Venezuela’s government has confirmed that dictator Nicolás Maduro is skipping the United Nations General Assembly because he is “very busy.” Canceling the trip to New York would allow Maduro to avoid the uncomfortable logistics of entering the U.N. when American sanctions ban him from the country entirely.
The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Maduro personally this year in response to the widespread use of violence by Venezuelan military against unarmed protests; the significant number of reports that Maduro has condemned protesting civilians to face military tribunals; and the government’s role in over 100 deaths during protests that erupted in March and continue nationwide. No American individual or company may do business with Maduro, he may place no assets in the country and any already present were frozen, and Maduro is not allowed to visit the United States.
“President Maduro will not attend the UN General Assembly, he is very busy with regional elections, working on economic matters and on the national constituents assembly [ANC],” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters this weekend. The ANC is a fabricated legislative body Maduro created to usurp the authority of the constitutional and democratically-elected National Assembly, a move the international community has condemned as the collapse of the democratic order. Among the members of the ANC are Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, and his son Nicolás Maduro Guerra.
From his post, his first-ever political position, Maduro Guerra recently threatened to invade New York and capture the White House, which he appeared to believe was located in New York.
Arreaza was located in New York when confirming Maduro would not travel there this weekend, where he faced jeers from Venezuelan-Americans who recognized him while taking a stroll in Central Park. A woman approached him and shouted, “Are you not ashamed to be here?” referencing the years of anti-American propaganda coming out of his government.
Maduro did not speak at the 2016 General Assembly but appeared to be planning to attend this year’s event in remarks two weeks ago. Maduro told listeners on a state television program that he had ordered Arreaza to request an in-person meeting with President Donald Trump in New York, as he was planning to visit the city for the U.N. event. “Mister Donald Trump, here is my hand, if you want a hand,” Maduro said to the president directly on that occasion.
Maduro will reportedly instead lead an alternative leftist summit he has branded the “World Summit in Solidarity with Venezuela,” scheduled to occur between September 16-17 in his home country. The UN General Assembly begins September 19. “The whole world is invited to the day of solidarity and support with Venezuela, for peace, for sovereignty,” Maduro announced. Reuters reports the summit will likely feature allied nations like Cuba and Bolivia and aim to promote the ANC, which most nations in the Americas have condemned as unconstitutional and vowed to not recognize.
Maduro has received a warm welcome at the U.N. General Assembly in the past. While he did not speak in 2016, he took the floor in 2015 to praise President Barack Obama’s “courage” for establishing ties with allied Cuba and lament the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The year before, he used his presence in New York to meet Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, another close ally.
The United Nations has not taken any action regarding the growing political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, despite the widespread use of state violence to silence dissidents, ample evidence of gross human rights violations, impending famine, and evidence of tampering with election results. Venezuela remains a member nation of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently called for Venezuelan opposition supporters to find a “compromise” with the illegitimate regime.
“It’s hard to accept that this Council has never considered a resolution on Venezuela, and yet it adopted five biased resolutions in March against a single country–Israel,” American ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley lamented in June.