Venezuela will con­tinue to di­vide the hemi­sphere

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS -

ISPEAKING ON Jan­uary 10 af­ter be­ing sworn in for a sec­ond six-year term, Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent, Ni­colás Maduro, de­clared that his coun­try would “con­struct 21stcen­tury so­cial­ism” was “a democ­racy un­der con­struc­tion”, and pledged to “pro­mote the changes that are needed in Venezuela”.

Al­though un­com­pro­mis­ing, his re­marks con­tained no de­tail as to how his gov­ern­ment in­tends rem­e­dy­ing the food short­ages, hy­per­in­fla­tion, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing med­i­cal ser­vices, crime, and ar­bi­trary de­ci­sion mak­ing that have be­come the norm for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Venezue­lans.

It is there­fore hard to an­tic­i­pate any­thing other than the con­tin­u­ing de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the coun­try’s econ­omy, and as a con­se­quence, many more Venezue­lans flee­ing the coun­try in an ex­o­dus that shows no sign of abat­ing.

Al­ready some three mil­lion have cho­sen to do so, ac­cord­ing the UNHCR, the United Na­tions refugee agency, which re­ported last Novem­ber that of this num­ber, 2.4 mil­lion Venezue­lan had ar­rived in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean as refugees and mi­grants.

To put this hu­man dis­as­ter in con­text, it is hap­pen­ing in the Amer­i­cas and in a coun­try that is not at war like Syria, or like Myan­mar, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ‘eth­nic cleans­ing’. Rather, it is oc­cur­ring in a na­tion that has the largest proven oil re­serves in the world and which, in 1999, saw most of its peo­ple gen­uinely em­brace the so­cial re­forms promised by the late Hugo Chávez.

CAUSE OF IS­SUES

Some ar­gue that the prob­lems the coun­try faces are the fault of fall­ing oil prices and US sanc­tions and in­ter­fer­ence. How­ever, this does not ex­plain how other so­cial­ist na­tions, whether en­ergy rich like Viet­nam or en­ergy poor like Cuba, have been able, some­times with dif­fi­culty and hard­ship, to man­age their way through pe­ri­ods of aus­ter­ity with­out sim­i­lar out­comes.

Rather, it more plau­si­bly sug­gests that the cause is gross mis­man­age­ment, cor­rup­tion, ide­ol­ogy trump­ing com­mon sense, and a pre­vi­ously di­vided and self-cen­tred op­po­si­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, there are no easy solutions.

Hav­ing ruled out the al­way­sun­likely sce­nario of a mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion and aware that in­ter­nal con­flict will add to the refugee cri­sis, desta­bilise neigh­bours and fuel re­gional crim­i­nal­ity, Washington, the EU, and some mem­bers of the Lima Group of na­tions are seek­ing a new ap­proach.

This var­i­ously in­volves declar­ing Pres­i­dent Maduro’s gov­ern­ment il­le­git­i­mate; recog­nis­ing the le­git­i­macy of the Na­tional Assem­bly – now un­der new lead­er­ship – as a ve­hi­cle for di­a­logue; im­pos­ing ad­di­tional sanc­tions on named com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als; break­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions; en­cour­ag­ing the halt­ing of loans through in­ter­na­tional and re­gional fi­nan­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions; and pro­vid­ing greater sup­port to neigh­bour­ing na­tions and agen­cies struggling to cope with ev­er­in­creas­ing num­bers of refugees.

There is also a con­tin­u­ing in­ter­est in the US ad­min­is­tra­tion and in some Latin na­tions in try­ing to lever­age the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Venezue­lan mil­i­tary and Pres­i­dent Maduro in ways that might re­move him from of­fice and change the na­ture of the coun­try’s lead­er­ship.

