Venezuela's Continuing Political Crises

Photo Source: France 24

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

When Juan Guaido self-proclaimed himself, as the interim President, on January 23, 2019, it surged new political crises in Venezuela.

More than fifty countries have recognised him as the new leader, but Maduro refuses to step down, as he believes, many quarters, from where he draws support, have not abandoned him.

A country, such as Venezuela, that was discovered by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, cannot have two Presidents, but a standoff between them has heightened tensions.

In the recent past, many political commentators claimed that after the fourth successful election of Hugo Chavez, Bolivarian Venezuela suffered new, often unstable economic shocks, mainly due to the crumbling oil sales. Gone were the days of thriving 1970s, when people on the Caracas streets drove Cadillac’s and Buicks. This oil-driven economy, sustained its high economic growth, mainly during the mid-2000s.

As socialism was regarded as the most powerful political force in the country, Chavez’s grassroots populist policies and progressive welfare ideas were often declared heroic and even hailed from every quarter of the globe. But, due to gradual ‘structural inequalities’, as proclaimed by NACLA Report on the Americas, the country went into crises, almost in a continual slump, and then into quagmires of a recession. It is because the Venezuelan economy had a high dependence on oil, and it paved the way for its eventual mismanagement.

Over the course of time, crises in Venezuela heightened to widespread hunger, hyperinflation, disease, crime, and massive immigration from the country. All this burdening baggage was succeeded in Maduro’s leadership, after Chavez’s death. As per Mercy Corps, around 90 per cent of people live under the poverty line, currently. And as per UN data, around 2.7 million people had fled the country, since 2015 for employment and a better life.

When Ivan Briscoe, travelled with some of his peers, working for International Crises Group, he spoke to various former high-ranking public officials, including Maduro’s loyalists in the Constituent Assembly, his party members from United Socialist Party, and in regional governments. All had been of opinion, that the recent developments are giving rise to a fragile political scenario, although it has still not able to fracture the ruling coalition.

Despite allegations of Maduro winning the last election, on election fraud, even people such as Bernie Sanders, pointed out that there were democratic operations running in Venezuela, at this point in time.

In a Foreign Affairs article, Briscoe quoted a former minister in Maduro’s cabinet, where he said that, since Guiado self-proclaimed himself as the new President, ‘they have become united, more than they ever were.’ Some officials, who never were shy to provide their critic to the government, even proclaimed that Maduro’s statements were never bravuconadas (populist messages), and they were unsure, how there would be a regime change, under the current dismal scenario, when Washington was willing to arrange a coup against Maduro’s alleged misrule, through private and public diplomacy, and not through direct action of invasion or war.

The Lima Group, an amalgam of right-wing Latin American leaders, endorsed by Trump administration, wants to drag Maduro to the International Criminal Court.

Maduro’s supporters, on the other hand, view him as a Peronist, a follower of political thought, synonymous with a populist Argentine movement. In this dismal economic time, his government provides subsidised food containing pasta, rice, flour, and tuna, to around seven million households, which costs around $400 million a month.

But, this state-sponsored food supply ran into a problem, when the United States put a sanction on Venezuela’s state-run oil firm, PDVDSA, that made the largest public currency reserves. Around 8.36 million barrels of Venezuelan crude, worth half a billion dollars, currently, are not finding buyers, as per data compiled by Bloomsburg. They have even reduced rates, as the country ran out of space, to store its oil barrels.

Currently, Venezuela owes much of its oil, for its debt, to countries, such as China and India, but sanctions prevent them to trade.

According to the head of the Venezuelan Oil Chamber, representing 500 public companies, Reinaldo Quintero, the country can neither charge nor receive money, and the public institution predicts huge collateral damage in future.

The world is finding it hard to find oil, as Canada has implemented a policy of self-curtailment, while as OPEC’s rising supply costs, prevent them to trade Venezuela’s oil stocks. Then, the Venezuelan Central Bank, removed 8 tonnes of gold for sale in February 2019, to raise its currency. But America has warned all global banks not to deal with Venezuelan gold. The Bank of England froze a billion dollar of Venezuelan gold, which was condemned by Italy, as they expressed distrust about England, as a ‘neutral arbiter’.

These dire straits have increased the price of Colombia’s flagship oil, Castilla, giving a rise to oil wars around the globe, directly attributed to America’s growing diplomatic interference.

This kind of seasoned American foreign policy has been aggravated because they simply want Maduro to step down, so that his opposition can possibly put him on an exile, or maybe execute him for alleged tyranny.

According to an article written by Alan MacLeod, these ‘hare-brained’ schemes are mostly backfiring. He calls Trump’s policies as ‘comically incompetent’ because, according to his statistics, 75 per cent of the world’s countries support Maduro. And surprisingly, the global media institutions, many a part of the mainstream western press, largely supporting an ‘Americanised prejudice’, against Venezuelan President, almost unreported the UN Human Right Council’s condemnations of the US sanctions, as they have targeted the country’s poor.

As per a poll conducted by Hinterlaces study, recognised as a neutral agency, 81% disagreed with the US sanctions.

But at the same time, it has paved the way for Guaido’s political opportunism. For a campaign against Maduro, the Trump administration also had revoked visas of 49 Maduro officials. In this process, the Venezuelan President has tried an alternative source of income, such as shipping gold to Turkey and Russian intermediaries. He is also willing to refine Venezuela’s light crude, through Russian and Chinese companies, as both nations openly support Maduro. But, at the same time, they want their debts to be repaid. In its nine-month investigation against Banesco, a private bank, for being responsible for depreciating Bolivar currency, Maduro arrested 11 top executives.

The US believes that Maduro’s Russian support is his biggest ‘political weapon’. Their uncalled statements had come, after Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov accused Americans of buying ‘small scale arms, mortar launchers, and anti-aircraft missiles’, stationing it close to Venezuela, for an active interference and supporting a political coup in the country.

As per McClathy DC Bureau, Elliot Abrams, an individual responsible to smuggle weapons inside Nicaragua, under the guise of aid, was caught smuggling weapons and arms inside Venezuela.

According to these officials, Maduro has blamed financial sanctions imposed by the US, introduced in August 2017, for the current crises. There is also a chance that these influential public officials might bog down to foreign pressure.

Maduro, in the current crises, has also promoted several army officers, in the hope that these military officers might help him against the Guaido coup, plotted by the outside forces.

At this point in time, it is also unclear whether civil society can topple him. The self-proclaimed interim president will try to unite the opposition, but many see him as ‘too young’ to bring Venezuela, back into a democratic order. Some believe that he can come into power, only with the support of the military. In fact, more than five hundred soldiers have already crossed into Colombia, which also reflects the growing disorder, inside the military.

Until January 2019, 80 per cent Venezuelans had never heard of Guaido. By many, he was accused of ‘labeling the deaths in his country’, mainly to ‘invest in his political future’.

As the political crises continue, in the previous weeks, there were some skirmishes, involving the military, at Brasil and Colombian borders, as some trucks, poised as humanitarian convoys, containing 178 metric tons of essential commodity, were blocked entering into the country.

This act, supported by Guaido, was seen as an ostensible reason by Maduro for an US-led invasion – an overused strategy, which most of the people, regard as a threat to world peace. But, in all this clamour, the battle for a stable and prosperous Venezuela continues.


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