By John J. Metzler
And while the international community is sharply divided between supporting the status quo of President Nicolas Maduro and interim leader Juan Guaido, it's the Venezuelan people who are caught in the political crossfire.
The simmering crisis in Venezuela appears to have come to a boil with Maduro's regime still largely backed by the military and Cuban security police, and a once fractious but now united opposition under Juan Guaido.
Significantly 50 countries, most of Latin America including key countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru along with the United States and European Union have recognized and support the democratic opposition. Cuba, Nicaragua, China and Russia back Maduro.
Venezuela once a reasonably prosperous county of 33 million has seen its standard of living dramatically deteriorate in recent years as the endemic corruption and incompetence of the ruling socialist regime has triggered a free fall negative 15 percent GDP rate for each of the years between 2015 and 2018, widespread hunger and hyperinflation of over one million percent in 2018! In the wake of widespread electric blackouts, the country's gloom has increased to a dark new level.
The latest Security Council faceoff over Venezuela's future came after three confrontational meetings where the spirits of the old Cold War seemed to dance around the hushed Council chamber; the U.S. rhetorically sparring with Russia.
The American-sponsored draft resolution called for the "start of a peaceful political process leading to free, fair and credible presidential elections." The document also pressed for unhindered access and delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the now impoverished country.
U.S. Special Representative Elliot Abrams (yes, the very same pointman for the Reagan administration in Nicaragua back in the day), stated, "The time for a peaceful transition to democracy is now." Abrams stressed that the U.S. will continue to "offer humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans inside and outside the country."
Germany's delegate Christoph Heusgen stated clearly, "It is important that humanitarian assistance can access the country. We have to stop and prevent any politicization of the delivery of human assistance." The ambassador added, "This is a historic moment for Venezuela and we must not leave the people alone."
A Cold War rhetorical chill returned when Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the statements a "humanitarian show by the U.S."
Importantly Peru's Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra outlined "the terrible humanitarian situation, the breakdown of the economic order, and the exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans." Currently some 700,000 Venezuelans are seeking refuge in Peru.
Venezuela's refugee outpouring into neighboring countries poses a danger to regional stability as it creates a destabilizing force in Latin America. For example neighboring Colombia hosts 1 million Venezuelans; Brazil 85,000 and the United States has taken 290,000. Five thousand people are fleeing Venezuela each day.
For decades oil has been the lifeblood of the Venezuelan economy with petrodollars bringing prosperity and fueling corruption. But even here oil production has dramatically dropped in recent years to about one million barrels a day as compared with an average of 2.5 million daily a decade ago.
China has been a major consumer of Venezuelan petroleum. Not so coincidentally, the People's Republic has been a close political comrade of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution with over $50 billion in loans, repayable in petroleum, from Beijing since 2007. China is also Venezuela's second-largest arms supplier after Russia. As would be expected China is also a major foreign investor in the embattled country.
Though the economy is faltering, Venezuela's undecided political battle has yet to be resolved.
The European Union has been strongly campaigning for free and fair elections to replace the outcome of last year's electoral farce where Maduro was reelected. The EU stated, "We strongly renew our call for the restoration of democracy through free, transparent, and credible presidential elections in accordance with international democratic standards and the Venezuelan constitutional order."
Given's the EU's stance, Maduro has expelled the German ambassador in Caracas as a lesson and a threat to the Europeans for "meddling." Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Mass stated nonetheless, "Our, Europe's support for Juan Guaido remains firm."
The issue remains tragically stark. Poland's delegate Joanna Wronecka stated succinctly, "It is the Council's responsibility to address the situation in Venezuela as it poses a threat to international peace and security. Venezuelans deserve a better future."
John J. Metzler (email@example.com) is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of "Divided Dynamism: The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China."