Venezuelan Presidential Crisis & Role of Major Powers

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The ongoing Presidential crisis in Venezuela has literally divided the world into three camps one supporting the previous president, second supporting the protestors while third camp is opposed to almost all foreign interference in internal affairs of Venezuela. Now it seems that Venezuela is going to be next lab for more political experiments by the world major powers.

Key allies of Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, led by Russia and China, have warned the US not to intervene in support of the opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s attempt to lead the country. Russia’s Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Maduro and offered him strong support in a political crisis he said had been provoked from abroad, a Kremlin statement said.

Destructive interference from abroad blatantly violates basic norms of international law, Putin was quoted as saying. The Kremlin press release did not mention the US by name but matched earlier rhetoric by other senior Russian officials targeted at Washington.

Swiftly the US President Donald Trump issued a statement recognizing Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, as the country’s interim president. Donald Trump warned that all options are on the table if Maduro who has overseen the country’s slide into authoritarianism and economic collapse responded with force against the opposition. Mike Pence later made clear the US would use the full weight of our diplomatic and economic pressure. US officials said the US would look at ways to transfer Venezuelan assets and oil revenues to Guaidó and the opposition-run national assembly.

Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, described the US support for Guaidó as a quasi-coup and accused the US of hypocrisy, asking rhetorically how Americans would react if the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, declared herself president. Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said a US military intervention in Venezuela would be catastrophic. Russia is an important source of financial support to the Venezuelan government, providing billions of dollars in loans, some as pre-payment for future deliveries of oil. Russia dispatched two nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to the country in a further show of support. Russia has said it is ready to facilitate talks among political forces in Venezuela. We will stand, if you’d like, together with this country in defence of sovereignty, in defence of the inadmissibility of encroaching on the principle of nonintervention in internal affairs, Ryabkov said.

Maduro responded with defiance, cutting off relations with the US and ordering all US diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. We are defending the right to the very existence of our Bolivarian republic, Maduro told supporters at a rally outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. He urged them to resist at all costs what he called a coup attempt being orchestrated by the coup-mongering, interventionist gringo empire and the fascist right.
China said it supported the Venezuelan government’s efforts in preserving the country’s sovereignty, independence and stability. I want to emphasise that outside sanctions or interference usually make the situation more complicated and are not helpful to resolving the actual problems, a foreign affairs spokeswoman said. Venezuela has been one of Beijing’s closest allies in Latin America, and the largest recipient of Chinese financing, taking as much as £38bn in loans by 2017. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, prompting concerns that as Venezuela’s economy spirals, state assets could fall into Chinese hands, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. It is in Beijing’s interest to support Maduro, given that a new government could refuse to honour Venezuela’s debt obligations to China. Maduro met China’s president, Xi Jinping, last year and toured Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Beijing, and the countries agreed on £3.8bn in loans and more than 20 bilateral agreements.
A crisis in Venezuela concerning who is the legitimate President of Venezuela has been underway since 10 January 2019, when the opposition-majority National Assembly declared that incumbent Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 reelection was invalid and the body declared its president, Juan Guaidó, to be acting president of the nation.

The process and results of the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential election were widely disputed. The National Assembly declared Maduro illegitimate on the day of his second inauguration, citing the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela enacted under Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor; in response, the pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal of Justice said the National Assembly’s declaration was unconstitutional.

Mass demonstrations throughout Venezuela and the world occurred on 23 January when Guaidó called for Venezuelans to protest against Maduro. Demonstrations in support of Maduro and Chavismo took place as well. Special meetings in the Organization of American States (OAS) on 24 January and in the United Nations Security Council on 26 January were held but no consensus was reached. Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres called for dialogue. Maduro’s government says the crisis is a coup d’état led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves. Guaidó denies the coup allegations, saying peaceful volunteers back his movement.

Brazil and the Organization of American States recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s leader prior to his formal announcement. Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Peru and Paraguay have followed the suit. Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico were the only countries in the region which continue to recognize Maduro’s presidency as leftist allies. Also, Mexico, once a member of the Lima Group, is willing to mediate in Venezuela’s political conflict. The Lima Group is a body of 12 Latin American countries. A total of 19 European Union member states including Spain, Germany, France and Britain joined Monday in recognizing Guaido as president after an eight-day period for convening free, democratic and transparent elections in Venezuela expired.

