Do Countries Have a Right to Screw Up?

I found this op-ed by Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, at the Washington Post troubling, raising as it does issues of sovereignty, responsibility, property rights, and moral hazard. He’s writing about the strain that the situation in Venezuela is putting on the other countries of North, Central, and South America, the burden of which increases the closer to Venezuela the countries are:

Consider this: While the United Nations estimates that 1.8 million immigrants have arrived in Europe by sea since 2014, up to 2.5 million Venezuelans have left their homeland during the same period. Roughly one-fifth of them have gone to Europe, the United States and Canada. Nearly all the rest — around 2 million individuals — have gone to Latin American and Caribbean countries. Colombia alone has received close to 1 million, while Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, in descending order, have taken in most of the rest.

But while average per capita income in the six European countries that have received the most immigrants during this period (Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Britain) is around $46,500, measured in purchasing power, in the six Latin American countries listed above, the figure is less than $17,000.

Europe can rely on modern civil services and well-staffed clinics and schools to process and care for immigrants. In Latin America, despite considerable progress in reducing poverty in recent decades, public services are underfunded and ill equipped to cope with local demand, much less to deal with this emergency.

In Colombia, an economist with the Inter-American Development Bank has estimated that the government will need around $1.6 billion per year to fully respond to the emergency, a sum equal to 0.5 percent of GDP. This amounts to a negative shock to the economy at a time when Colombia urgently needs to accelerate growth.

Venezuela’s neighbors have so far been sympathetic and generous toward the immigrants, not least because they remember how Venezuela welcomed millions of political exiles and economic refugees during the 20th century.

In addition to waiving many traditional visa requirements, the region’s governments have used scarce public resources to provide food and shelter for the Venezuelans, while reassigning thousands of security and health officials to deal with the surge.

Unfortunately, the situation has reached a breaking point. In recent weeks, we have seen incidents of violence and public protests against the immigrants, as overwhelmed officials struggle to prevent lawlessness and meet the needs of local residents who, in many cases, are also very poor.

That raises a number of questions that I don’t believe are easy to answer. The first, obviously, is who decides? Venezuela has brought this situation on itself. It used to be among South America’s richest countries. Now it’s among its poorest and the damage is entirely self-inflicted.

The second is who pays? Since Venezuela cannot pay its own way and its neighbors have reached the end of their willingness to pay, does that put the United States in the position of financier of last resort?

Does Venezuela have an unlimited right to screw itself up regardless of its impact on its neighbors? Do its neighbors have an unlimited responsibility to pay? Do we? Again, who decides? This is a familiar story of stockholders and stakeholders.

11 comments… add one
  • Andy

    I don’t think it’s correct to think of this in terms of “rights” and whether Venezuela has a right to be a basket case is practically irrelevant. Other nations, however, do have a right to respond to protect their citizens and interests.

  • Gustopher

    “Does Venezuela have an unlimited right to screw itself up regardless of its impact on its neighbors? Do its neighbors have an unlimited responsibility to pay? Do we? Again, who decides? This is a familiar story of stockholders and stakeholders.”

    Should our NATO allies have veto rights on our choice of President?

  • Should our NATO allies have veto rights on our choice of President?

    You may think you’re kidding or exaggerating but I have read arguments from Brits and Germans arguing just that.

    I notice that you’re not answering the questions. If Venezuela has an unlimited right as a sovereign country to screw itself up and its neighbors or we have an unlimited responsibility to pay for the consequences of Venezuela’s screw-ups, it vitiates property rights of their neighbors or for us. IMO a better solution would be that Venezuela’s neighbors have a right to extract the cost of Venezuela’s folly from Venezuela.

  • CuriousOnlooker

    All I can say is a countries neighbors are fixed like one’s parents. Sometimes a country is unlucky and they just have to deal with it the best they can. The US ought to thank fate that its neighbors are water, Canada and Mexico.

    Venezuela’s neighbors will not intervene. But Venezuela will bear the cost of its folly. The oil riches that is its birthright will be given to Russia/China as the cost of keeping the regime alive.

  • PD Shaw

    Maybe its time to get the band back together:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reunification_of_Gran_Colombia

  • The irony, of course, is that 20 years ago resistance to the idea of reunification would have come from Venezuela. Now Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama would oppose it even more vehemently.

  • Guarneri

    “…does that put the United States in the position of financier of last resort.”

    Heh. You know how this goes in the corporate workout world. Old management largely gets kicked out and the fresh money gets the majority of the spoils. I don’t think old Hugo is going to go for that…………..so good luck guys.

  • Bob Sykes

    Venezuela’s neighbors freely chose to accept the refugees and their costs. If these prove too burdensome, they should push the refugees back across the border.

    The real problem here is that the US Ruling Class will use the refugee crisis (easily solved) to justify an invasion of Venezuela. And don’t be fooled. The whole “crisis” is being manipulated to create a “demand” for invasion. Or have you forgotten Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia et al, none of which attacked us/US, but all of which we attacked and destroyed in the name of the GWoT?

  • Gray Shambler

    Doubt it. Venezuelans will have to stew in their own pot, They elected him.

  • Andy

    “If Venezuela has an unlimited right as a sovereign country to screw itself up and its neighbors or we have an unlimited responsibility to pay for the consequences of Venezuela’s screw-ups, it vitiates property rights of their neighbors or for us. ”

    I don’t think ‘property rights’ work in an international context.

    But, more than that, shit happens. My neighbor could go postal, murder his family and himself and burn his house down. As a neighbor, that would certainly screw me up in many ways – psychologically, financially, socially. My property value would decline considerably (at least for a time). Even with all the state and federal laws protecting property rights, there’s not much that can be done except roll with the punches. I think it’s much the same with Venezuela.

  • steve

    Other countries do not have an unlimited responsibility to pay. I don’t see any cogent argument for that. They do have the right to protect their own interests, just not sure how far they are justified in going to do that.

    Steve

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