By Carlton Joseph
Last week, Nicholas Maduro, having survived an assassination attempt by a small drone, started his second six-year term as president of Venezuela. The opposition had boycotted the elections held in May 2018 and essentially forfeited the election. Days before Maduro was sworn in, opposition figure, Juan Guaidó, became head of the National Assembly which soon voted to declare Maduro an “usurper” in an effort to remove him from office.
As usual, the United States (US) under the guise of fighting communism, totally agreed with Juan’s declaration. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, the U.S. “strongly supports the courageous decision by Juan Guaidó” to “declare the country’s presidency vacant.” “We must all stand with our brothers and sisters suffering in Venezuela.” I wonder why he and the Trump administration do not stand with Puerto Rico.
National security adviser John Bolton announced: “The United States does not recognize Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate claim to power.” I am flabbergasted. The opposition boycotted the election and the US thinks they still won?
It should be noted that Venezuela’s election system is far superior than that of the US. Since 1998, Venezuela’s elections have been highly automated, and administered by a non-partisan National Election Council. Poll workers are drafted via a lottery of registered voters, and polling places are equipped with multiple touch screen machines that print out a paper receipt for the voter. The receipt is then deposited in a ballot box. Voting session closure at each of the voting stations in a given polling center is determined either by the lack of further voters after the lines have emptied, or by the hour, at the discretion of the president of the voting table.
Further complicating matters, Brazil’s newly elected right wing President, Jair Bolsonaro vowed he would do: “everything for democracy[ in Venezuela] to be re-established,” and said that he recognizes Juan Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela. Bolsonaro’s son labeled Maduro a “cancer” that needed to be “excised.” And a group of Latin American countries known as the Lima Group also recently voted to not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency. Mexico was the sole dissenter.
The New York Times recently reported that the Trump administration conducted secret meetings with rebellious military officers in Venezuela to discuss overthrowing Maduro. Former Maj. Gen. Herbert García Plaza, who broke with the Maduro government in 2015 and now lives in Washington, declared: “We’re at the best time for something like what happened in 2002, when the late ruler Hugo Chávez was briefly ousted in a military coup.” He added that: “the armed forces today do not have the capacity or the desire to go against the population in a massive protest.”
If you believe all the stories in the major media outlets one would inquire: Why do the majority of Venezuelans still love the Maduro government? Why is the military afraid to go against the population? I submit that it is because the people understand what is happening to them- “regime change.” It is what has happened in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and other Central American countries. They understand the final result: Right wing dictatorships, militarization of the police force, violence against the opposition to extinguish any challenge, loss of the best lands and resources to foreign companies, destruction of the economic base of the country and any sense of a functioning democracy.
Democracy Now, a radio program in the US, interviewed Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister. He explained that Venezuela cannot use the dollar as a currency to exchange and had to switch to Euros in order to import the vaccines for children for the treatment for HIV in Venezuela and that the country has lost more than $2 billion because of the sanctions.
He also stated that the US is threatening to seize Citgo, the state- owned gas company in the United States, explaining that Venezuela cannot repatriate the profit from the company to invest it in food and medicine in Venezuela. He also indicated that the US has blocked more than $1.6 billion euros in Europe in Citgo’s intermediary—Euroclear. The vast majority of the problems, in Venezuela, he explained are caused by the blockade, and by warfare -economic warfare, against Venezuela.
I have been following the news of Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad but was surprised to learn from Jorge Arreaza that in spite of the sanctions, Venezuela is in a better situation today than in 2016. He contends, that there is more food, more medicine, and unemployment is under six percent. He further explained that they have not closed one school, university or hospital. And he insisted that they have not expelled the Cuban doctors, because they have to protect their people, and have delivered more than two million houses to the people in the last four years. He claims that that they have done this in spite of the sanctions, and the blockade against Venezuela.
Asked about the Russian landing two nuclear-capable Blackjack bombers in Venezuela as part of a joint training exercise, he explained, that the United States cut all the military cooperation with Venezuela 20 years ago and Russia has been friends of Venezuela for over 16 years. He said, “ the planes, and aircrafts, that came this year, they came in 2013, as well, and nothing happened. But this year it was taken like it was that we were trying to bomb the U.S. And, come on, that’s nonsense. We have the right to have cooperation with Russia, with China, with whatever country in the world. We believe that the world has to have several poles, several centers, not only the United States.”
I was disappointed to hear Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau say that: “Anyone who claims to be a friend of Venezuela or its people, should stand up and condemn the Maduro government, which has been responsible for terrible oppression and a humanitarian crisis unseen in South America for decades, all because of an illegitimate dictator named Maduro who is continuing to not respect their constitution (and) the rule of law.” I thought Trudeau had his historical facts correct but I guess he has to tow the US line.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Rowley said: “We put the interest of the people of TT as paramount at all times. Not voting yea or nay as others have done, we maintained in the presence of large, small, powerful and weak, that TT is a sovereign and we are free to make that decision and we make it in our own interest.”
Experts on the region argue, however, that when politicians or activists come forward on behalf of its dispossessed, the US has consistently intervened on the side of the powerful and wealthy to help crush them, or looked the other way when they have been slaughtered.
I am sure that if Venezuela had only bananas, none of this intervention would be happening. But it has oil, gas, gold, silver, bauxite, iron and water – resources the US wants to control.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)