By Colin Heurlin, Susana Sanchez, Georgia Sherman, Johnathon Skinner
By 17 November 2018, the Venezuelan currency had reached an inflation level exceeding more than 1,300,000% in less than five years (BBC, 2019). The Fund for Peace (FFP) defines a fragile state as one wherein the state does not wield the capacity or legitimacy to provide essential protections and services, leaving citizens vulnerable to a range of various depravities. As Maduro’s regime battles international accusations of illegitimacy, the citizens of the once top-twenty most affluent countries in the world are now enduring a despot who has proved to be more concerned with staying in power than he is providing for his citizens. Our research shows that Maduro’s incompetence to defend basic human rights and provide accessibility to necessities for his people has manifested itself in four key regions: a failed economy, the weaponization of hunger, a toxic environment and extrajudicial violence.
Economically, the people have no ability to purchase food and are literally starving to death as a result of the failed socialist governmental institutions responsible for providing these goods. Regarding hunger, the 2003 creation of mercals has crippled private markets throughout the country, enabling the regime to be the sole proprietor of food across the country. Environmentally, the socialized oil companies that had become state-run and owned were dumping wastewater upstream to drinking water reservoirs, making much of the land and water poisonous. The increased use of violence to curb protests lead to a rise in extrajudicial killings, the “disappearing” of political activists, and substantiated claims of torture utilized by the regime.
What has similarly emerged from this fragile state is the means in which the state maintains its power. Venezuelan security forces have been mobilized at an increasing rate to combat the rising number of political protests, public dissonance, and civil deviance as a result of Maduro’s failure as a leader to properly and effectively provide for the Venezuelan people. These security forces have exercised the sanctioned use of extreme force in order to shut down anti-government demonstrations, largely acting with impunity. Over the last five years alone, thousands of people have been killed through the extrajudicial conduct of security forces. International human rights organizations have reported and detailed the conduct of these security forces during these protests, documenting the excessive use of force, firing live and rubber bullets into crowds, and even firing anti-riot weapons directly into the faces of protestors.
Likewise, thousands of people have been detained or imprisoned with little or no due process guaranteed to them under Title 8, Article 333 of the Venezuelan constitution. Many prisoners or detainees report being tortured by security forces or being held subject to cruel treatment at the hands of military officers. By examining the conduct between the Venezuelan people and the government, it will become clear that the Venezuelan people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the function of the government and the government had responded with massive amounts of oppression and resistance to observance of even the most basic of human rights.
The macro actors in this drama are members of the Venezuelan elite, the United States, the United Nations, and PDVSA, the state-run oil company. Nicolas Maduro is the ex-Vice President and current President of Venezuela who is widely considered to be the linchpin for the endemic corruption of public policy, food and medicine shortages, the increased crime levels, and the collapse of public services. Nicolas Maduro appears to be actively pursuing measures that maintain the power of his regime with no regard to providing for or governing his people. General Padrino is Venezuela’s defense minister and is the operational head of the country’s armed forces. He has declared that the armed forces will support Mr. Maduro against interventionism, coup attempts, or any threat of economic war. Padrino appears to be most interested in enshrining the power wielded by his military and ensuring that the profits coming from his military’s black market economy, dealing seized food and medicine, is not interrupted. The final player is the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guiado, the newest player in the game, claiming that the previous election was jeopardized by Maduro’s interference and that he is the rightful Interim President of Venezuela. He has stated that his purpose is to have truly fair elections and ensure that the Venezuelan President is truly the popular choice of its people by its people.
In the United States, the two key players are President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who both appear to share the desire of toppling the regime and securing resources for private oil interests. Trump’s rhetoric has been quite fierce towards the Venezuelan President, but it is John Bolton’s flagrant strong-arm tactics with USAID and US military that only further exacerbate the pressures felt by Venezuelan elites. In February, Bolton was seen presenting his notepad after exiting a meeting, exposing that the US was planning on deploying five thousand troops to the area. This information most certainly made its way to the President and his allies.
The United Nations has thrown fuel on the fire through its use of sanctions that have all but shut Venezuela off from the rest of the world. These sanctions are intended to weaken the regime and its exploiters, however, it appears to have only served to tighten their grip as black market prices have continued to soar. The PDVSA is Venezuela’s central oil company that enabled the country to prosper as a result of high oil prices, entering into the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and maintaining complete control over the nation’s largest source of GDP. The PDVSA enjoys near complete freedom of operation within Venezuela due to its revenue output and has a long history of polluting the country’s waterways and destroying indigenous land in pursuit of profits.
The claims that human rights are being violated come from the Venezuelan people and opposition figures, the United Nations, and the United States. The Venezuelan people refer to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights’ enumerated articles to aptly indicate the violations that have increasingly taken place since 2012. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch both indicate that numerous human rights are being violated, including articles 1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,17,18,19,20,21,22 and 23. Additionally, the 2005 Responsibility to Protect (R2P) UN doctrine put in place following the Rwandan genocide dictates an international norm that governments must protect their people from human rights violations, among other things, and that if the country in question’s government is not willing or able to protect its citizens then the international community is obligated to assist. The Venezuelan government is neglecting the UDHR treaty and the responsibility to protect doctrine as it continues its reign, appearing to show neither concern nor respect towards the international norms delineated as being a member of the UN or the larger international system.
One contradictory viewpoint to the stance adopted by our dossier team is that the Venezuelan military, under General Padrino, is the real ringleader of the country. Pro-Maduro supporters believe Maduro is trying his best to keep the country together while dissidence from his most important ally is causing the crisis. An interview with a grandmother in Venezuela shows that there is a belief within the pro-Maduro supporters that Maduro believes the food and the medicine that has been appropriated for certain districts is being intercepted by corrupt officials. She continues to theorize that Maduro believes that the goods are on the trucks, but that Padrino’s men are seizing it before it is distributed and are using it to make themselves wealthy. While not the conclusion reached by this dossier group, more research into the military’s involvement in politics would yield interesting insight into a less researched area of the crisis.
To read the full dossier, click here.