Ernesto Samper: “UNASUR Will Keep Looking for Peaceful Solutions in Venezuela”

Rightwing Colombian newspaper El Tiempo conducts an interview with Secretary General of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). In the interview, the Colombian diplomat gives his take on the current challenges facing the Venezuelan government, including his view on the economy and the threat of foreign intervention.


Rightwing Venezuelan newspaper, El Tiempo, conducts an interview with Secretary General of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). In the interview, the Colombian diplomat gives his take on the current challenges facing the Venezuelan government, including his view on the economy and the threat of foreign intervention.

How does UNASUR see the current situation in Venezuela?

With the proportionate concern for the events taking place, and which are related to foreign interference, a lack of internal political dialogue and, of course, a social and economic situation that is a result of factors that were predictable a couple of years ago, such as the fall of international oil prices. Something which is affecting all of the oil producing countries in the region. 

Why has UNASUR not managed to promote democratic paths in Venezuela?

The question seems to be poorly worded in my opinion. Precisely what UNASUR is doing is acting to uphold the validity of Venezuela’s democratic institutions that are currently threatened by the aforementioned factors, which are not exactly “small ailments”. The fact that it is doing this discretely is another matter. 

The silence of UNASUR in the face of what is happening in Venezuela translates to approval of what is taking place in Venezuela? 

What you might call UNASUR’s “silence,” I call prudence and diplomacy. Our role isn’t to fuel fires but to put them out. We don’t dispute the role of the media in their duty to report, or even in media controversy, even if some do go too far in terms of their macabre reports, but our task consists of finding discreet and effective ways of solving or improving matters through dialogue and through a rapprochement and understanding between the actors in the crisis. 

Three weeks ago we started to follow, step by step and day by day, the situation in Venezuela, looking for a solution and proposing agreements to that effect. 

Does UNASUR think that the government of Nicolas Maduro has arrested opposition leaders out of a respect for justice? 

UNASUR doesn’t act like a government because it isn’t one. Its declarations as a union of nation-states are the result of an internal consensus and existing institutional mechanisms, which doesn’t mean to say that the nation-states which constitute the union don’t make official declarations as individual governments, as they have done over the past few days. 

Don’t you think that UNASUR should, at the very least, make an official petition for the liberty of the detained opposition leaders?

UNASUR as an institution defends principles such as the application of the universal regulations that define the right to due process and the independence of the courts, in order to complete their role in delivering justice without any kind of interference.  

Putting the opposition in jail without following due process is the nature of a democratic regime?

Of course not. If it is done without respect for due process, which is a conclusion that you are frivolously jumping to.

There are those that say that the Maduro government is a regime on its way to dictatorship. What is your opinion? 

That many of those saying that are expressing wishful thinking. Whilst there is no substitution of the Venezuelan government through the very same democratic mechanisms that saw President Maduro elected, he will continue to be the President of Venezuela.  

Do you feel that UNASUR has a relationship with the Venezuelan government which prevents it from questioning the country? 

Of course there are differences within UNASUR and not just in relation to the case of Venezuela, but on many other different issues. These differences are debated and are overcome internally. That’s why UNASUR acts as a large political platform and has acted promptly and efficiently in the resolution of even some of the most serious democratic crises.

You have said that you are worried about the economic situation in the country. Isn’t it a priority to first defend human rights, to ensure they restore political liberties first, and then move on to economic wellbeing?

This isn’t the chicken or the egg dilema. For me it’s clear to see that the background to this crisis is the economic situation which can affect and even end up compromising democratic stability in Venezuela. Having said that, this crisis wasn’t invented by President Maduro, if he hadn’t been elected, then the government in power at this moment would also have to face it. 

What is important is that political, social and economic actors in Venezuela come to a quick agreement for the social management of the economy. In order to achieve that, they have to sit down to dialogue at the same table. 

Is it true that there is an international conspiracy to overthrow Maduro?

In the Montevideo meeting of foreign ministers organised by UNASUR in order to address the issue of Venezuela, the Venezuelan government presented evidence of the existence of international intervention which worried and alarmed some of those present.  

I confess that I don’t understand how the United States gives with one hand in Cuba and takes away with the other in Venezuela through unilateralism. 

(Colombian) President Santos has already asked for the liberation of Leopoldo Lopez as well as the guarantee of a fair process for Mayor Ledezma, does this clear the way for UNASUR to adopt a firmer position?

In UNASUR we respect the position of all member states and we continue to search for means to dialogue and points of convergence between different actors in Venezuela so there is a democratic, pacific and constitutional solution to the crisis, because we believe that what is what will best preserve social peace in that country. 

Do you feel that there is a consensus amongst the UNASUR foreign ministers to ask Maduro to respect liberties in Venezuela? 

I can’t claim to be a spokesperson and much less an interpreter for what the UNASUR foreign ministers might think. My role as Secretary General is to look for agreements, not to support disagreement.  

What do you think of Cesar Gaviria’s proposal to open up transitional justice, including for non combatants? 

Transitional justice is the modern legal regulation that was found to replace the old era of pardons and amnesties that were focussed more on the perpetrators than on the victims. If the ex-president’s proposal sets out from the recognition of the sacred trio of transition, which includes combining truth, reparations and justice for the victims of other actors in the violence, whoever they might be, then it is welcome. 

The United States will send a special representative to the Colombian peace process. What does that message mean?

It’s really good news, and hopefully one that will push other social actors in Colombia and other international organisations, such as the one I represent, to follow suit, to have a space at the negotiation table to present their points of view and contributions. Maybe the moment has arrived to make Havana’s script more flexible and more inclusive. 

Does a Washington delegate at the peace process make Caracas’ role less vital in Havana?

We Colombians have been very unfair in terms of valuing the role that Venezuela has played, since the era of Hugo Chavez, in this process. It has been a discreet, effective and extremely altruistic role, by the way. To suggest that Caracas could be exchanged for Washington would make even the United States blush, I think.

Did Andres Pastrana’s visit to Caracas heat up pressure levels?

His or Venezuela’s? 

Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis.