Venezuelan President’s Legacy of Human Rights Abuses Forgotten Amid Oil Shortages

By Autumn Spredemann
Autumn Spredemann
Autumn Spredemann
Autumn is a South America-based reporter covering primarily Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.
March 23, 2022 Updated: March 24, 2022

In recent weeks, with increased sanctions against Russia and the systematic withdrawal of U.S. oil service companies from the Eurasian nation, officials have turned to the authoritarian regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in hopes of a solution.

Since Russia launched a massive military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, crude oil has suffered market instability and inflation, hitting historic highs of more than $130 per barrel.

Some experts say this trend is likely to continue or even get worse.

A high-level U.S. delegation, which included six Citgo oil executives, met with Maduro on March 5, triggering a backlash from U.S. representatives and the public.

Yet a week later, on March 12, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security, Josep Borrell Fontelles, met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Felix Plasencia to discuss a “commitment” to the U.N. charter.

Additionally, Plasencia advocated the removal of sanctions against the Maduro regime.

As talk of alternative oil resources has emerged, some have pointed to Venezuela’s vast potential. The South American country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, at 304 billion barrels.

By comparison, Saudi Arabia has 298 billion barrels, and the United States has 69 billion barrels, despite being the world’s top producer of the fossil fuel.

Epoch Times Photo
An oil refining plant of state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela in Puerto La Cruz, Anzoategui state, Venezuela, on Nov. 4, 2021. (Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)

Global shortages aside, doing business with Maduro undermines the reason the United States suspended relations with Venezuela: an avalanche of human rights accusations, criminal activity, and a stolen presidential election.

“There are structural reasons for why Venezuelan democracy would not stabilize under Maduro,” analyst Dr. Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat told The Epoch Times. “The first reason is that what exists in Venezuela today is not a democracy. … It’s a dictatorship upheld by a one-party state, upheld by foreign occupation. For Venezuela to be free, this power structure must go.”

Since his rise to power in 2013, Maduro has presided over the worst economic crisis in the country’s history.

Thirty percent of Venezuela’s gross domestic product was lost just three years after the death of controversial President Hugo Chavez. Excessive levels of dire poverty and hyperinflation followed, along with critical food and medicine shortages.

This combination of devastating factors led to an increasingly authoritarian regime under Maduro, which still struggles to maintain a grip on the nation amid protests and political opposition. He has, on more than one occasion, extinguished both with lethal force.

After a U.N. fact-finding mission on human rights abuses in Venezuela, investigators found evidence of unlawful executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture having been prevalent since 2014.

In a December 2019 official report, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Carrie Filipetti said the booming illicit mining industry in Venezuela “perpetuates a horrific cycle of criminality and both human and ecological abuse.”

She noted that while the “Maduro dictatorship” recognized the threat that illegal mining poses to indigenous populations, the contested head of state has taken no steps to address the concern.

Instead, Maduro has capitalized off it and uses mining operations as an umbrella for trading guns, cash, and control for loyalty to the regime, according to Filipetti.

Allegations of unarmed protesters being beaten and murdered by state security officials have continued tarnishing Maduro’s international reputation since 2014.

Venezuelans protest
Venezuelans protest against the Nicolás Maduro regime on May 4, 2019, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

“The killing of hundreds of citizens protesting for democracy and freedom, the incarceration of citizens for how they think, the surrender of Venezuela‘s infrastructure and wealth to foreign occupiers, are gross and gigantic human rights violations,” Gutiérrez-Boronat said.

During the 2018 presidential election, Maduro won a second six-year term in office. However, his political rivals, U.S. officials, some humanitarian organizations, and many Venezuelans claim that the election was nothing more than a show, propping up a ruthless dictator.

The contested election was the impetus behind increased U.S. sanctions against the authoritarian regime.

In 2019, President Donald Trump targeted state-owned Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, the property owned by that enterprise, and U.S. companies doing business in the country in an attempt to further isolate the nation economically.

Partners such as Chevron were allowed to maintain essential operations, but were required to phase out production by June 2022.

Additionally, the U.S. Treasury started sanctioning those involved with the export, production, or sale of Venezuelan oil in 2019.

U.S. sanctions against Caracas began in 2005, when President George W. Bush determined that the administration of Chavez wasn’t upholding its obligations to global anti-drug trafficking agreements.

Existing miseries within the population were compounded by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Maduro’s regime seized the opportunity to punish dissenters for breaking COVID-19-related restrictions, and he used the state of emergency to expand control over the population.

Many families lacked access to adequate nutrition, safe water, and health care facilities, which the organization Human Rights Watch said amounts to crimes against humanity.

A firm and long-standing supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Maduro has openly supported the fellow authoritarian leader’s attack on Ukraine, even claiming that Western nations provoked the conflict.

“Those who provoked this conflict with decades of non-compliance with agreements, with decades of threats against Russia, with decades of preparing plans for the extension of NATO are the first ones who are responsible for deescalating this conflict,” Maduro said during a March 7 speech.

Autumn Spredemann
Autumn is a South America-based reporter covering primarily Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.