While most eyes are on Syria, Russia and even China in the realm of international conflicts and crises, a crisis is brewing to our south. Since the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, the “socialist paradise” of Venezuela hasn’t been much of a paradise, not that it was before. Political rights have all but vanished, oil production is declining, people are starving, and drug trafficking has increased. An individual with ties to the opposition that I heard speak at an event this spring described it as a “Narco-State”.
There isn’t much going right in Venezuela at the moment, and the past two months have been particularly bleak. In April, protests kicked off, as Venezuelans tired of Maduro’s terrible rule demanded an election. In response to these protests, the Venezuelan national guard and other security forces have used brutal tactics. At least 70 protesters have been killed since April, and hundreds of others have been injured and thousands have been arrested.
Venezuela’s neighbors have noticed these human rights abuses. At an Organization of American States summit in Cancun, Mexico on Wednesday, a vote to rebuke Venezuela failed to pass. While 20 countries voted to condemn the actions of Maduro’s regime, this was three short of the required 23 for a two-thirds majority. The United States and Mexico led the push against Maduro, while leftist Bolivia and Nicaragua backed Venezuela, several Caribbean countries abstained from voting. While many top diplomats from other countries were present, Secretary Tillerson canceled last minute, likely damaging US credibility. With this defeat, concerned countries will have difficulty acting as a regional bloc.
Despite this setback, the Trump administration continues to take a strong stance against the Maduro regime, a welcome change after years of Obama’s soft approach to Venezuela. The Trump administration has previously targeted individuals in the Maduro regime for ties to narco-trafficking and is expected to expand these sanctions considering the recent killings.
It is clear that something must be done to alleviate this crisis. The turmoil is not only affecting Venezuela, it is affecting the whole region. In the first three months of 2017, 8.301 Venezuelans applied for asylum in the United States, a massive increase from last year. If this crisis continues for much longer, more people will flee the country and Maduro’s regime will strengthen, and more human rights will disappear. While the Venezuelan foreign minister dared the U.S. to send in the marines at the Cancun conference, that is clearly not a viable solution. Only with strong diplomatic, political, and economic measures can the United States and its regional allies be able to alleviate the suffering in Venezuela.