Cold War-Style Accusations Fly as Security Council Meets on Venezuela
A United Nations Security Council meeting on Venezuela’s crisis briefly turned into a diplomatic brawl on Tuesday, as the United States and Russia traded rejoinders reminiscent of the Cold War.
Nothing was resolved, and it appeared that if anything, the meeting illustrated how antagonists have hardened their positions over the crisis afflicting Venezuela, once Latin America’s most prosperous country, now in an economic free fall.
The meeting was requested by the Americans to protest the Venezuelan government’s refusal to permit humanitarian aid into the country this past Saturday, when convoys of supplies were stalled at its borders with Colombia and Brazil.
At least four people in Venezuela were killed and dozens injured in border clashes between antigovernment protesters and loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro.
Mr. Maduro called the convoys a publicity stunt and a pretext for an American-backed invasion to replace him with Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who declared himself president a month ago. Mr. Guaidó, who contends Mr. Maduro won elections by fraud, has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States and roughly 50 other countries.
Little aid got through on Saturday, the opposition’s hope for mass desertions by Venezuelan security forces fizzled, and Mr. Maduro’s government called the attempt a failed coup.
By Tuesday evening, it was unclear whether Mr. Guaidó, who broke a travel ban to help direct the aid effort from Colombia, would be allowed back into Venezuela or arrested if he returned.
Elliott Abrams, a conservative former diplomat tapped by the Trump administration to be its special envoy in the Venezuela crisis, opened the Security Council meeting by accusing Mr. Maduro and his aides of mobilizing “armed gangs, thugs and criminals released from prison” to stop the aid convoys.
“While Venezuelans were shot and beaten and killed as they tried to bring food and medicine into their country, Maduro literally was dancing in Caracas,” Mr. Abrams said.
A mirror-opposite appraisal of what happened on Saturday was presented by Vasily A. Nebenzia, the ambassador from Russia, which has become Mr. Maduro’s principal defender and a critical supplier of economic assistance.
He accused the United States of having caused the crisis in Venezuela through years of economic sanctions, which President Trump has escalated sharply since Mr. Guaidó declared himself president.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Mr. Nebenzia said of the American-backed effort to bring aid into Venezuela. “This is not humanitarian assistance.”
He called the American strategy a plot to “oust an inconvenient regime” that should serve as a warning to Cuba and Nicaragua, which also have been the target of Trump administration criticism.
Responding to Mr. Nebenzia, Mr. Abrams said the Russian diplomat had espoused “a lot of Cold War rhetoric” that recalled the era when his seat was occupied by diplomats from the Soviet Union. Mr. Abrams also said Russia was owed billions by and was “no doubt worried” that the money will never be repaid.
Visibly agitated, Mr. Nebenzia responded that Mr. Abrams had been “an active participant in the Cold War, underground operations in the Cold War.”
This was an apparent allusion to Mr. Abrams’s own entanglement in secret efforts to aid right-wing Nicaraguan rebels during the Reagan administration in what was known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.
Before the meeting, Mr. Abrams told reporters he hoped an American resolution could be presented to the Security Council this week that would demand Venezuela permit humanitarian aid into the country. Diplomats have said Russia would likely veto such a resolution.
Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, who attended the Security Council meeting and has met with Mr. Abrams at least twice since the crisis escalated last month, said the humanitarian aid effort had been manipulated by the United States to malign Mr. Maduro and create a false basis for a military intervention.
“Mr. Abrams: The coup failed,” Mr. Arreaza said. “That was the last chapter of the coup on Saturday. Read my lips. It failed. Now is the time for us to return to sanity and international law.”