The Corner


Venezuela and Its Terrible Reality

Opposition leaders Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 30, 2019 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters)

I have recorded a podcast, a Q&A, with Diego Arria, here. He is an eminent Venezuelan and has lived through extraordinary eras in his country’s history. He was a prominent politician in Venezuela. Then ambassador to the U.N. Then an assistant secretary-general at the U.N. Etc. He testified at The Hague against Milosevic. He filed a complaint against Chávez in the same court. His property has been expropriated back home.

I could go on, but the point should be clear: Arria has lived a life in which you can see the Venezuela of his times.

In our podcast, we talk about the current stand-off in Venezuela. When will the military tip? That is a question that many have been asking, including me. It is not such a good question, Arria advises, gently. The chavista dictatorship is a military dictatorship. The military is not an arm of the government; it is, in fact, the government.

We talk about the young men at the head of the opposition: Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López. Both of them are exceptionally brave, says Arria.

We further talk about foreign influences on Venezuela: influences from Cuba, Russia, and China. There are approximately 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela, says Arria, and Havana “controls the intelligence and police services in my country.” Also, “you’d be amazed to know that the Cubans manufacture our passports” — I am amazed, yes.

And Russia? They have been selling oil equipment to Venezuela — a field day for corruption — and they control the most sophisticated military equipment in Venezuela. They don’t give a damn about the country, says Arria. They simply want a niche, a foothold, in the Western Hemisphere, to show that they are a big power and challenge the United States.

Okay, China? The biggest lender. “We still owe them about $25 billion,” down from $60 billion. The Chinese have been less aggressive in Venezuela than the Cubans and the Russians, but they are reliable backers of the regime in the context of the U.N. and so forth.

There are yet more foreign actors in Venezuela, says Arria: Hezbollah; Iranians; guerrillas from Colombia. “It’s a very diversified group that we have now in our country,” says Arria, with a trace of dark humor.

Of course, the United States is an influence too — a positive influence. Arria is full of praise for the conduct of the Trump administration. If Trump ran for president in Venezuela, he says, he’d win 90 percent of the vote! And there could be no better envoy than Elliott Abrams, says Arria — an opinion he has also expressed to Abrams himself.

Arria is similarly high on Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the OAS (Organization of American States). In my observation, admiration of Almagro among well-wishers of democracy is widespread.

Toward the end of our podcast, Diego Arria makes an amazing statement to me — one I had never quite reckoned with: Pablo Escobar, the drug lord, was a terrible presence in Colombia, but he was never president. El Chapo was a terrible presence in Mexico, but he was never president. In Venezuela, the narco-terrorists are the government! It is a military-narco dictatorship, a vicious, repulsive entity.

Venezuela has had a dizzying slide. At the U.N., Arria used to plead for democracy and human rights in an array of countries. He never dreamed that he would have to do the same for his own country. It is surreal to him.

He is sometimes asked whether he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He can see it, yes. But he doesn’t know how long the tunnel is. Challenges to dictatorships are often known as “springs” (since 1968). Arria is hoping for a kind of Venezuelan summer — an end to the regime in the months to come.

Well, this is not a long podcast, but I have gone on about it. Again, to hear it, go here.

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