Honourable Chair and members of the committee, thank you for having me here today.
It has been two years since I last addressed this esteemed committee. At that time, I spoke of the vital role the OAS plays as the forum for political dialogue in the hemisphere, the opportunities for Canada in its engagement with Latin America, and some of the developing challenges in the region—particularly the growing, undeniable aggressions on democracy and human rights and the fast-deteriorating situation in Venezuela.
Today I must speak to a much starker picture of the situation facing our hemisphere. The divisions between freedom and outright tyranny, between the respect and protection of democracy and human rights versus repression for the pursuit of power, have unashamedly come to the surface, creating a moral quandary and an existential divide that has developed on a continent that only a short time ago proudly considered itself a hemisphere of democracies.
Venezuela is a warning for us. It shows how to design and implement a dictatorship in the 21st century. It is a road map for how to dismantle the constitutional and democratic order of society and how to build a regime dedicated to the personal worth and prosperity of the dictatorship at any cost.
It is now also the grandest test of the commitment to democracy of the OAS member states and to our hemisphere. How do we as an international community respond to what is not only a failed state, guilty of atrocities against its citizens, but what is now a free-falling mafia state whose actions are threatening the security and stability of its neighbours? It's an existential question of our hemisphere's future.
Inaction of the international community, whether as a result of intentional choice or as a result of hesitation or inertia, only feeds the dictatorship's permanence in power. The regime has destroyed checks and balances in governmental institutions, destroyed free and fair elections, destroyed the economy, destroyed PDVSA and destroyed democracy, while they are stealing millions and persecuting, imprisoning, torturing and killing the “internal enemies”—innocent civilians who simply do not support and agree with the regime.
They have even been deliberately starved of funds. Public hospitals have been reduced to places where people go to die. There is no running water, and surgery, if done, is done with the light of candles or the flashlights of cellphones.
This crisis is also far from a trivial discussion of the politics of left and right. The dictatorship would prefer to frame the crisis in these terms because the historical cleavage of “left” and “right” divides and distracts the inter-American community into petty debates. However, the real issue is the needs and rights of the people, and whether we are for or against the most basic understanding of humanity.
The question facing us today is one of human tragedy, the question of a regime that has intentionally and systematically crushed the human dignity of its people. The suffering of the Venezuelan people has now expanded beyond its borders and is tangibly visible in the continent. There is no support for this regime left in Venezuela. You only need to consider the millions and millions in Venezuela who are literally voting with their feet.
One does not make the choice to abandon one's home lightly, especially because the only way to do so is on foot, walking for days if not weeks without food or shelter. This is a choice made out of desperation, a choice made when there is no hope left.
I understand that this committee has already heard today from the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regarding the immigration crisis, so I will keep my comments on this subject brief.
Dictatorship has caused the largest migration exodus in the history of the hemisphere. Since Maduro was first elected, 3.3 million Venezuelan refugees have fled the oppression and repression of his regime. That is already 10% of the population. Ever single day, 5,000 Venezuelans are forced to flee the country, and another 1.8 million more are expected to leave by 2019. This is a region that already has some of the highest levels of undocumented migration in the world.
Venezuela was once a destination country for the region's economic migrants and so, in addition to those fleeing in desperation, these individuals are forced to seek opportunity elsewhere.
Those who could afford to leave and continue their lives elsewhere—doctors, teachers, professors, engineers and academics, the professional class—have all been leaving for years. Now we see millions of Venezuelans with no hope left casting their ballot with their feet. They are packing what they can on their backs and making the long walk to safety, security and hope.
Countries in the region are trying to absorb the refugees and migrants, but it has proven a difficult economic, social and cultural challenge. The Colombian president recently mentioned that the migrant influx cost 0.5% of the country's GDP. During the summer of 2018, an incident in various receiving countries showed how problems could easily be triggered. Every calculation and every public opinion poll must count the voices of those who have chosen to leave because staying and hoping or working for an alternative is an impossibility.
The Venezuelan crisis is now a crisis for all the Americas. We have seen the re-emergence of diseases that had been all but eradicated from the region that are now, once again, present throughout the continent. Venezuela is exporting malaria, diphtheria and measles to neighbouring countries because corruption, negligence, and now a deliberate policy of social control and repression have left millions susceptible to disease.
The environmental degradation of some of the most pristine ecosystems that this world has seen is happening at an unchecked and unprecedented rate. Terrorist groups are strip-mining entire swathes of untouched land to extract precious metals, the newest source of revenue for their regime, now that they have pillaged and destroyed the country's oil industry.
The ELN, reduced almost to its knees, is now flourishing in Venezuela, where it is easily finding new recruits from the vast pool of desperately poor and hungry Venezuelans. Strengthening the ELN is also a magnet for the same FARC members who refuse to participate in the Colombian peace process. The history books will clearly show that the implosion of Venezuela is a textbook case of the inertia of international public decision-making and of the failure to act when there was a moment to act. The consequences of this failure will be felt far beyond, and this humanitarian disaster will need to be addressed for decades to come.
Nicholás Maduro and his regime should be investigated for crimes against humanity.
First, I must thank Canada for the support you have shown for the OAS from the outset of this process. Your esteemed former colleague, Professor Irwin Cotler, who I'm pleased was able to join us today, made an immense contribution in drafting the legal opinion of the panel of independent international experts that found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed by Nicholás Maduro and his dictatorship.
The OAS has submitted to the court the documentation of 171 murders by state security forces and paramilitary collectives in the 2014 and 2017 protests. More than 8,000 extrajudicial executions have been recorded since 2015, as well as more than 12,000 arbitrary detentions and more than 1,300 political prisoners. This is only what we've already documented.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated the Venezuelan security forces may have committed crimes against humanity against protesters and called for an international investigation. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has also warned about possible crimes against humanity. All these data points are outdated. In the months since the publication of the report, escalation of the crisis and the increasing brutality of this repression have grown exponentially.
For this regime to hold onto power, they require complete and total social control. I applaud Canada's decision to join the coalition of Latin American countries that invoked article 14 of the Rome Statute, referring the situation of Venezuela to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and calling on her to urgently open a full criminal investigation into these crimes that are taking place. Six countries of our hemisphere with a strong record of democracy with independent judiciaries and a clear commitment to the rule of law determined there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation. The referee has since been supported by France, Costa Rica and Germany.
Our hemisphere has spoken in a unified voice in calling for justice and has stated clearly that there will be an end to the impunity of Maduro and his cronies. This is exactly the type of assertive action the international community must pursue in order to bring an end to this dictatorship.
Our work here is not done. We must remain steadfast in our efforts and work to ensure that a full investigation is opened by the ICC. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must take the decision to open an investigation. This decision is waiting on her desk. This is not a decision that needs to be taken by an institution; it is a decision, a responsibility, that is specifically in Bensouda's hands. She has the power to make the difference between justice and impunity, between an investigation and a denial of justice.
The prosecutor must open a full criminal investigation without delay. We cannot allow her to hide behind bureaucratic procedures and delays or hide behind political influences and commitments. Every further delay is calculated not only in the lives of Venezuelans, which are continually taken far too early, but in the thousands of Venezuelans who are fleeing across the border every day. The hesitation and delays are destabilizing the entire region.
We must be vigilant and persistent. There is no credible reason for any further delays. The International Criminal Court is already late to act. It's time for the ICC to side with the victims and justice. It is not only in the failure to act that tragedy becomes atrocities.
Let me be absolutely clear. Any response, action or intervention must be done in accordance with public international law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. It must conform with international norms that protect democracy and human rights. Any attack, armed invasion or aggression that takes place outside of the confines of international law must be unequivocally condemned.
Moreover, we have a responsibility to act, and we have created obligations for ourselves under the protocol of the responsibility to protect. That not only requires states to protect their populations from atrocity, but also calls on states to support each other, admitting this responsibility, and to take action when other states fail. These commitments were not created for when we are already counting the number of dead; they exist precisely so that we can prevent this from happening.
