How Latin America Should Address the Crisis in Venezuela (Americas Quarterly)



Brazil and Argentina should lead the diplomatic effort to change Venezuela's behavior.

This morning's call from the chief of the Organization of American States (OAS) for an emergency meeting to discuss the erosion of democracy in Venezuela signals that regional leaders are taking a tougher stance with the Caracas government. But to go beyond mere rhetoric, Brazil and Argentina must also step up.

Susana Malcorra and José Serra, the foreign ministers of Argentina and Brazil, respectively, could help put together a coalition of the at least two-thirds of OAS members needed to suspend Venezuela until President Nicolás Maduro's government restores judicial independence and the protection of fundamental rights. The foreign ministers also have the power to convince Uruguay to support Venezuela’s suspension from the Mercosur bloc of South American nations.

The situation is increasingly critical. Venezuela, the country with the world's largest proven energy reserves, has turned into the world's worst performing economy, facing a horrific combination of rising authoritarianism, extreme political polarization, exploding levels of violence and a public health emergency due to a lack of basic medicine. After a 5.7 percent contraction in 2015, Venezuela’s economy is expected to shrink 8 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2017. Highly active in many international institutions until recently, Venezuela is now slowly losing the financial muscle to sustain its diplomatic activism.

Venezuela's internal chaos − which is becoming a humanitarian crisis − poses the most severe challenge to regional actors in years. As President Maduro has debilitated the opposition-dominated National Assembly, imprisoned leading opposition figures and ended the independence of the judiciary, a democratic solution to the crisis is ever more remote, and Venezuela seems increasingly unable to overcome its internal divisions alone. While Venezuelans have overwhelmingly called for a recall referendum, the regime is likely to delay the vote until 2017, when Maduro would be more than four years into his six-year term and the vice-president would assume the presidency in the event Maduro is recalled.

Brazil and Argentina have clear reason to step in. Venezuela’s crisis damages the region’s reputation and encourages... continue reading here (free access).

Photo credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS