BATTLEGROUND VENEZUEOILA

Venezuela is going through turbulent times. After Iraq, Afghanistan & Syria, we may well see NATO boots in Caracas in the wake of the current impasse between military backed Maduro, the mercenary US & its feeble allies.

By Shankar Kumar/Suneel Koul

In an increasingly precipitating situation embroiling Venezuela in its vicious tentacles, the world is watching haplessly at an impending human tragedy starving the common citizens of food, medicines, daily stocks & essential services. Amidst US & its crony’s growing frustration over its unsuccessful plot thus far in either engaging the army or anointing its proxy Guaido to the throne; the powerful military dictator has betrayed any signs of relinquishing his authority. On his part, Guaido, the ruler in waiting, instead of pleading with those who will not support him, might want to take a closer look at who his foreign friends are. With the revolt against Maduro orchestrated by inimical forces entering its fifth week now, there are no clear signs that the military is relenting on letting humanitarian aid enter Venezuelan borders. The Latin American nation is in peril.

It is indeed a matter of grave concern for the international community that is witnessing yet another attempt of a royal coup of the duly elected Government in Venezuela. The UN is facing a very serious challenge to its credibility & existence in the wake of such hostile attempts by the opportunist forces, waltzing their might on the smaller but assertive neighbors. We aren’t sure of the exact nature of the conflict but what is becoming increasingly certain, as days pass by that the whole tussle is one for power & the lucrative oil business. Venezuela has a choice to make; they either sanction and isolate the hated dictator or love him more, depending on their best interest at the moment & for the long term peace & stability of the region. It may be too pre-mature to say what the Venezuelans actually want. But to conclude this unfolding tale of human grief & sorrow as an either or story, we may lend credence to a theory that is predicting a doomsday scenario of a civil war to erupt.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Venezuela & the USA have been at daggers drawn for the longest period of time in history. Although both the nations historically had close relations with Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier, but relations have deteriorated under the Chavez and Maduro governments. The reason cited by US often has been the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela and the lack of bilateral cooperation on counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts. The Trump Administration has employed targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials responsible for human rights violations, undermining democracy, and corruption. In August 2017, President Trump imposed economic sanctions that restrict the ability of the government and PdVSA to access U.S. financial markets; he imposed new sanctions following the May 2018 election prohibiting U.S. purchases of Venezuelan debt. Additional sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector are possible but could hurt the Venezuelan people. The Trump Administration has announced the provision of $39.5 million in assistance for Venezuelans who have fled to other countries.

WHO IS THE PRESIDENT?

In-spite of tough posturing by US & European alliance, Maduro continues to stay fastened to his chair with Russia & China firmly backing him up. At the same time, even when most of the Latin American countries and 19 European Union member nations has recognized US-backed National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela, he does not enjoy the military support to upstage Maduro as we write. In a 17-point declaration on Monday, 11 countries, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, of the 14 members of the Lima Group called for a change of power without the use of force and the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid.

The group issued the declaration following a meeting in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. The 11 countries also urged the world community “to take measures to prevent Maduro’s regime from conducting financial and trade transactions abroad, from having access to Venezuela’s international assets and from doing business in oil, gold and other assets”. However, three members of the Lima Group – Guyana, Mexico and St Lucia, did not back the declaration. The Lima Group was set up in 2017 with the aim of helping to find a peaceful solution to the Venezuela crisis. EU members Spain, Portugal, Germany, the UK, Denmark, Holland, France, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Croatia, signed a joint declaration in support and recognition of Guaido, with the aim of “calling free, fair and democratic presidential elections” in Venezuela.

