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Update: How Is the International Community Responding to Venezuela?

Nicolás Maduro and Pope Francis

Nicolás Maduro and Pope Francis. (AP)

September 13, 2017

International bodies that have been mum on Venezuela's crisis have started to speak out. Others are hamstrung.
0 = Number of resolutions on Venezuela passed by UN Security Council and Human Rights Commission. Ever.

As Venezuela's political and economic crises drag on with little signs of progress, attention is increasingly turning to the international community to help break the stalemate. But progress is slow and often hampered by technicalities. At the same time, bodies that have been mum on Caracas for months—and in some cases years—have started to speak out lately. As both Washington and the EU mull economic sanctions on Caracas, here's a roundup of where the discussion is among international bodies.

The OAS: Hamstrung by Caribbean countries

The Organization of American States (OAS) has been at the eye of the storm when it comes to regional debate on Venezuela. Secretary General Luis Almagro is one of the foremost critics of the Nicolás Maduro government within the Western Hemisphere. He invoked the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela in May 2016, and in April the body managed to pass the first resolution on Venezuela in 15 years, criticizing the Maduro administration for violations of separation of powers.

But a handful of Central American and Caribbean countries—benefactors of deceased former President Hugo Chávez’s PetroCaribe plan—are frustrating Almagro’s efforts to pass any enforceable measure by voting with Caracas at each turn. This June, a resolution drafted by foreign ministers calling on Maduro to suspend his project to rewrite the country’s Constitution failed, thanks to votes from countries such as Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, along with abstentions from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and others.

The abstention aside, Dominican President Danilo Medina is set to host a series of talks between the Maduro administration and opposition leaders starting September 13 in an attempt at an Americas-brokered solution before the UN General Assembly debate kicks off next week. Opposition leader and National Assembly President Julio Borges, however, reiterated to Medina and UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday that there would be no dialogue if the government did not agree to a set of conditions, including a timeline for overdue elections.

Caracas, meanwhile, submitted a formal letter in April 2017 signaling its intent to formally withdraw from the OAS, a process which will take two years to complete.

The UN: Getting the ball rolling—at last

With movement in the OAS stalled, many are looking to the United Nations, but the body has been slow to take up the issue. Neither the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) nor the Security Council has adopted a resolution on Venezuela.

So it was notable when, in mid-July, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on the Venezuelan crisis, calling for peaceful exercises of democracy in two votes taking place in the country that month, and also urging the government to "immediately end" the practice of using military tribunals to try civilians arrested in protests. One week later, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the UN Isaías Medina resigned—and called on Maduro to do so as well—over the president’s repeated constitutional violations, among other charges.

In the opening session of the council’s third and final session of the year in Geneva on September 11, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that his team’s research indicated that “crimes against humanity” had taken place in Venezuela, and called for the crimes to be investigated and verified. Venezuela currently is one of 47 member states on the UNHRC. Following the commissioner’s speech, and after months of protests that left dozens dead and hundreds more injured or detained, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke, accusing Al Hussein’s report of being "plagued with lies." Of the eight Latin American members of the council, three are among Venezuela’s biggest allies in the region—Bolivia, Cuba, and Ecuador. After two, three-year terms, Venezuela’s membership in the council expires in 2018.

The European Union: Sanctions on the table

Also leading the talks in Santo Domingo this week will be former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who’s served for years dating back to the Chávez presidency as a go-between for the chavista administrations and the opposition, albeit with not much to show for it. On September 12, France’s Foreign Ministry warned of possible EU sanctions if the talks in the Dominican Republic are not fruitful. Such sanctions might not affect the government’s budget so much as U.S. economic sanctions would, but could lead to the seizure of billions of dollars held in European banks, both of the Bolivarian government accounts and personal ones of chavista loyalists. Borges and National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara completed what was widely regarded as a successful tour of Europe in early September, meeting with the leaders of France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom to urge their case.

The Vatican: Moving beyond dialogue

Although dialogue is a favorite tool of the Vatican, the opposition says the situation needs action rather than more rounds of discussion, which prolong the crisis and give Maduro more breathing room. Talks brokered by the church in late 2016 fell apart when opposition leaders walked out, saying the administration wasn’t making any concessions. Since then, the Holy See has scaled down its public efforts, although continued to meet with local bishops, who are more vocal in their criticisms of the Maduro government. Recently, Pope Francis said the UN should take up the humanitarian crisis. UN General Assembly debate opens September 19 in New York.