Friday August 04, 2017

Venezuela's downward spiral — who in the world can help?

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro attends a press conference in Caracas in June.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro attends a press conference in Caracas in June. (Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

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For years now, world leaders have decried what they see as an assault on Venezuela's democracy, particularly under the harsh rule of current president Nicolás Maduro.

On Sunday, citizens voted on Maduro's controversial proposed Constituent Assembly, which is expected to rewrite the country's constitution.

The Venezuelan government installed the new assembly on Friday despite strong evidence of vote tampering in the referendum, defying anger at home and strong criticism abroad.

Maduro argues the new body is needed to bring peace after months of crisis, but that crisis shows no sign of abating after months of uncertainty in the country.

Constituent Assembly

Members of the Constituent Assembly attend its installation at the National Congress in Caracas on August 4, 2017. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

The opposition views the assembly as yet another power grab by Maduro, while even the Vatican has urged Venezuela not to move forward with the new body, which features mostly supporters of the president, including his wife and son.

For months now, protesters have been taking to the streets of the capital, Caracas, to express their disapproval of Maduro's plans and their anger over the continued political and economic turmoil in the country which has made it difficult to buy even basic food staples.

More than 100 have been killed in the daily protests in the last three months alone.

This week, those protesters faced off against government supporters waving flags and carrying pictures of late leader Hugo Chavez and independence hero Simón Bolivar.

Protest 2

Opposition activists and riot police clash in Caracas following the installation of an assembly packed with allies of president Nicolas Maduro. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

The unrest is spilling over into neighbouring countries, with thousands of Venezuelans fleeing in search of safer ground and a better life for their families.

For years, Latin American governments stood by as Venezuela fell into chaos. But now, many observers argue, the region can no longer ignore the current instability and humanitarian crisis.

To find out what the international community can do to help mediate the current situation in Venezuela, Day 6 turned to Caracas-based Wall Street Journal reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev.

The deteriorating situation in Venezuela has directly affected its neighbouring countries, Kurmanaev tells guest host Rachel Giese.

"It has had a major impact. Colombia is talking about a looming refugee crisis," he says. "That's a country [with one of the] biggest refugee populations in the world itself because of decades of civil war. So this crisis has put a real strain on its limited resources already."

"Hundreds of Indigenous people live in abject poverty on the border of Brazil. And we're seeing them crossing into the tiny island of Trinidad that Venezuela borders by sea, trying to find food and trying to escape."

Protest

Government supporters carry images of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and liberator Simon Bolivar during a rally in Caracas on the day of the installation of the Constituent Assembly. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

          

International response

So what, if anything, are the other Latin American countries doing to try to address what's happening in Venezuela?

"The biggest regional group, the Organization of American States, is working together with the biggest countries in the region to try to come up with some sort of regional agreement to pressure President Maduro to stop his anti-democratic measures and to ease repression and allow humanitarian aid," Kurmanaev explains.

"But they've been blocked by some smaller countries in the region, mostly Caribbean countries and countries in Central America that have for a long time relied on Venezuelan financing and Venezuelan oil, [so] it has been very difficult to get a consensus."

Even sanctions from major Western powers like the United States have failed to move Maduro, who instead "wears them as a badge of honour," Kurmanaev says.

Efforts in the region have therefore gained little traction, though most South American and international leaders continue to condemn the Maduro regime, many pulling their ambassadors from the country.

"Few countries are prepared to tolerate [Maduro's authoritarian rule] and stay quiet about it, which reduces the number of countries that might be able to mediate," Kurmanaev explains, adding that the Dominican Republic and Uruguay might be among the few potential Latin American neighbours left who could open the door for dialogue with Maduro.

Caracas

An opposition activist stands by during a protest against the newly inaugurated Constituent Assembly in Caracas on August 4, 2017. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

With the United Nations largely steering clear of the situation to date, is there any hope of international diplomacy playing an effective role in addressing the Venezuelan crisis?

Kurmanaev notes that North America may be able to quietly exert some pressure on its neighbours to the south to push for a regional solution.

"I think the bigger, more powerful countries like the U.S. and Canada should focus on trying to provide incentives for the smaller countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to take a united stance — for them to say, 'Enough is enough and you have to change.'"

"This requires offering some sort of financial incentives, or maybe [tightening] immigration and remittances rules … It's in everyone's interest to have a stable Venezuela on their doorstep."

Though the daily headlines continue to bring more bad news out of Venezuela, Kurmanaev believes there may be hope for the beleaguered nation yet  — though that may take some time.

"Things are so unstable right now. The last few months have taken so many Jenga pieces out of the stability of the country that it does look like even one wrong move could make the whole thing collapse," Kurmanaev says.

"It's very difficult to see how it will end, but it could certainly come crashing down at any moment."

Read more of Anatoly Kurmanaev's reporting from Venezuela here.


To hear the full interview with Anatoly Kurmanaev, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.