Caruzo: How Venezuela Used Cheap Oil to Land a Spot on the U.N. Human Rights Council

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez (C-L) speaks next to Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum Asdrubal Chavez (C-R) during the opening ceremony of the XV Ministerial Council of Petrocaribe in Caracas on June 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO/FEDERICO PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP via Getty Images)
FEDERICO PARRA/AFP via Getty Images

CARACAS – The socialist regime of Venezuela, one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, currently holds a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council, which it will keep until at least 2022.

This marks the third time Venezuela is part of this council despite having been condemned by the United Nations itself for its egregious human rights violations. Dictator Nicolás Maduro presents the tremendous amount of influence this seat represents as a “triumph” of the socialist regime’s self-proclaimed “Bolivarian Diplomacy of Peace.” It is an influence funded by the nation’s once ostentatious oil checkbook.

Circumstances surrounding my personal life had me ending up working for a Venezuelan Embassy for a period of three years during my early adult years. I was not and have never been a diplomatic representative of the Bolivarian Revolution – I was locally employed staff on a Consular section. Due to a severe understaffing problem, I found myself covering several vacancies in tandem and, because of that, I was able to get some insight as to how Venezuela spread its influence to attain its first Human Rights Council seat for the 2013-2015 period.

We need to go back a few years, during the days of Venezuela’s unprecedented oil bonanza that Hugo Chávez controlled — of which nothing remains today, since the Socialist Party squandered and stole it. This bonanza, along with the Obama/Biden administration’s lax attitude towards the region, is what allowed Chávez to not only freely fund leftist governments in the region – such as the Castro Regime in Cuba, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, to name a few – but also to secure the loyalty and “cooperation” of as many Latin American and Caribbean nations as possible. As my boss at the time said to me, “the idea is to make them depend as much on us as possible.”

For the nations belonging to the Carribean Community (CARICOM), one of the main tools employed by Venezuela was Petrocaribe, a program that offered highly subsidized oil to neighboring Caribbean nations, often with little to no interest rates and extremely flexible payment plans that spanned decades. The collapse of socialist Venezuela and cases of rampant corruption have put this program in its death throes.

So where was the catch to all of this funding and cheap oil? Cooperation at venues like the U.N. Human Rights Council: their vote and, often, their silence when other nations accused Venezuela of something. The socialist regime kept tabs on the nations reliant on the Revolution’s “generosity.” The lists I was privy to included the list of Petrocaribe members and members of ALBA-TCP, a trade treaty initially conceived by Hugo Chávez to counter and neutralize America’s once proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Venezuela’s candidacy to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council followed all regular diplomatic procedures, including the formal request for support sent to every Latin American and Caribbean nation that included their candidacy proposal — one full of platitudes and false promises regarding human rights, freedom of speech, democracy, and other human rights-related goals that are the complete opposite of the nightmarish reality that Venezuelans have lived through.

In accordance with the U.N.’s Human Rights Council resolution, the Council is made up of 47 seats and members are chosen based on equitable geographical distribution — with eight seats assigned to the Latin American and Caribbean group of nations. Members are elected directly and individually via secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly for a period of three years. Additionally, members are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms. And thus, with oil checkbook in hand, the Maduro regime was able to secure its first U.N. Human Rights Council seat during the 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Although the voting for the members of the Human Rights Council is held by secret ballot, one can find evidence of Petrocaribe’s influence in other branches of the U.N. and in other organizations. The journalistic website connectas.org published a report detailing the reach of the Petrocaribe program, noting a correlation between votes cast by beneficiary nations of the program in favor of Venezuela — nations who often chose not to speak against Venezuela’s human right violations in areas such as freedom of speech, political prisoners, or torture. The report also makes mention of how many of these beneficiary nations often voted in favor of Venezuela or abstained to vote against the socialist regime in meetings held by the Organization of American States (OAS) prior to Venezuela’s withdrawal from the group in 2017.

Venezuela’s own People’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defined Petrocaribe in a 2015 report as part of a “geopolitical protection ring” alongside other groups such as ALBA-TCP, UNASUR, and MERCOSUR.

Reporting directly to the U.N.’s General Assembly, the Human Rights Council is, in its own words, “a primarily political body with a comprehensive human rights mandate, and a forum empowered to prevent abuses, inequity and discrimination, protect the most vulnerable, and expose perpetrators.”

The Socialist Regime of Venezuela’s tenure on the Human Rights Council is paradoxical and outright hypocritical. Seating on this council aids it in masking its own glaring human rights violations even when the U.N. itself has released an extensively detailed report on the human rights violations committed by the Maduro regime — with some of the worst ones committed during the years that Venezuela has been part of the Human Rights Council.

In spite of this damning report, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet held a most friendly video chat with Maduro in March of 2021, gleefully smiling and happily conversing with the socialist dictator. Bachelet’s office was responsible for the report.

The United Nations is also actively ignoring the Venezuelan constitution in recognizing Maduro’s regime as legitimate. Juan Guaidó, and not Nicolás Maduro, is the legitimate president of Venezuela — even though Guaidó has failed to exercise any sort of power since he assumed the presidency in January of 2019.

The Human Rights Council role not only protects the regime from criticism, but empowers it to defend its rogue allies. Venezuela was one of the 45 countries that supported Cuba’s statement in defense of China’s Uyghur genocide in the Xinjiang region. Venezuela’s spread of influence throughout the Petrocaribe program, a fundamental part of how the Bolivarian Revolution achieved a seat in the U.N. Human Rights Council, mimics that of China and its Belt and Road Initiative. China is also a close ally of the Maduro regime.

China recently began its fifth term in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

This type of “influence for votes” practice isn’t limited to the United Nations. During my brief tenure at that embassy, I saw several cases of vote-trading between countries for positions in other branches of the U.N. and for other positions that at first may be largely inconsequential, such as environment or education committees of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), OAS, and other smaller-scale intergovernmental organizations — but positions that nonetheless, are seeds planted here and there that ultimately help spread the socialist regime’s influence throughout international organizations.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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