By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela — An independent expert for the UN’s top human rights body was allowed a rare visit to Venezuela. After spending a week in the country and assessing the situation, he reported that there is no humanitarian crisis.
Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert on International Democratic and Equitable Order at the UN, made his visit in late November to assess the social and economic progress in Venezuela. He said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and “victims of repression,” and reported that the government did not give him any problems.
This was the first visit by a UN rights expert to Venezuela since 1996. De Zayas remarked, “I have succeeded in opening the door. After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a UN expert to spend eight days there.”
During his visit, he pleaded with the government to release more than 20 people in custody. In addition, he gave a total of six pages of recommendations. Venezuela has already met one recommendation by agreeing to cooperate with some unspecified UN agencies.
While the country is being accused of undermining democracy, it also struggles with inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Its economy has taken severe hits since the decline in global oil prices in 2014. Contrary to most media reporting, De Zayas assured that there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He said he agrees with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the Economic Commission for Latin America who deny the humanitarian crisis.
However, he conceded that there are some shortages and delays in distribution. He has called on the international community to be aware of the monopolies, smuggling, and corruption that has emerged under the US-led economic and financial war. The conflict has resulted in pressures and sanctions. Last year, over 750 opposition-controlled offshore companies were accused of purposefully redirecting Venezuelan imports of raw food materials from the government to the private sector. On top of that, international sanctions have blocked millions of tons of food and other supplies from reaching the Venezuelan people.
De Zayas also remarked that the opposition and private media label the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis in an effort to promote international intervention. Opposition leaders made “the opening of a humanitarian channel” one of its chief demands in negotiations with the national government. He called the mainstream media coverage of the country “theatrical, hyperbole, and an exaggeration,” and said it does not help to resolve any problems. However, he said international solidarity is necessary to help them overcome the current crisis.
The UN expert will create recommendations to address Venezuela’s crisis and present them to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018. He is now on his way to Ecuador for a similar investigative visit.
Finally, De Zayas has faced some criticism from advocacy groups. The UN Watch, among others, alleged he was carrying out a “fake” investigation during his trip.
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