Published On: Tue, Apr 10th, 2018

Blok’s first foreign deal is with Venezuelan crooks

Five questions about the relationship between the Netherlands and Venezuela

Venezuelan-Vice-President-Tareck-El-Aissami-Stef-BlokTHE HAGUE - During a surprise visit to Caracas, Minister Blok concluded an agreement with Venezuela on the reopening of the border with the ABC islands last Saturday.

Just as suddenly as it was closed in January, the border between Venezuela and Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao suddenly opened again last weekend. During a surprise visit to Caracas, Minister Stef Blok (Foreign Affairs) made an agreement with Venezuela about the restoration of air and sea traffic with the three islands of Kingdom in the Caribbean.

At the beginning of January, the regime of President Nicolás Maduro halted this traffic to counter the smuggling of drugs, weapons and mineral resources. The residents of the islands suffered from this; they are dependent on that country for the import of fruit and vegetables. Many residents also have families in Venezuela.

1. What has been agreed upon?

In exchange for the 'deblockade', the Netherlands will help combat smuggling, as Blok has agreed in Caracas. Last week it was already known that The Hague continues to support the Islands by banning Venezuelans who want to flee to this part of the Kingdom. The Netherlands and the islands see this group as economic migrants, although opponents of the Maduro regime are being persecuted and imprisoned and the population is starving due to food scarcity and hyperinflation. The return of economic migrants is, according to Blok, the "core" of the lifting of the border blockade.

Blok_Venezuela

2. How did this agreement come to be?

This is Blok's first international deal, who took office a month ago as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Last week he visited the Caribbean part of the Netherlands, for example to consult with the prime ministers of Curaçao, Aruba and Sint Maarten. On Saturday Blok, via Colombia, flew unannounced to Caracas.

According to Blok, the removal of the border blockade is "good for the Caribbean region and its relationship with neighboring country Venezuela". With this deal, Blok shows himself as a foreign minister who does not shy away from Realpolitik: he does not mind to do business with the authoritarian regime of Maduro, which is under international fire because of human rights violations and the erosion of democracy.

3. With whom did Blok speak to in Caracas?

Blok was received in the Venezuelan capital by Vice Presidents Soteldo and El Aissami. Especially the latter is considered one of the most powerful and most controversial leaders in the Maduro regime. El Aissami, son of Syrian and Lebanese migrants, is accused by the US of involvement in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering. In addition, he would have helped Iran and the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah - a terrorist group according to the US and (partly) according to the EU - to get a foothold in Latin America. Previously he was governor of the state of Aragua, where under his rule the drug trade flourished. As Minister of Home Affairs he took control of the internal security services; one of his most important tasks is that no coup is committed against his boss. His sister was the Venezuelan ambassador in The Hague until 2016.

4. How did the Dutch Parliament respond to the agreement?

All parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament are delighted with the lifting of the border blockade. They hope that the import of food and goods from Venezuela will start again soon. Against Blok's contacts with Al Aissami, none of the parties has any fundamental objections. If you want to achieve something internationally, they say, you will unfortunately also have to talk to unsavory people. "It is true that Al Aissami has a reprehensible image," says MP Antje Diertens of D66. "But in diplomacy you cannot always decide with whom you will sit down."

According to Ronald van Raak (SP), whose party in the past sympathized with the socialist regime of Maduro and its predecessor Chavez, "are all villains in Venezuela", but in Latin America it is "very difficult to find leaders with a spotless reputation ".

5. How is the agreement interpreted in Venezuela?

Russia and China still keeping the technically bankrupt Venezuela from collapsing in exchange for oil, but otherwise the country is becoming more and more isolated. In Latin America it is becoming a pariah state due to the ongoing exodus of Venezuelans. In response to Maduro's autocratic tendencies, the US and the EU have imposed sanctions against leaders of its regime. During the joint press conference with Blok, vice president El Aissami talked about "a new stage".

He also said that Blok was asked to "convey the truth about Venezuela after what we saw in recent months: the interference of other countries with strictly internal Venezuelan affairs". This was read as an appeal to the Netherlands to plead against (further) sanctions towards Venezuela at international and European level.

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