Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s economic powerhouses and a regional diplomatic heavyweight. To grasp how precipitously its global standing has eroded under President Nicolás Maduro, consider these two recent developments.
Last month, the United Nations announced that Venezuela had lost its right to vote in the General Assembly for a second year because it owes tens of millions of dollars in dues. And on Tuesday, against Venezuela’s ardent protests, diplomats from across the hemisphere convened a rare meeting in Washington to discuss what it would take to restore democracy and a semblance of order in the autocratic, impoverished and dysfunctional nation.
Tuesday’s hearing at the Organization of American States did not result in a clear plan to address Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis. But the fact it was held at all was deeply embarrassing to Venezuela, which just a decade ago aspired to become a counterbalance to United States power and policy in the region.
Venezuelan diplomats have sought to characterize growing regional opposition to Mr. Maduro’s rule as part of an underhanded effort by the United States to justify military intervention. A coalition of O.A.S. members, currently led by Mexico, isn’t buying that excuse and is trying to find and broker solutions to the crisis.
One proposal being floated is to expel Venezuela from the organization. While this would be fully justified, given that the government’s repression of the political opposition and its dismal human rights record violate the O.A.S. charter, it’s hard to see what this would accomplish. Furthermore, it could prompt Mr. Maduro to act even more rashly.
A more fruitful step for the international community would be to find ways to help alleviate Venezuela’s immediate problems. The most urgent issue is persuading the government to accept humanitarian aid by putting forward detailed offers of needed food and medicine. A growing number of Venezuelans are going hungry in a food shortage, and dying from treatable ailments in squalid, ill-equipped hospitals.
Another international priority should be to press the government to hold local elections, which were suspended last year, and to release political prisoners, some of whom have been behind bars for years. Until political prisoners are released, the prospects for a restoration of democratic rule are very dim. Finally, the international community could propose specific macroeconomic reforms that could curb Venezuela’s runaway inflation and stabilize its currency. Inflation has soared to an estimated 700 percent, while people in this oil-rich nation are left digging through piles of trash for scraps of food.
It’s quite likely that Mr. Maduro’s government will dismiss all overtures and cast them as meddling by its neighbors. Still, these proposals could become harder to reject if a large international coalition presents them to the Venezuelan people as assistance that should not be interpreted as an affront to their country’s sovereignty.