Why are the liberals still silent about Venezuela?

Caracas isolates itself

The socialist regime in Venezuela has fewer and fewer friends in the region. Leaving the Organization of American States was anything but voluntary.

The international community has long allowed Caracas to rule. She watched as the Venezuelan government expropriated companies, as it censored the press, as it filled the institutions with party members and imprisoned opposition politicians. Criticism came at most from Washington, but that was mostly okay with President Maduro and his predecessor Chávez, as this fueled the anti-American fire.

Leaving the OAS

Now the cowardly silence is over. This is clearly shown in the Organization of American States (OAS). Under the chairmanship of Secretary General Luis Almagro, the majority of the 35 member states declared democracy in Venezuela dead and initiated a process aimed at excluding the country. Venezuela has now pre-empted the OAS by initiating a voluntary exit. Caracas wants to present itself as a moral winner against the "imperialist and partisan" OAS. But basically it is about avoiding diplomatic defeat. Because the 23 votes required for an exclusion procedure in the OAS would most likely come together.

However, there can be no question of moral superiority. The government starves its population, enriches itself and has demonstrators hunted down by the so-called colectivos, the armed defenders of the Bolivarian revolution. Even moderately left-wing governments in the region, such as those in Chile or Uruguay, are now distancing themselves from the regime in Caracas, with which they hardly share any values. Maduro's authoritarian behavior makes it easy for countries to speak out against Venezuela. OAS Secretary General Almagro himself provides an example. The former Uruguayan foreign minister under President Mujica is considered a true leftist. Today he has to let Maduro call him scum.

The first clear message to Venezuela, however, came from Argentina. President Macri had replaced his Venezuela-friendly predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for less than 24 hours when he asked the Mercosur free trade association to suspend Venezuela at the end of 2015. A year later, after the left-wing government also withdrew from power in Brazil, the exclusion was a fact. The slide to the right continued in Peru, where President Humala gave way to the liberal Kuczynski. Investigations suggest that Humala had received millions of dollars in financial aid from Hugo Chavez at the time.

Today the balance of power in South America is different than it was three years ago. The Union of South American Nations (Unasur), which Venezuela had long recognized as the only legitimate regional organization, has lost its function as a kind of counter-organization to the OAS. Only a small group of governments are still seemingly unconditionally loyal to Venezuela. These are Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba as well as individual small Caribbean states.

Oil versus friendship

Venezuela's isolation also has economic reasons. For a long time Caracas was able to secure favor in the region with gifts in the form of petroleum. The basis for this was the Petrocaribe Agreement launched in 2005, to which 17 smaller states from Belize to Bahamas are affiliated. The members pay a maximum of half of the oil deliveries at market price, the rest they can pay off over 25 years at an interest rate of just one percent. At the height of the program around five years ago, Venezuela served the region with more than 200,000 barrels a day under these conditions. But Venezuela's oil production has been falling steadily over the past three years, and the gifts are becoming more modest. Jamaica, for example, which once received 23,000 barrels a day, still gets 1,300 barrels today. And Cuba now only gets half of what was once 110,000 barrels a day, which has forced President Castro to restrict fuel consumption.

The USA in particular has stepped into the breach in the Caribbean as a supplier of oil and fuel. At the same time, thanks to other energy sources, the Caribbean countries are becoming less dependent on oil. Venezuela is meanwhile on the shorter lever: The Petrocaribe members owe Venezuela 20 billion dollars. But in order to avert national bankruptcy, Venezuela needs this money so badly that it is willing to forego more than half of it for immediate repayments.

Oil also shapes relationships with other nations. While the EU is very harsh today with regard to Venezuela, there is serenity in Russia and China. That has to do not only with democratic standards, but above all with oil. While China is Venezuela's most important creditor and receives huge amounts of oil for it, Russian energy companies are negotiating contracts with Caracas billions. Neither Beijing nor Moscow have an interest in a political overthrow in Venezuela.