Today marks the 238th day opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has spent locked away in a Venezuelan military prison. Arrested for leading peaceful antigovernment demonstrations, Leopoldo is currently standing trial and could face up to 10 years in prison. Much like the recent demonstrations seen in Ukraine, the Venezuelan government’s response has been deadly and undemocratic.
This is the same government that is currently running unopposed for one of the two seats on the UN Security Council designated for Latin America and the Caribbean.
For the past 16 years, the Venezuelan government has adopted an aggressive anti-American foreign policy. Under the now-deceased Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has become an authoritarian state and host to the U.S.’s regional foreign adversaries. Alongside Iran, Syria and Cuba, Venezuela actively seeks to undermine U.S. interests.
Chavez and local cronies also created what is known as the Bolivarian Alliance, a regional economic and political trade bloc. Member countries have expelled U.S. diplomats, shut down U.S.-led counternarcotics programs and hampered bilateral trade relations.
This is not the first time Venezuela has tried to get on the UN Security Council. In 2006, Venezuela’s ambitions were cut short when the U.S. convinced Guatemala to run as an alternative candidate and forced 47 rounds of voting (the third-longest vote in history for a UN Security Council seat) before both countries withdrew in favor of Panama. Then in 2008, Chavez’s bid for the same spot was successfully shut down by President George W. Bush.
But the geopolitics of 2014 are far worse than they were in 2008, and the U.S. does not have the diplomatic clout it once had. Rather than fight Venezuela’s bid, more than 30 countries in Latin America let the nomination roll through.
Earlier this year, those countries reacted much the same. Despite the Venezuelan government’s deadly crackdowns that resulted in more than 40 deaths and thousands of unlawful arrests, including that of Leopoldo, the majority of regional leaders again failed to challenge Venezuela. During that time, the Venezuelan government expelled three U.S. diplomats and falsely accused the U.S. of fomenting a coup. Despite calls from congressional leaders, the Obama administration remained disengaged.
The irony of this situation is lost on no one, especially Cuba. For the Castros, having Venezuela on the UN Security Council would be the ultimate coup. Just recently Cuba was found guilty of violating UN Security Council sanctions when it was found to have illegally trafficked arms for the North Koreans. The Castro regime all but controls Venezuela, with tens of thousands of military and intelligence officers permanently stationed in country in exchange for billions in oil.
Although the UNSC has a well-earned reputation for being indecisive, President Bush correctly recognized that having Venezuela on the UNSC would make matters worse and further undermine U.S. efforts to get the body to respond to threats to international peace and security. If anything, the U.S. faces more threats in a more chaotic world than was the case under the Bush administration. President Obama repeatedly has expressed his commitment to working through the UNSC when possible. If so, President Obama and his administration should be pulling out all the stops to block Venezuela’s UNSC bid.