinations, sexual torture and abuses, extrajudicial executions by security forces, the right to an identity, among others. The report is dramatic qualitatively and quantitatively. Not that these violations were unknown. In fact, last year, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussein had already issued a very alarming and disturbing report with the title “Human rights violations in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: a downward spiral with no end in sight”, which was inexplicably underestimated. Does this all sound like there are two symmetric parts in discord, who can negotiate their differences to reach a consensus on true free elections? Why has it been so hard for the EU Foreign Affairs Council to align its policies with the European Parliament’s resolutions?
What exactly would the EU and the Norwegian diplomacy endorse or propose in these dialogues or negotiations?
If all these facts are true, besides the unspecified desideratum of “free elections”, would the EU and Norway endorse the remaining in power of all the Regime’s State officials involved in gross violations of human rights, corruption and other criminal activities while these elections are organized in the middle of a devastating humanitarian crisis of historical proportions? Can there be “free elections” with Cuban agents infiltrated in the Venezuelan State”? Are the alleged free elections an end in itself?
Does the EU and Norway believe that such issues do not compromise the restoration of the country’s full sovereignty, the return of the rule of law, the full respect of human rights and the subsequent reconstruction of the democratic institutions, the infrastructure and the social tissue of the country?
Luis Emilio Bruni is professor at Aalborg University (Denmark). Originally an environmental engineer from Penn State University, holds a master of science in International Relations from the Venezuelan Central University and a PhD. in Semiotics and Theory of Science from the University of Copenhagen. From 2011 to 2017 was elected president of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies for three consecutive periods and currently directs a cognitive semiotic lab at Aalborg University.