Why is the international community not intervening in Venezuela?

Why is the international community not intervening in Venezuela?

Venezuela’s political and economic debacle has significantly intensified over the past 12 months. Yet external intervention in Venezuela is not on the table and the international community favours an internal solution, regardless of how difficult it may be.

Analysts and politicians around the Americas frequently discuss the possibility of involvement, by other states and International Organizations, in order to prevent an escalation of the problematic situation the country shows. However, external intervention in Venezuela is not on the table and the international community seems to favour an internal solution, regardless of how difficult it may be to achieve.

Since the Venezuelan opposition movement, “Mesa de Unidad Democrática” (MUD), attained a majority of 56% in the country’s National Assembly in December 2015, President Nicolás Maduro and top officials from the government-controlled judicial and electoral institutions, have consistently undermined the faculties of the National Assembly and virtually abolished the separation of powers for the benefit of the executive.  

The economic and political situation of Venezuela has progressively deteriorated to the extent that international media and authorized commentators openly discuss a wide range of options for international intervention to avoid further damage in the country.  The current panorama, nonetheless, suggests that the international community is not willing to risk resources and political capital in a venture in which it foresees uncertain outcomes.

Russian and Chinese loans

Aside from the policy of non-interference in domestic affairs, consistently asserted, by Russia and China in the international scenario, there are geopolitical elements that highlight the significance of Venezuela – and the maintenance of its status quo- for both countries.

Venezuela, for instance, is the main recipient of Chinese loans in Latin America.  By the end of 2015, the China Development Bank (CDB) and the China Exports-Imports Bank had channeled about US$ 65 billion to infrastructure and energy related projects in Venezuela, which represents more than half of the total debt of Latin America and the Caribbean with China to date.

The well-known scheme of oil supply to pay back Chinese and Russian loans represented a financial relief for the Venezuelan government during the last years, not just because it addressed liquidity problems but also because it provided external political support to deal with the alarming public debt and lack of credibility in financial markets. Since 2013, when Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA used to ship 550,000 barrels a day to China, oil prices have gone down and China has accepted to reduce the daily supply to let Venezuela sell more barrels in international markets.  

In addition, the influence of Chinese involvement in the Venezuelan macroeconomic realm has also been suggested by reported meetings of Venezuelan opposition and Chinese officials, in which they discussed the state of the relations and future scenarios.

Russia also negotiated significant oil and energy deals with Venezuela over the past years, and has conferred such loans under the aforementioned scheme of oil supply. The most controversial of loans involves US$ 1.5 billion received by Venezuela in 2016 from Russian state-owned energy company, Rosneft, using as collateral 49,9% of the stake of the U.S oil company Citgo, owned by Venezuelan PVDSA.

The transaction implies that Russia can become an owner of a U.S company if Venezuela fails to pay back. This possibility has been denounced by democrats and republicans as a deal against American national security interests. Moreover, during the first months of 2017, Venezuelan delay of oil deliveries to Russia and China became a reason of concern for the countries engaged in the relationship.

Regional stalemate on Venezuela

Regional efforts to tackle the Venezuelan situation are paralyzed by the countries’ refusal to become unilaterally involved and the condition to act collectively.  Such a position has been widely perceived along the American continent, from Argentina to the United States.  

The U.S., for instance, does not have immediate strategic interests to justify a direct involvement in Venezuela. Oil supply has been maintained, since the arrival of Hugo Chávez to power in 1998, although it experienced a decrease to a 25 year low  in 2016, due to diminished production capacity.  

Amid the ongoing social and economic crisis in Venezuela, the U.S. seems likely to expect the government’s implosion due to social pressure and economic mismanagement.

In such a hypothesis, the U.S. has deemed unnecessary to divert attention from threats in the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Korea to a country on the brink of collapse, in which there are no urgent interests to protect and introduces risks of conflicted interests with China and Russia.

As for the Latin American governments, Brazil and Argentina intended to limit the regional influence of Venezuela and tried to promote political changes inside its borders, but their own political turmoil has prevented both countries to take further steps in such regard. Mexico and Peru have constantly demanded regional involvement to guarantee democracy in Venezuela, but their discourse has not raised unanimous attention in the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS), in which the Alba countries and a group of Caribbean nations benefiting from subsidized Venezuelan oil supply, have successfully blocked initiatives against interests of the Venezuelan government.   Growing regional hostility towards the government of Nicolás Maduro eventually ended with the withdrawal of Venezuela from the OAS in April 2017.

From the perspective of neighbouring countries, no country in Latin America would be more affected by a large scale crisis in Venezuela than Colombia, in which 1 million Venezuelans have already settled.  Major destabilization in Venezuela is likely to have an impact on the troubled borders both countries share, promoting a fertile ground for illegal activities that already represent a problem in the area such as drug trafficking, oil smuggling, and the presence of illegal armed groups.

Moreover, escalation of the Venezuelan crisis is likely to promote a significant population flow that will increase social and economic pressure on Colombian society and institutions, which currently struggle to cope with about 7.4 million of Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) present in the country, according to the U.N.

The reluctance from countries in the region and the U.N to address the Venezuelan crisis suggests that the international community is more likely to observe internal developments rather than become involved in the country’s complex situation.  In such a scenario, while the Venezuelan government continues blocking democratic channels for the opposition, popular frustration is likely to be expressed through increasing levels of violence.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Luis E. Juvinao Navarro

Luis Enrique Juvinao Navarro has extensive experience in analysis of political risk, international security and global affairs with International organizations and government. He holds a BA degree in Law, a MA in Geopolitics and Security from King’s College London and postgraduate studies in trade and consumption market. His professional background includes policy advice at the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as research on political affairs and peacekeeping operations for the UN.