In an ap­par­ent re­flec­tion of this, Pres­i­dent Maduro went from his in­au­gu­ra­tion at the Supreme Court to an ‘act of reaf­fir­ma­tion and recog­ni­tion as Com­man­der in Chief’ be­fore the se­nior of­fi­cers who lead his coun­try’s armed forces. There the Min­is­ter of De­fence, Vladimir Padrino ob­served, ac­cord­ing to pro-gov­ern­ment Venezue­lan me­dia re­ports, that the peo­ple of Venezuela “in the le­git­i­mate ex­er­cise of their sovereignty chose as their pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro ... in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion”.

Whether the new ex­ter­nal mea­sures aimed at en­cour­ag­ing change in Venezuela will suc­ceed re­mains ques­tion­able.

Pres­i­dent Maduro and those around him and who sup­port him clearly be­lieve that gov­ern­ment and its pa­tron­age will con­tinue have found ways to set aside dis­sent and seem con­tent to see the coun­try haem­or­rhage its cit­i­zens. The Na­tional Assem­bly has been by­passed, caus­ing the new gen­er­a­tion of op­po­si­tion fig­ures to strug­gle to over­come the way the law, the con­sti­tu­tion, and many key in­sti­tu­tions are now skewed against them.

DI­VIDED RE­GION

As for the Caribbean, it re­mains di­vided over how to re­spond.

While all gov­ern­ments re­main firm in their belief in non-in­ter­ven­tion in Venezuela’s in­ter­nal af­fairs, there is no uni­fied po­si­tion be­yond this. In­stead, the is­sue re­mains com­plex and di­vi­sive and there are mul­ti­ple views on what, if any­thing should hap­pen next.

This is be­cause some na­tions re­main largely pos­i­tive about their ex­pe­ri­ence of Venezue­lan sup­port through its PetroCaribe oil fa­cil­ity; po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences have be­come more acute within the re­gion; US hos­til­ity to those coun­tries seen as sid­ing with Cara­cas is in­creas­ing; and China and Rus­sia, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and more re­cently Turkey, have made clear they are back­ing Pres­i­dent Maduro.

In a very vis­i­ble demon­stra­tion of this, Cuba’s pres­i­dent and St Kitts and St Vin­cent’s prime min­is­ters, along with se­nior min­is­ters from Antigua and Suri­name, at­tended Pres­i­dent Maduro’s in­au­gu­ra­tion. In con­trast, the same day in Peru, Guyana and St Lu­cia joined 11 other mem­bers of the Lima group, in­clud­ing Canada, in sign­ing the Lima Group Dec­la­ra­tion, which de­clared Pres­i­dent Maduro’s elec­tion il­le­git­i­mate and called for sanc­tions.

At a re­gional level, the is­sue has been made more com­plex by Venezuela’s ter­ri­to­rial claims and is not helped by the at­tempted in­ter­dic­tion by the Venezue­lan mil­i­tary on De­cem­ber 22 of a Ba­hamian reg­is­tered ves­sel un­der­tak­ing seis­mic sur­veys for Exxon­Mo­bil in Guyanese wa­ters.

Re­gret­tably, there is no end in sight to the hu­man ex­o­dus – some US think tanks sug­gest an­other five mil­lion peo­ple could leave Venezuela – to the wider dan­gers this is bring­ing to neigh­bours and its po­ten­tial to ex­port po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity if re­sent­ment against mi­grants grows. Nor is it clear how with­out mas­sive ex­ter­nal in­vest­ment Pres­i­dent Maduro in­tends turn­ing the coun­try’s econ­omy around at a time when oil pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to fall, oil prices re­main low, and much of the in­dus­try and the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

De­spite this, it ap­pears that the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment will now take mea­sures to fur­ther con­sol­i­date its po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion while seek­ing to frag­ment the hemi­spheric and in­ter­na­tional re­sponse.

This sug­gests that with or with­out its present pres­i­dent, Venezuela will con­tinue to di­vide the hemi­sphere and the Caribbean for many years to come.

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­[email protected]­coun­cil.org

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Pres­i­dent of Venezuela, Ni­colás Maduro.

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