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By Julian James
On Wednesday 15 November, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to welcome Diego Arria to speak at the House of Commons on the current situation in Venezuela. The event was chaired by David T. C. Davies MP and Baroness Hooper. Diego Arria is the former Governor of Caracas (1974 – 1977), Venezuela’s largest city. He served as the Minister of Information and Tourism while Carlos Pérez was the Venezuelan President, and he served as the Venezuelan Permanent Representative to the United Nations in the 1990s and in 1992 he became President of the United Nations Security Council. Currently, Arria is a visiting Fellow at the Council for International Relations and he is on the advisory Board for the International Crisis Group at the American University in Washington DC. He is primarily concerned at this time with restoring democracy and removing corruption in Venezuela.
Venezuela has been the subject of much discussion recently due to the failures of Hugo Chavez’s regime coming to light. Diego Arria began the event with an impassioned speech concerning the need to recognise the issues in Venezuela as a serious humanitarian crisis. He talked of the corruption of the Venezuelan government: many political prisoners are being held, and many members of government are criminals to some degree or another. The President of the Supreme Court in Venezuela, for example, is a convicted murderer. He also pointed out that Venezuela is the “only country in the region controlled by the regime”. Arria lamented the widespread poverty in the country. Much of the population lives in poverty, and there is a distressing lack of food that is impacting the growth and development of Venezuelan children. He expressed emotively that “only 4 million people in Venezuela eat everyday… And this is the wealthiest country in the region”. He also indicated his anxiety over the crime that supports the regime, describing it as a “Narco-militarised tyranny”, and worried that this was worsening. The government, Arria suggested, is failing its people in almost every respect. He also suggested that the Venezuelan government had allowed Cuba to exert too much influence in the country. “Cuba”, he stated, “is the occupying power in Venezuela”. Arria suggested Venezuela needs a complete reshaping of leadership in order to solve these issues.
The floor was then opened up to questions for Arria. There were many Venezuelans present who were also impassioned and highly concerned about the situation. Arria was questioned on how Venezuela should deal with the problem of Narco traffic gangs, to which he responded that “Venezuela is the safest drug route in the world” and that this must change and it would most likely only occur through a revising of governmental leadership to purify the government of corruption. In a discussion of the immigration problems Venezuela is facing, Arria stated that there has been an exodus of millions of Venezuelans to neighbouring Columbia and other countries because of a dire need for food and medicines, and that this is causing further economic failures in the country. “We used to be an importer of talent and people. We’re now an exporter. Venezuela has become a failed state”. Moreover, he expressed his sadness at other economic failings such as the oil deals with China that were unfair on Venezuela. He also suggested that the issues facing Venezuela pose an international security threat. There are disturbing links between Venezuela and terrorist organisations, as it is extremely easy to acquire fraudulent Venezuelan passports and visas in the country, which allows terrorists and other criminals – including members of Hezbollah – to evade capture.
In his concluding remarks, Diego Arria called for a new sense of unity among the Venezuelan people, suggesting that otherwise the country would completely fall apart, and more people would emigrate to Columbia and elsewhere. He also called for the US and other countries to recognise the need for a humanitarian assist rather than an intervention, and potentially also to provide aid to neighbouring countries in order to help the region as a whole.
The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank Diego Arria for his analysis of the present situation in Venezuela and his earnest plea that it be recognised globally as a humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed.