EspañolBy Juan Pablo León Aristizábal
There is currently massive political and institutional instability in Venezuela. This was evident in the mass mobilization convened by sectors opposed to the Nicolás Maduro regime. All this in the framework of the suspension of the recall referendum process. There is also an economic crisis caused mainly by the fall of the oil prices that began in 2014.
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According to ECLAC figures, GDP growth in the last four years has shown steady decline, and the CPI increased from 2012 to 2015 by almost 200%.
Likewise, the polling firm Datanálisis estimates around 80 percent of basic products are affected by shortages this year. This means that the reduction of economic activity has been drastic. It also shows that the difficulties that Venezuelans face when buying food, medicines and other consumer goods, given the loss of purchasing power and the dollar shortage, are serious.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that despite the political and economic difficulties of Venezuela, this country was the first to send humanitarian aid to Ecuador, which suffered an earthquake of 7.8 degrees in April and left a death toll of over 600 and serious damage to infrastructure.
It was also the first to help Haiti, which was hit hard by Hurricane Mathew, in a natural disaster that left about 1,000 dead and thousands more wounded. The Venezuelan government sent about 20 tons of supplies including food, clothing and medicine. Colombia also sent the same amount.
If a nation is in economic crisis, how can it help others and, above all, be the first to do so? Based on the principles of altruism, one could argue that such actions are part of the principle of solidarity among peoples, as stipulated in the foreign policy guidelines in the Venezuelan Constitution.
However, this action must be analyzed in the context of the use of geopolitical and economic power by Maduro, and his relentless pursuit of regional hegemony.
When a state wants to exercise power abroad, it does not necessarily have to resort to coercive measures such as the use of military force or economic sanctions. There are persuasive forms of soft power whose purpose is to legitimize the values and interests of the nation in question.
Culture (language instruction, literature, arts, and entertainment), sports and humanitarian aid are some examples that illustrate this manner of exercising power.
Thus, humanitarian aid has to be considered as a means for the Venezuelan regime to curry favor with foreign nations. This is currently more important for Maduro than ever, because he is losing international support. Ecuador and Haiti are part of a group of states that in venues like the OAS, have favored Venezuela, especially during the current crisis.
For example, these nations voted against convening an extraordinary meeting of chancellors to address the humanitarian crisis on the Colombian-Venezuelan border last year, and this year they opposed the organization’s initiation of an investigation into the current crisis in Haiti. They would probably vote against the suspension of Venezuela as a member state, if that proposal were ever brought to a vote.
The current situation demonstrates the clear urgency for the Venezuelan government to maintain the support and legitimacy it still has at the regional level. That is the main motivation for exhibiting a spirit of international cooperation; it has far greater explanatory power than a kind of spirit of “Bolivarian friendship and solidarity.”
It is entirely illogical that the Venezuelan government offers humanitarian aid to other states, while a few kilometers from the Palace of Miraflores, the executive branch chooses to use the armed forces in response to a crisis equally worrisome and widely decried by the majority of Venezuelan civil society. This crisis demands a prompt solution, and Venezuela needs a radical change in leadership.
Juan Pablo León is a student of International Relations at the Javeriana University of Colombia. Leon is a member of the international political economy nursery of the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations. Follow him on Twitter at @laverdadsurgira