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Interview with former UN special rapporteur to Venezuela, Alfred de Zeyas

by Fernando Arce

Alfred de Zayas
Alfred de Zayas
In August 2018, Alfred de Zayas' report on Venezuela was published by the United Nations. de Zayas has mentioned previously he believes the the idea of a humanitarian crisis is being weaponized to justify the push for regime change in Venezuela. Here he answers questions  about the current situation in which several countries are no longer recognizing elected president Nicolas Maduro as leader. 
 
In your opinion, why does mainstream media such as Canada’s CBC or the U.S.’ CNN, to name just two, refuse to accept the accounts of international observers and UN rapporteurs, such as yourself, who describe the situation from first-hand accounts? And two, why do you believe it is easy for institutions such as our media and even bodies such as the UN to ignore your Venezuela Report?
 
There is too much money at stake. Venezuela's oil and gold reserves are so huge that many in the US and EU are rubbing their hands in the expectation of the loot if Maduro is toppled and the natural resources of Venezuela are privatized. It was and is unprofessional of the journalists to suppress information. If they disagree with the findings and recommendations in my report, they should say so.  But since they cannot disprove my findings, they prefer to ignore them.
As to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights -- well, we do live in a highly politicized world.  And there is a politically correct narrative that has to be upheld.  My report disputes the analysis of the two reports by High Commissioner Zeid Raad el Hussein -- that is an embarrassment to OHCHR.
 
In a piece from The Independent, you’re quoted as saying: “They just want the narrative that socialism failed and it failed the Venezuelan people.” But outside of the UN and the Mainstream Media’s walls, socialism, and socialistic ideas and candidates, have been gaining traction, even in the U.S. Why then, in your opinion, still push this narrative of “socialism as evil”? What kind of interests are leading to the pushing of this narrative, despite a more open-minded public?
 
There is an ocean of fake news and disinformation about Venezuela. Even people of good will are misled by reports of Zeid Raad el Hussein and even Human Rights Watch. Of course there have been many errors committed by Chavez and Maduro, but both were democratically elected and it is not for us -- Americans -- to tell Venezuelans who their leaders should be.  There is corruption in Venezuela -- as there is in Colombia and Brazil. But exclusive focus on Venezuela influences many, and others, who sympathize with social legislation, may be intimidated to speak out.  There is a price to pay for intellectual honesty.
 
It seems you are somewhat of an outlier within the United Nations due to your report/views. You say you are ignored “because (you don’t sing) the song” you’re supposed to sing. Is that a fair assessment? Do you feel your views/findings clash with the other UN members?
 
My reports on the World Bank and human Rights, on the IMF and human rights, on tax havens were also very controversial. The United Nations is not a person -- but an assembly of 193 States -- and geopolitics drive not only the Security Council, but also the Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Believe me, I was a staff member at OHCHR for decades, Secretary of the Human Rights Committee and Chief of the Petitions  department. We have to do with a "human rights industry".  My first boss was Theo van Boven, a true hero of human rights -- today we have mostly politicians and "managers"
running OHCHR and the major ngo's like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  All depend on donations, and the donors tend to set the agenda.
 
What other interests are driving the UN, then, if not factual findings presented in a diplomatic manner?
 
There is a lot of hard ball politics, blackmail and twisting of arms. Ambassadors have told me more than once what pressures they have been subjected to -- not only from the US, but also from the UK and EU. Basically it is geopolitics and money -- human rights have been weaponized in order to destabilize states where there is something to gain.
 
According to the Independent, your report says the US sanctions are illegal “because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council,” and could thus amount to “crimes against humanity.” You went as far as suggesting that the ICC investigate the sanctions under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. Could you please explain what actual recourse is there to force Developed countries like U.S. and Canada to abide by international law and the  consequences of violating it?
 
Unilateral coercive measures are always illegal, because they contravene the UN Charter, customary international law, and in the case of Latin America, chapter 4, article 19 of the OAS Charter.  Back in 2000 Professor Marc Bossuyt, then President of the Belgian Constitutional Court and expert at the UN Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights wrote a long report explaining why unilateral coercive measures are illegal.  I go one step further -- when such sanctions cause death through malnutrition, lack of access
to medicines like insulin, anti-retroviral drugs, anti-malaria drugs, dyalysis etc. -- and in the case of Venezuela many hundreds if not thousands of Venezuelans have died because of scarcities and distribution delays caused by the sanctions -- this is deliberate homicide, this is murder, this is a crime against humanity, and could be examined under article 7 of the Statute of the ICC. Many governments should send complaints to the ICC Prosecutor at the Hague.
 
Are Canada’s economic sanctions against Maduro also considered illegal under international law? And Is Canada’s recognition of Guaido a violation of international law?
 
Cadada's economic sanctions are similarly illegal under international law.  So too Canada's recognition of Guaido as interim president.  A country like Canada (I was the Douglas McKay Brown Chair in International Law at the University of British Columbia 2003) that is ostensibly committed to democracy, rule of law and human rights must NOT do what Canada has done.  It is a disgrace.  But we are witnessing how international law is applied arbitrarily, selectively -- it's human rights à la carte.  Today yes, tomorrow now.  For some victims yes, for others not.
 
US sanctions for Venezuela also came during Obama’s time in office, not just Trump’s. What does this tell you about the larger picture? What does it say to you when ideologically/politically-diametrical US presidents both agree on what you call illegal economic sanctions against a nation?

 
Economic and financial issues drive the politics of both the Democratic and Republican administrations.  There is a deep state in the US.
 
The mainstream media is adamant in dubbing the situation in Venezuela a Humanitarian Crisis. What are the political implications of dubbing the situation a “humanitarian crisis”?
 
The situation in Venezuela cannot be compared with humanitarian crises in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, etc.  The FAO has a list of 37 states in the category of nutritional crisis -- Venezuela is not among them.  The only purpose of maintaining that Venezuela is suffering a "humanitarian crisis" is to justify a military "humanitarian intervention" -- which, of course would violate article 2(4) of the UN Charter.  But this was violated in Irack 2003 and Libya 2011 with total impunity.
 
You said that the US is trying to do to Venezuela what they did to Chile in 1973, that is, install a more business-friendly regime. You also say that you have witnessed the arm-twisting and threats of economic consequences that the US has used in order to convince other countries to vote with them. And this isn’t reflected in the press. Can you expand on that based on your experience at the UN?
 
I have spoken with many journalists.  And certain things are invariably suppressed.  The narrative is a simple one -- We, Americans, are the good guys, we know what is good for the world, we bring them democracy and human rights.  This is almost an item of religious faith.  Whoever challenges it, is ostracized, mobbed, ignored.
 
Back in 1970 Nixon called in Kissinger and told him that the US would simply not tolerate an alternative socio-economic system to be installed in Latin America. He said: "we shall make the Chilean economy scream".  And we did!  But when the people of Chile still did not recognize our wisdom and still did not turn against Allende, it was necessary to rely on stronger measures -- a criminal putsch by General Augusto Pinochet, which gave Chileans 17 years of dictatorship.
 
The worst thing I observe is a corruption of language -- "democracy" is what the State Department says it means.


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