Other nations recognizing Guaido as interim president are Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Croatia. Only two countries in Europe — Italy and Greece — are resisting the adoption of a joint position with the EU in favor of Guaido. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has defended his refusal to support Guaido despite differences within Italy’s ruling coalition government, saying he hasn’t been elected by the people of the South American nation. Georgios Katrougalos, Greece’s alternate foreign minister, also said that the solution in current crisis is dialogue. Australia also recognized Guaido as acting president.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced solidarity with Maduro, a day after the U.S. move for Guaido, saying that Turkey never sides with coup plotters. Russia and China both opposed the U.S. call to support Guaido and condemned any interference in Venezuela’s affairs.

Iran has also thrown its weight behind Maduro. Iran opposes all foreign interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

South Africa is against any attempts at undue or unconstitutional change of government in Venezuela, the country’s envoy to the UN Security Council said. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that the global body would not join any side in discussions involving the political crisis in Venezuela. Benedict Wachira, head of the Communist Party of Kenya (CPK), condemned the US intervention in Venezuela, terming it wrong and undiplomatic.

India called for dialogue among stakeholders in Venezuela. Palestine described Guaido’s self-declaration as a coup attempt and threw its support behind President Maduro.
Historically, a socioeconomic and political crisis began in Venezuela in the presidency of Hugo Chávez and has continued into the current presidency of Nicolás Maduro. The current situation is the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history and among the worst crises experienced in the Americas, with hyperinflation, soaring hunger, disease, crime and death rates, and massive emigration from the country.

Observers and economists have stated that the crisis is not the result of a conflict or natural disaster but the consequences of poorly executed populist policies that began under the Chávez administration’s Bolivarian Revolution, with the Brookings Institution stating that Venezuela has really become the poster child for how the combination of corruption, economic mismanagement, and undemocratic governance can lead to widespread suffering.

On 2 June 2010, President Chávez declared an economic war because of the increasing shortages in Venezuela. The crisis intensified under the Maduro government, growing more severe as a result of low oil prices in early 2015, and a drop in oil production from lack of maintenance and investment. The government failed to cut spending in the face of falling oil revenues and has dealt with the crisis by denying its existence and violently repressing opposition.

Political corruption, chronic shortages of food and medicine, closure of companies, unemployment, deterioration of productivity, authoritarianism, human rights violations, gross economic mismanagement and high dependence on oil have also contributed to the worsening crisis. The contraction of national and per capita GDPs in Venezuela between 2013 and 2017 was more severe than that of the United States during the Great Depression, or of Russia, Cuba, and Albania following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, the annual inflation rate for consumer prices rose hundreds and thousands of percentage points while the economy contracted by nearly 20% annually.

The crisis has affected the life of the average Venezuelan on all levels. By 2017 hunger had escalated to the point where nearly 75% of the population had lost an average of over 8 kg (over 19 lbs) in weight, almost 90% of the population was living in poverty, and more than half did not have enough income to meet their basic food needs. From the beginning of the crisis to 2017, more than 2.3 million Venezuelans have left the country. Venezuela led the world in murder rates, with 56.3 per 100,000 people killed in 2016 (compared to 5.35 per 100,000 in the US or 1.68 per 100,000 in Canada) making it the third most violent country in the world.

According to experts the weaker internal conditions are paving way for the foreign intervention while foreign powers are pursuing their own vested interests by igniting the situation in Venezuela. In this situation, the both the ruling and demonstrating parties in Venezuela must realize the sensitivity of the issue and try to find out some sort of reconciliation to improve the socio-economic situation of the country. In this regard, they may learn a lesson from the internal situation of the countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and others where international powers moved their international agenda tantamount to the total destruction of the country.

About Hadi Bandial 12 Articles
Writer is the CEO of Mélange IT Solutions & The Asian Telegraph, an expert on Political Economy, & Director of Bandial Group.