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Venezuelan Crisis: Another Iraq?

Indian media has almost wholly neglected a great ongoing crisis in Venezuela. After early Presidential elections on 20 May 2018, which saw the lowest voter turnout in country’s history, Nicolás Maduro got around 2/3rd of votes. Results were objected by several NGOs, critics, as well as opposition; and there was even a call to reelection without Maduro. Thus, the United Nations, Organization Of American States, Australia, United States, European Union, and other American Nations rejected the result. Countries like Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Cuba along with several others recognized the election. On January 10th, 2019, however, Maduro was re-inaugurated as President, which pushed for the current crisis.

This crisis was in the lineup with numerous others in past years. After the death of former president Hugo Chávez in March 2013, Maduro through a special election assumed the presidency. His time in the office also saw a severe decline in the socio-economic condition of the country with an increase in crime, inflation, poverty and hunger. Analysts attribute the reason to the economic policies of Chavez, Maduro, as well as fall in Oil Prices (aggravated more by several US sanctions). These led to protests in 2014 which saw almost 43 deaths, and loss in Maduro’s popularity resulting in 2015 election of National Assembly which majorly consisted of opposition. In 2016, there was even a call of recalling Maduro’s presidency, which nevertheless, did not culminate into reality, as he had the support of Supreme Court, Electoral Council, and the military. Crisis further escalated when the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, dissolved the National Assembly on March 29th, 2017, and took over the power. On April 1st, 2017 power was nonetheless reinstated to the Assembly. Public discontent with this stunt resulted in popular protests with as many as 153 deaths. Maduro was forced to call for rewriting the constitution. There was an election to form Constituent National Assembly which would have supreme legislative powers. The opposition boycotted the election calling it a way of power grab and in turn paving the way for pro-government leaders to be elected by default. An apprehension of the opposition resulted in reality as in August Constituent Assembly took over all the legislative powers by the National Assembly which was severely criticized by the opposition and many countries. On December 11th, 2017, Maduro banned main opposition parties – Justice First and Popular Will- from participating in the 2018 presidential election citing their boycott of the 2017 municipal elections.

There was a call for Maduro to resign from Presidency at the end of his term on January 10th this year due to the dispute in the elections. Notwithstanding, he was sworn in the same day by the Supreme Tribunal, which led to a chain of events. Condemnation from many quarters followed, and Organization Of American States declared Maduro as an illegitimate President and also called for fresh elections. In the follow-up, some states shut down their embassies in Venezuela in the protest, and The National Assembly declared the state of emergency. On 19th January, President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó announced that all the military members and politicians, who defect from Maduro to the opposition would be granted amnesty after the transition of Presidency. With the backing of Washington and support of the unified opposition, National Assembly on 23rd January declared Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela. Within minutes, Trump announced that he was recognizing Guaidó as a legitimate authority in the country. Support to Guaidó was affirmed by Canada, other conservative American governments, France, UK as well as many other European countries. America’s intervention was condemned by Russia, China, Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey and Iran, among others and, support to Maduro government was affirmed. President Maduro then responded by cutting off diplomatic ties with the US and ordered American diplomats to leave Venezuela within 72 hours.

An Imminent War?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying that The United States continues its ties with Venezuela as the US did not recognize the Maduro regime. He further added, “The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel, ” which of course meant Maduro is warned against sanctioning US diplomatic properties and officials, defying which would give Washington a license to “respond” militarily. Even in the November last year, national security adviser John Bolton had called Venezuela part of the Western Hemisphere’s “troika of tyranny.”

The current situation is indeed perilous, not only for Venezuela but for countries across the globe. Venezuelan military has affirmed its support to Maduro.  At the same time, Guaidó has also garnered support from parts of former officials hostile to Maduro, and a large section of the public. This is also a fact that a large part of the public had also voted for Maduro in 2018, although voter turnout was merely around 46%. Fear of foreign intervention in domestic affairs would certainly divide the public more. This can even lead to Maduro reacting in a harsh way to the opposition and US, and if that happens, a situation would escalate beyond control. Turkey, a vital part of NATO, supporting Maduro regime further makes the whole state of affairs more complex.

Is Military intervention by the US even worth?

The economic and political crisis has indeed been ravaging Venezuela since 2013. Hyperinflation and unemployment have induced hunger, shortage, and migration of at least 250,000 Venezuelans in recent years. Products that were affected by the shortages include milk, meat, chicken, coffee, rice, oil, precooked flour, butter prices, toilet paper, personal hygiene products and medicine, besides several others. Inflation was so severe that its rate reached 69%   in 2014, 181% in 2015, 800% in 2016, 4,000% in 2017 and 1,698,488% in 2018.

There are different reasons for the economic catastrophe in Venezuela. Policies both by Chavez and Maduro have proven unfruitful. It was assisted by several factors. In 2014 the cost of crude oil fell from $100 a barrel to $50 a barrel. Oil export accounts for almost 96% of the total export earnings of the country. This was in addition to the sanctioning of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, in 2011 by the US. Sanctions were further extended against Venezuelan officials in 2015 by Barack Obama. In 2017, Donald Trump’s administration imposed more sanctions on Venezuela although they were advised against it. Popular protests led by the opposition which led to many deaths in Venezuela since Maduro’s ascension to power worsened the economic situation.

Whether the United States is looking for more economic sanctions or military intervention, the decision is going to prove hazardous. Any attempt at furthering a regime change through external means is most probably going to blowback on the face of US. Sanctions would further paralyze the economy which is already struggling to breathe. More than the regime, it is going to affect the public.

Military intervention is a piece of ill-fated advice because of the several reasons. The military has continued its support to the regime, and any attempt at coup would pave the way of civil war. John Bolton who is national security adviser has a long history of miscalculations. He was one of the tallest cheerleaders of Iraq invasion in GW Bush’s regime. An episode of Iraq, which killed millions of citizens, still haunts the world in the form of terrorist activities. The US seems to be repeating mistakes of the past. United States Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, is too inexperienced in defence or policymaking. Continued government shutdown by Trump is making the situation much scarier. In recent years, Trump administration has also lashed out at NATO allies. All these, in addition, to support to Maduro regime by players like Russia, China, Iran and Turkey make the Venezuelan crisis frightening. Claims of the democratic restoration in Venezuela by the US and other NATO members certainly are hollow when they unabashedly support despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Is it really for democracy and human rights as per claims, or is it a new zone for War industry and Petroleum? This is what one is forced to wonder.

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