FOOD FOR OIL POLITICS

In recent days it has become clear that Venezuela’s state oil company, the main target of the sanctions as Mr. Maduro’s bankroller, has found a few ways to survive, with some Russian help. Many in Venezuela fear that the sanctions imposed last week will push the already suffering nation of about 30 million people into an even greater humanitarian catastrophe. It is not yet clear of Russia & China would want to prolong this ongoing crisis for their own vested interest & protection of assets in Venezuela as well as backing their socialist ally in this hour of crisis. If that indeed is the plan, then we don’t know if U.S. & allies have a Plan B if this doesn’t work in getting rid of Maduro. Sure the country is running into starvation & immense suffering to humanity.

Venezuelan oil exports to the United States, which provide the biggest source of cash for Mr. Maduro’s government, plummeted 40 percent last week. Customers suspended contracts, banks suspended Venezuelan accounts, and a dozen tankers filled with Venezuelan crude sat stranded across the Caribbean. “We can’t charge, we can’t receive money. Our finances are paralyzed,” said Reinaldo Quintero, head of the Venezuelan Oil Chamber, an industry group that represents the country’s 500 biggest oil service companies. “There will be major collateral damage.” But crucial help came from Venezuela’s biggest oil investor, Russia’s state-run Rosneft. The company said in a presentation this week that it would increase its output in Venezuela this year despite the sanctions, and that it remained committed to the country, throwing a lifeline to Mr. Maduro’s government.

WHAT NEXT/AMNESTY?

The once thriving Venezuela’s economy has already shrunk by about half since Mr. Maduro came to power in 2013, causing millions of people to flee the country or skip meals to survive. Opposition leaders in Venezuela hoped the offer would be impossible to refuse: amnesty for military officials in exchange for their political support. The country’s military had been a bulwark for President Nicolás Maduro even as the country spiraled deeper into an economic and humanitarian crisis. The armed forces have a lot to lose if the opposition’s week’s long quest to oust him succeeds: A new government could hold them accountable for well-documented allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and graft. Opposition leaders view their effort to entice senior military officials to abandon Mr. Maduro as crucial to their plan to take over the government until new elections can be held. “This is not about twisting arms, but rather about extending out our hand,” the opposition’s leader, Juan Guaido, said during a rally on Jan. 23. But, some critics say, facilitating a transition to democracy in the short term should not come at the expense of a chance to put perpetrators of serious crimes to justice in the long run. Human rights activists, and Venezuelans who have been victims of abuse, say the amnesty bill at the heart of Mr. Guaidó’s strategy is immoral and unlawful.

Legal experts say it would absolve all officials who have been accused of crimes against humanity & this would go against Venezuela’s Constitution and the country’s commitments under international law. The vague and open-ended provisions in the bill could effectively grant blanket impunity to officials responsible for serious human rights abuses,” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Any amnesty that guarantees impunity by absolving government and military officials responsible for the most serious human rights violations is incompatible with Venezuela’s international obligations.” Amnesty offers have been at the center of several transitions from autocratic to democratic rule in Latin America and elsewhere, serving to calm political tensions as traumatized societies begin to reconcile and rebuild democratic institutions.

But there is also no historical precedent for what the Venezuelan opposition is trying to do, said Juan Mendez, an expert in international law at American University who served as the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other degrading forms of punishment from 2010 to 2016. Departing authoritarian governments have passed amnesty laws or deals before surrendering power in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In Argentina and Chile, victims’ rights groups and the courts managed to try hundreds of people for dictatorship-era crimes despite the amnesty laws.

An anticipated large-scale military abandonment of Hugo Chávez’s heir has not materialized despite Guaidó, who is now recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president by most western governments, repeatedly touting an amnesty for the armed forces. With the US and its European allies playing a hard ball against Venezuela, the political and economic crisis in this South American country, known for its oil and several other mineral reserves has deepened further. Each day hundreds of people are leaving the country to escape from hunger. According to a report, more than three million Venezuelans have left the country in the recent past. Undoubtedly, the US can’t be completely absolved of its hand in the on-going crisis in Venezuela; it has imposed economic sanctions, resulting in widespread chaos and uncertainty. 

