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This is a summary of an event with Diego Arria, on 29 April 2014; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of the Henry Jackson Society or its staff.
Click here to view the event transcript
On 29 April 2014, Diego Arria, Former Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, who has also served as Minister of information and tourism and as special adviser to the Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, spoke at the House of Commons at the invitation of the Henry Jackson Society. Addressing the audience, Diego Arria discussed the prospects of his country and, as a former UN adviser, questioned the lack of involvement from the international community.
Diego Arria tackled the underlying roots of the 2014 protests in Venezuela, which he sees as being the direct consequences of the legacy of the Chavez regime (1999-2013). By reviewing Chavez’s former oil and economic policies, Diego Arria highlighted and questioned Cuba’s dependency on Venezuela, which has fostered corruption among government officials, making the breakaway from ‘Chavez socialism’ increasingly difficult.
The current situation in Venezuela
– Mr Arria commented that it is becoming increasingly painful to speak about his country.
– The poorest people in Venezuela “have taken the worst toll because of the policies of the inflation” – a problem which cannot be rectified by charity nor subsidies.
– “Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world” and the situation has been brought to the international community’s attention for the first time.
– Since 2007, students had never went out on the streets.
– In January 2014, civil protests began and, after the attempted rape of a female student on a university campus, spread across the country in February.
– The repression used by the armed forces generated the beginning of this movement, which grew and is growing into a revolt. It started by a demand to increase security, followed by the release of jailed students. As the civil unrest continued it became apparent that economic issues and widespread corruption needed to be addressed.
– In the early 2014 protests, the Colectivos (organisation composed of different units that support the government of Venezuela), attacked protesters and initiated violent incidents).
– The protests lack a clear objective and students themselves cannot challenge a democratically elected government.
– There is a strong presence of military generals within the government and they are threatened by civil protests. The government has accused protestors of staging a coup, referring to them as “fascists”.
– The Venezuelan armed forces have violently repressed protestors, violating their human rights. The Supreme Court issued a decree judging peaceful protests illegal.
– The protests have been compared to the 2011 Arab Spring, yet the international community appears reluctant to get involved. “Even in our crisis, event in our tragedy, we were competing with the Egyptian tragedy”, due to the fact that victims are not able to compete for attention among other world crises. While children were being tortured by the military, yet this was faced with “indifference” by the international community. This signals that “we failed to educate world opinion on what is really taking place”.
– The case of Venezuela should trigger what Kofi Annan has labelled the “Responsibility to Protect”; but Venezuela seems to be unable to compete for the world’s attention against other ongoing crisis.
– UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) rejected the peaceful attempt to destabilise a legitimately constituted democracy but expressed solidarity with the protesters.
The legacy of the Chavez period
– The legacy of the Chavez regime, its socialist experiment and high corruption rate among government officials, have left Venezuela’s society and economy in shambles.
– The Venezuelan people are still living the consequences of the Chavez period and his “systematic and organised” attack on “the capacity of Venezuelans individually to create a powerful state that was centralised that would end private property and create the social society he called socialism of the 21st century”.
– Chavez was elected by the rich middle classes of Venezuela rather than the poor, and “some European bankers helped to bankroll his campaign”.