Andres Oppenheimer

Unbelievable! Venezuela’s dictatorship is about to win a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council | Opinion

What’s happening in Venezuela? Here’s a guide to understand the current crisis

For years, the opposition had struggled to challenge Maduro. But now, Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader, appears to have woken up the population in just a couple of months.
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For years, the opposition had struggled to challenge Maduro. But now, Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader, appears to have woken up the population in just a couple of months.

This is no joke: Venezuela — the most repressive regime in the Americas since the days of Argentina and Chile’s military dictatorships in the 1970s — is expected to win a seat at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.

I almost choked on my coffee when I first heard about this in a recent interview with Ernesto Araujo, Brazil’s foreign minister. But when I contacted several human-rights groups to see if such a travesty were possible, they all confirmed that it’s likely to happen.

Never mind that, according to the United Nations’ own High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s death squads are responsible for more than 6,800 extrajudicial killings just between January 2018 and May 2019.

In addition, the U.N. report cites widespread use of torture against political prisoners, including electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags and sexual violence. There were at least 2,000 political arrests in the first five months of this year. There were 720 political prisoners in May, Bachelet’s report said.

And yet, according to YourHRC, UNWatch and other human-rights groups, Venezuela — alongside Brazil — is almost sure to win one of Latin America’s two vacant seats at the Human Right Council at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session.

The General Assembly elected the 47 members of the Human Rights Council. Candidates need two-thirds of the General Assembly’s votes, or 126 votes, to be elected.

“Right now, Venezuela’s election is almost certain to happen because there are only two seats available for Latin America at the Council — and only two countries are running,” UNWatch director Hillel Neuer told me.

Since the Council election is scheduled to take place October, it may be too late for another Latin American country to run successfully against Venezuela. Normally, countries running for a Council seat announce their candidacy more than a year in advance to have time to lobby for it, Neuer added.

Many of the world’s worst dictatorships spend considerable time and money to get a Council seat at the Council, to protect themselves from human rights accusations. Among the current members of the Council are Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba, which is leading the lobbying effort for Venezuela’s election to the Council.

Often, dictatorships offer democratic countries their support for their candidacies for seats at U.N. economic commissions — which free countries are more interested in — in exchange for democracies’ support at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Venezuela’s likely election to the Council is truly scandalous,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. “Latin American countries that have denounced Venezuela’s abuses should propose a third regional candidate to defeat Venezuela’s almost certain election.”

And so should President Trump. Unfortunately, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Council and several other multilateral forums such as the Paris Climate Accord — as well as Trump’s verbal attacks on America’s European allies and his downsizing of the State Department — have severely eroded America’s clout in the diplomatic community around the world.

As a result, America has less influence than ever in recent times to sway African, Asian and European countries to stop Venezuela’s election to the Council.

Nevertheless, some human rights-advocates are demanding a last-minute diplomatic offensive by the United States, the 28-member European Union and Latin America’s Group of Lima — made up of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other countries that are pressing for democracy in Venezuela — to recruit a third Latin American country that could defeat Venezuela’s candidacy. “It’s late, and it would be very difficult, but it’s not impossible,” says Neuer, of UNWatch.

Instead of making empty statements against the Maduro regime that are mainly aimed at winning Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American votes in Florida, the Trump administration should use what’s left of U.S. leverage abroad to muster votes to defeat Venezuela’s candidacy. Latin American countries should do the same.

Otherwise, Venezuela’s dictator will soon be able to claim a major diplomatic victory, while the democratic world was sound asleep.

Venezuela's political showdown on Jan. 26, 2019 moved to the United Nations where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his administration's support of the country's self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidó.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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