Venezuela Gets UN Security Council Seat, Despite Criticism

Timothy Gill

On October 16, the United Nations (UN) member countries voted overwhelmingly in favor of Venezuela joining the UN Security Council. US policy makers and other opinion-makers criticized the US government’s weak opposition to the Venezuelan bid as well as Latin American governments for cloaking their support for Venezuela in a non-interventionist rationale. The Venezuelan government has celebrated its UN victory as a manifestation of the world’s respect for the Bolivarian Revolution.  

181 out of 193 UN member-states voted in favor of Venezuela’s addition to the Security Council, with 10 countries abstaining from the vote, one country voting against Venezuela, and one null vote. In January 2015, the Venezuelan government will join the Security Council for its fourth time, with its most recent term held under the administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992-93.

In the wake of their victory, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared that the news should “fill [Venezuelans] with greater confidence that we are on the right track.” Maduro also stated that Venezuela would be a “voice of peace” on the council and will support a “policy of independence, seeking a peaceful world without imperial hegemony, through the construction of a multi-polar world where the people of the South are respected and have the right to forge their own unique path including social and economic development, equality, and democracy.” He dedicated the victory to former President Chávez, saying that Chávez and his legacy “continue winning battles in the world.”

Criticism of Venezuela’s campaign for the council seat focused on the government’s human rights record and lack of condemnation from other Latin American countries, as well as Venezuela’s international relations and how these may affect its work on the Security Council.

Alexander Brockwehl, Freedom House’s Latin American and Caribbean Program Officer, took issue with other Latin American governments and their disposition towards Venezuela. He argued that despite “its near-complete embrace of democracy, [Latin America] lacks vocal supporters of adherence to democratic principles and ardent defenders of fundamental human rights.” He stated that this is primarily due to Latin America’s prioritization of state sovereignty over and above the promotion of human rights. He argued that established democracies such as Brazil and Chile should exercise leadership and condemn the government’s human rights record instead of ignoring it.

On September 20, the Washington Post Editorial Board published a piece entitled “Venezuela doesn’t deserve a seat on the U.N. Security Council.” In it, the authors called attention to the protests that developed in February that left over 40 individuals dead and blamed the government for the violence. In addition, they argued that the government has arbitrarily detained protesters and taken former mayor Leopoldo López as a political prisoner.

The New York Times Editorial Board published a piece the same day also criticizing the Maduro government for jailing López as well as other protesters. They also criticized former President Chávez and his successor for failed economic policies that have led to economic scarcities and shortages.

In response to the editorials, Joel Gillin from the Latin Correspondent argued that the two newspapers misrepresented the violence surrounding the February protests. Gillin pointed out that “the very Human Rights Watch report cited [to claim that the Venezuelan government was responsible for the violence] … said that publicly available information indicated that 14 of those killed were members of security forces, government officials or government supporters,” illustrating that not only opposition members were subject to violence.

Gillin also suggested that the two papers have engaged in “selective outrage” over which UN Security Council bids to criticize. While the two papers could have also condemned Colombia’s 2010 bid due to thousands of extrajudicial executions and extensive government spying operations, they remained silent.

On October 9, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) alongside five other senators sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to urge the international community to deny Venezuela a seat on the Security Council. The senators argued that Venezuela has a history of aligning itself with countries that aim to destabilize peace in the world, including Syria and Russia, and that the Venezuelan government destabilizes peace at home by “silenc[ing] peaceful protests across the country.”

Following Venezuela’s election, Senator Rubio stated that “it is disgraceful that the Obama Administration failed to lift a finger in making the case why Venezuela’s membership on the U.N. Security Council is undeserved … [This] further diminishes the legitimacy of this body, and ultimately sends a demoralizing message to the Venezuelan people who have suffered under the Chavez-Maduro regime.”

The US did engage in a “half-hearted campaign” to undermine the Venezuelan bid. One Security Council representative stated that the US sent out several demarchés to other governments stating that Venezuela is “not a country you can work with,” in the days leading up to the vote. Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, also tweeted that “Venezuela’s human rights violations [and] conduct at UN have run counter to [the] spirit of UN Charter, which [all] UNSC members have [the] duty to live up to.” However, another European diplomat said that US efforts were generally muted since the US knew it was unwinnable battle.

Political scientist Gregory Weeks argued that the “drumbeat to try and deny Venezuela the rotating seat on the UN Security Council suffers from many logical inconsistencies.” Weeks stated that Latin America has been united behind Venezuela’s addition to the Security Council and, if the US government were to oppose Venezuela, it “would … have to assert publicly that Latin American agreements are null and void.”

Similarly, James Boswell pointed out that whether or not “Venezuela gets a [Security Council] seat is not a critical test of US foreign policy and, in spite of some heated rhetoric, is not going to change the global security environment over the next two years.” He also pointed out that Venezuela will replace its ally, Argentina, and that while “Venezuela’s rhetoric will probably be sharper, their voting won’t be that far off from [them].”

Other commentators argued that the US does not have a good enough human rights record to credibly object to Venezuela’s bid. Journalist Ryan McNamara briefly compared some of the two countries’ human rights records and argued that while Venezuela has problems in the areas of violence and press freedom, many US practices run directly counter to principles laid out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, including the use of the death penalty, poor healthcare, and excessive police force.

Greg Grandin has also criticized the US position pointing out that the US government has routinely flouted international law throughout the last few decades, beginning with its refusal to pay reparations, which were mandated by the UN’s International Court of Justice in 1986, to the Nicaraguan government after it mined Nicaraguan harbors in the 1980s. 

Venezuela’s seat on the Security Council may, however, put it under increased scrutiny from the UN and its sub-bodies. On October 20, less than a week following its successful bid, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, released a statement “express[ing] serious concern … at the continued detention of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, as well as more than 69 other people who were arrested … in February this year.” This opinion follows the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to immediately release López and former mayor Daniel Ceballos.