 PERENNIAL FRICTION

This is not the first time the US is interfering in the Venezuelan affairs; the South American country shared uncomfortable relations also during the regime of Hugo Chavez, the most popular President of the South American country who died of cancer in March 2013. In 2008, he had forced the then US ambassador to Venezuela to leave the country within 72 hours and accused America of fomenting a coup attempt against his government.

 He had also ordered Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington to return home and threatened to cut oil supplies. Main reason behind friction between the two countries is ideology; the US doesn’t brook a socialist regime in its neighborhood. Incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, like his mentor Chavez is a staunch socialist. But unlike his mentor, he lacks that leadership quality and talent.  Under his regime, inflation has shot over roof. At the end of 2018, annual inflation rate was 80,000 per cent.

 That means collapse of economy. For this, critics accuse incompetence of the ruling establishment and prevalence of corruption. Chaos has engulfed the country and the US which is known for washing its dirty linen in Latin American nations, has aggravated it into a deep political crisis. It is backing Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who has declared himself as an acting President and said he would assume the powers of the executive. Not only that, the US is also sponsoring a campaign for Guaido’s international recognition. 

The move is seen as a direct challenge to the power of incumbent President Maduro, who has been sworn in to a second six-year term in office just a few weeks ago. However, Venezuelan Army has so far shown its loyalty to Maduro even as crisis has gone out of control. Army men are accused of blocking humanitarian aid routed to Venezuela by the US. In the meanwhile, eight European Union and five Latin American countries met in Uruguay to resolve the Venezuelan crisis in a peaceful and democratic manner. But Latin American countries have also made it clear that they would not support the US-led military intervention in Venezuela. It has a direct bearing on Guaido’s supporters, who appear to be in the state of confusion as what they should do as a number of South American nations and other international leaders are not backing the opposition leader for presidential chair.

 India which has a high stake in the peace and stability of Venezuela and every year imports a sizable proportion of crude oil from the country, has made it clear that it wants resolution of problem through constructive dialogue and discussion. “We are of the view that it is for the people of Venezuela to find political solutions to resolve their differences through constructive dialogue and discussion without resorting to violence. We believe democracy, peace and security in Venezuela are of paramount importance for the progress and prosperity of the people of Venezuela. India and Venezuela enjoy close and cordial relations” Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Ravish Kumar said. India and China are the biggest markets for Venezuelan crude, even as oil production has gone substantially. Several Indian refineries are adapted to process Venezuelan heavy crude. India, which doesn’t support US sanctions on either Venezuela or Iran, is currently importing 400,000 barrels of oil per day from the South American country. India and Venezuela have set up a rupee payment mechanism, which allows for crude funds to be invested in Indian services and resources.

CONCLUSION

China, a close ally of Venezuelan President Maduro to whom it has handed over billions of US dollar to help shore up his embattled regime, has expressed its unhappiness over the US and its allies insidious attempts to influence internal affairs of the South American nation. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying in a statement said her country “believes that Venezuela’s affairs should be resolved by the Venezuelan people under the framework of its constitution and laws and through peaceful dialogue and political means in the country.”  Russia is defiant against the US move on Venezuela. Their geo-political rivalry is not unknown in the world. At the UN Security Council, when the US presented a draft resolution on the South American nation, Russia countered the move by presenting its proposal on Venezuela. While US draft resolution calls for international aid deliveries and presidential polls in Venezuela, Russia has come up with an alternative resolution, expressing its worries for the South American nation’s territorial integrity and political independence. Hitting hard on the US, the Moscow-led draft maintains that there should not be any “attempt to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of Venezuela.”

However, one thing is clear President Maduro will remain in office so far the country’s army is backing him, but how long senior army personnel remain steadfast in their loyalty to the incumbent head of the government in Venezuela has to be seen. Since Guaido, who enjoys support from the US, has promised all security personnel amnesty of they break with Maduro.