Photo by Andrés Gerlotti on Unsplash

March 5, 2019

In order to explain the long history behind Venezuela’s current crisis, former Ambassador to Venezuela and director of Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Patrick Duddy delivered a Capitol Hill briefing, March 1. Duddy spoke to an audience of congressional staff, foreign embassy personnel, and federal employees at the Duke in DC-sponsored program.

Duddy speaking to congressional staff March 1. Photo Credit: Duke in DC staff

In addition to Duddy’s diplomatic expertise, the program benefitted from Duke’s relationship with the Department of Education’s Title VI program. Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), which Duddy directs in consortium with the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, receives grant funding as a Title VI National Resource Center. The research done at CLACS directly contributed to his thorough and continued expert insights into the current crisis in Venezuela.

As part of the Department of Education’s effort to understand issues in world affairs, National Resource Centers such as CLACS “establish, strengthen, and operate language and area or international studies centers that will be national resources for teaching any modern foreign language.” Continued funding of these centers helps not only train future federal employees with international language and cultural competency, but also, as evidenced by this briefing, contribute more immediately to the knowledge and understanding for Congressional staff and other federal employees.

According to Duddy, international observers have seen cracks in the Venezuelan system since 2007. The year 2014 saw epidemic street protests against the government. In December 2015, the Opposition Democratic Unity party won two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections. In 2016, more protests called for the removal of president Maduro, blaming him for the economic crisis.

The Venezuelan constitution provides for situations in which the president is either incapacitated or illegitimate. In such case, the head of the National Assembly becomes the interim president until new elections can be held. Juan Guaido has already received some international recognition as the legitimate interim president, per his role as Opposition leader. The United States, Canada, many Latin American countries and some European countries recognize him as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

The role of international actors in Venezuela’s situation was the focus of an event on Duke Campus, March 6. Keith Mines, Director of Andean Affairs in the State Department with responsibility for managing U.S. relations with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, spoke on the uniqueness of the situation in Venezuela from a regional perspective. In addition to his extensive diplomatic experience, Mines has worked in conflict and conflict-recovery zones around the world. His trip to Durham serves to strengthen the diplomatic, academic and educational ties all needed to understand a situation as complex as Venezuela’s.

Once the model of democratic government and ‘Modern’ Latin America, Venezuela has succumbed to its own worst instincts. From high-level corruption and police brutality to drug and food shortages, Venezuela must now resolve its political crisis before it can address its economic one, argued Duddy. When those in power ascend and maintain that strength by rewriting the rules of the economy in their favor, political evolution may need to presage economic change. Patience and international pressure, according to Duddy, are key to righting Venezuela’s long crisis of expectations and political malpractice.