The Venezuelan crisis did not develop in a vacuum. Dictatorships in the 21st century are created in a different way than those of past centuries. The modern dictatorship is developed in the open, over time. The strategy was simple: Use whatever mechanisms are available to achieve power, and then corrupt and co-opt those systems to hold onto power through any means necessary.
Venezuela may be the first new dictatorship of the 21st century, but it is not the only dictatorship. Nicolás Maduro built a regime to emulate the Castro legacy of control through misery, with reports of as many as 46,000 Cubans working in Venezuela, many in the intelligence, security and repression apparatus. This is hands down the largest occupation force in our hemisphere. To the skeptics of the responsibility to protect and consider a humanitarian intervention in Venezuela and to those who ferociously and blindly defend non-intervention in the world in the Westphalian era, no matter how great the crimes and atrocities that are being done by a government in power to its people, I ask, “Why have you not condemned this ongoing, outright and self-evident intervention in Venezuela?”
The Cubans were responsible for mentoring, teaching and modernizing the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, the main apparatus Maduro uses to combat the so-called internal enemy, who are simply citizens calling for their political and human rights. The Cubans are working hard to keep the Maduro regime in power. At a time when Venezuelans are living with unprecedented shortages of food and medicines, Maduro continues to send millions of barrels of subsidized crude oil to his political masters in Cuba instead of using those resources to feed his people.
The Venezuelans have adopted the Cuban repression and torture playbook. They even announced that they have participated in torture. The Nicaraguan dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has recently done the same thing. Cuba is exporting its repression around the region.
During this past year, torture victims in Venezuela and Nicaragua have reported the presence and participation of Cubans in torture chambers. Venezuela, and now increasingly Nicaragua, are offspring dictatorships in relation to the legacy of the longest-standing dictatorship in our hemisphere.
This must be stopped by using the long arm of international law, consistent with basic moral principles. Dictatorships should not be able to intimidate and bully democratic states with threats, lies and public smear campaigns.
Democratic states in this hemisphere should persistently make dictatorships afraid of justice, afraid of international human rights regimes that will come after them, and afraid of the fact of international accountability of the reprisal from international criminal law. We must all work together to have a dictatorship-free hemisphere. If we all behave and act without any hesitation along the way and according to the democratic and human rights principles that underpin our institutions and the very existence of our societies, I believe this one day will be possible.
Honourable Chair and members of the committee, a frightening global trend is playing out in our hemisphere. We are faced with a time when dictators are no longer ashamed of their abuses of power or rampant corruption. They show up in international forums. They are invited to attend presidential inaugurations.
When facing dictators, there is no margin of error and no margin of interpretation. The competition is between democratic and anti-democratic forces, and between those who value human rights and dignity and those who don't. Democracy is not self-correcting for the better; authoritarianism is self-correcting, but for the worse.
If our goal is more and better democracies, freer societies, and automatically more rights for more people, then it is necessary that the inter-American community and the international community as a whole execute corrective steps towards democratic improvement.
It is not enough to believe we can simply lead by example. We cannot stand idly by as a neighbouring government attacks its own people, undermines the stability and security of its neighbours, and commits crimes against humanity. It's not enough to speak platitudes about democracy and human rights. To stand for democracy and human rights requires that we be willing to act and to fully use and implement all of the tools and mechanisms available to us that could help bring about any form of change.
This means that we need a full criminal investigation into the crimes against humanity that have taken place in Venezuela. We must explore the levels we have established in the protocol of the responsibility to protect. We must address the corruption and criminality and be willing to impose financial sanctions, asset seizure and forfeitures of illicit funds and property. We must be willing to explore every possible mechanism that could help us tame and resolve the crisis.
The situation in Venezuela is a moral test for our generation, and how we respond to the crisis will be remembered for generations to come. Our responsibility and our belief in the power of principles, a rules-based and values-based international order, and international moral responsibility consistent with international law should be implemented to defend people, not to defend the state.
We look forward to working with Canada in the difficult but worthy path ahead.