Black eye for the region

If Venezuela succeeds in its bid to join the U.N. Security Council, as appears likely, it certainly won’t be the first (or last) time that an undeserving government gets the green light to join the world body’s enforcement arm. But that doesn’t make this bad decision go down any easier.

It won’t speak well for either the council or the United Nations as a whole to have a nation with one of the world’s worst crime rates, where citizens live in a perpetual state of insecurity, on the Security Council. Indeed, it sounds like a bad joke, particularly when the government continues to repress the democratic opposition with brute force and may even be on the verge of bankruptcy.

The support given to Venezuela’s bid to join the council by the nations of the Caribbean and Latin America, is inexcusable. Without their backing, Venezuela would get nowhere. But in July they quietly gave Venezuela the prize it had been seeking since at least 2006, when the late Hugo Chávez made a strong but failed effort to secure regional backing for the country’s drive to join the council.

What justification can there possibly be for supporting Venezuela now? Over the past few years, virtually every index of life in Venezuela has gone from bad to worse.

▪ Its economy is in a downward spiral, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Recently, President Nicolás Maduro, a raging incompetent, sacked Finance Minister Rafael Ramirez, one of the few serious people in the cabinet. Predictably, bond prices sagged, pointing to harder times ahead even as Venezuelans struggle today to buy everything from medicine to toilet paper.

The government is billions of dollars in arrears to its importers, leading former Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann, currently teaching at Harvard, to say that Venezuela’s only rational move is to declare bankruptcy. For his troubles, Mr. Maduro declared him a “financial hitman” and “outlaw,” though he did not refute Mr. Hausmann’s ominous numbers.

▪ The government has managed to remain in control only by repressing dissent at every turn. Police and soldiers have quelled peaceful protests with force. Last week, the U.S. State Department joined other regional bodies in expressing concern for those who have dared to speak out.

A statement by a department spokesman said in part: “Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, and approximately 70 protesters remain incarcerated — some for more than seven months, many without any formal charges. The judge in the trial of Mr. Lopez denied his requests to present evidence in his defense. According to local NGOs, more than 1,700 individuals have pending charges and have not received a court date.”

▪ Crime has become one of the most frightening aspects of life in Venezuela. A current U.S. State Department report calls the situation critical: “A number of factors explain the pervasive criminality in Caracas, including poorly paid, under-armed and often corrupt police forces; an inefficient and politicized judicial system; a system of violent and overcrowded prisons that are frequently managed with impunity by prison gang leaders themselves; and country-wide saturation of millions of illegal weapons.”

And yet this is the country that other regional leaders would have represent them on the Security Council! Shame on them. Their endorsement of Venezuela gives Latin America and the Caribbean a black eye and speaks volumes about the poor level of political maturity in the region.