Venezuela Chaos: At Home, at the UN

CARACAS,Venezuela – While Venezuela’s debt crisis baffled foreign investors in Caracas, over in New York several nations staged a walkout of a UN conference to discuss the chaotic situation in that nation.

Foreign investors walked a red carpet at a state palace eager to hear strategies for reorganizing Venezuela’s billions in debt, but they left minutes later having learned no concrete plans to address the country’s financial crisis.

Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who headed the talks, used much of his time to rail against U.S. President Donald Trump and foreign lenders for leading what the government calls an ‘economic war” against this oil-rich nation.

But he also tried to assure creditors that debts will continue to be paid, echoing statements by President Nicolas Maduro that Venezuela has made more than $70 billion in debt payments since 2013.

‘The state has fully honored its national and international commitments, especially with regard to external debt service,” El Aissami said in a televised broadcast. ‘Even with great sacrifice, we have paid every penny of our debt service.”

Those few investors who bothered to show up had few expectations for the meeting, which from the start was clouded in confusion.

Maduro invited investors to Caracas a little more than a week ago while announcing his goal of renegotiating a foreign debt that he said has become impossible to repay because of a U.S.-led financial ‘blockade” of the socialist-run country.

As Venezuela spent heavily on social programs under the late President Hugo Chavez, a time when global oil prices soared, its debt skyrocketed to over $120 billion, about half of which is in the form of dollar-denominated bonds. The drop in crude prices has ravaged the country that sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, leading to widespread shortages amid triple-digit inflation.

Strained relations between Venezuela and the United States are compounding the situation.

The Trump administration has sanctioned a growing list of Venezuelan officials, including the government’s top two debt negotiators, Economy Minister Simon Zerpa and El Aissami. The vice president is accused of being a major drug trafficker.

Washington has also barred U.S. companies from lending new money to Venezuela because of human rights abuses committed during months of anti-government protests and Maduro’s efforts to squash the opposition.

But in a sign the Trump administration might be willing to soften its stance, the Treasury Department said last week that it would consider allowing Americans to deal in new debt if any restructuring plan was backed by Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, whose authority has been steadfastly ignored by Maduro’s government.

Meanwhile in New York at an informal meeting to discuss Venezuela at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called Venezuela ‘an increasingly violent narco-state” that threatens the world.

Venezuela’s U.N. ambassador, Rafael Ramirez, responded by denouncing the session.

‘This is a hostile act from the United States and an interference that violates the sovereignty principles of a country that is a member of the United Nations,” he told reporters.

Russia, China, Egypt and Bolivia boycotted the meeting organized by the United States, saying the 15-member body should not be involved in the situation.

‘The issue is about meddling with the internal domestic affairs of Venezuela,’ Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters, adding that he hoped the country could settle its issues peacefully without any external interference.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the meeting: ‘The fact that the [Venezuelan] government would go so far as to try and get people not to show up to a meeting is guilt. And that’s unfortunate.’

In Brussels earlier in the day, the European Union banned arms sales to Venezuela and set up a system to slap asset freezes and travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials as it seeks to ramp up pressure on Maduro.

The weapons ban would stop sales of military equipment that could be used for repression or surveillance of Venezuelans.