Op-Ed: By supporting Maduro, South Africa turns a blind eye to Venezuela’s agony

On 26 January 2019, the Security Council of the United Nations held a special session to discuss recent events in Venezuela. Of the 15 member countries of this body, only four voted against debating this issue. Unfortunately, South Africa was one. The country cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what is really happening in Venezuela.

The great hardships the Venezuelan people have endured have been widely covered by various media outlets around the world. Studies show that on average, Venezuelans have lost 11kg due to what has been called the “Maduro Diet”, caused by the lack of basic food staples in the country’s markets. Similarly, the government’s disastrous economic policies have caused one of the highest inflations rates on record, calculated by the International Monetary Fund at one million percent in 2018 and estimated to reach above 10-million percent in 2019. Added to all this, lists of the most violent cities in the world have been topped by some located in Venezuela, with Caracas the most violent capital worldwide with 111.2 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 62,3 per 100,000 in Johannesburg. This situation has caused South America’s largest migration crisis in its history, with more than three-million Venezuelans fleeing the country since 2014, according to the United Nations. This represents around 10% of the country’s population that has escaped, mainly on foot, to neighbouring countries such as Colombia and Brazil. In contrast, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that slightly less than two million refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe from the African continent during the same time period.

It has been the goal of the opposition to provoke a change of government in Venezuela through peaceful and constitutional mechanisms, but the reaction of the regime has been to imprison and murder members of the opposition. After the sham presidential elections of May 2018, in which Maduro was reelected, most countries of the world did not recognise its results.

Since then, the regime has strongly cracked down on the opposition. Cases such as the detention and murder of Caracas city council member, Fernando Alban, and the illegal detention of Juan Requesens, a prominent member of parliament, have been added to the extensive list of human rights violations committed by the regime. So even though the opposition has tried, the government has used all its power to cripple it.

On 23 January 2019, the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, was sworn in as interim President of Venezuela. This step was taken based on the country’s constitution, which states that in the presence of a power vacuum, the president of the national assembly will assume control of the executive branch.

This action prompted most countries of the western hemisphere, including the US and Canada, to recognise him as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The European Union has urged Maduro to call credible elections in the next week, if not it would also recognise Guiado as Venezuela’s president. South Africa, of all nations, understands the importance of international pressure when a government uses force and violence against its own people.

Unfortunately, the South African government has decided to ignore the immense suffering of the Venezuelan people and has sided with a dictator. The sad and misleading speech given by Jerry Matjila as representative of South Africa to the UN this Saturday recognised the results of 2018’s fraudulent elections and said that the opposition could solve its “political differences” with Maduro.

Nelson Mandela has been an important example for us. His example guides us on our mission to reconstruct our country, that has been divided for too long along political lines.

In name of the Venezuelan people, I strongly request that the South African people reject the position of their government and demand that Ramaphosa’s administration change its stance towards the bloody regime headed by Maduro. Not doing so would tarnish South Africa’s image as a nation that has strived for the respect of human dignity.

South Africa, don’t be an accomplice to the suffering of the Venezuelan people. DM

Diego Scharifker is a member of the opposition in Venezuela and until recently was a City Council Member in Caracas. He is currently studying towards a Master in Public Administration in Washington DC.