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IN a setback for President Maduro and the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), Britain’s Supreme Court has partly ruled in favour of self-declared “interim president” Juan Guaido over control of Venezuela’s £1.3 billion gold reserves held by the Bank of England.
The court decided that the British government has the right to unequivocally recognise Guaido as head of state, despite the fact that he controls nothing without the support of his US paymasters, intent on securing “regime change” in Venezuela.
Regime change in the South American country has long been an objective of US foreign policy. US hostility to Venezuela dates from the earliest days of Hugo Chavez’s presidency. Opposed to Chavez’s radical programme and his resistance to overbearing US influence in the region, the US supported a failed coup in April 2002 and subsequent efforts by local elites to oust Chavez.
When even Chavez’s death in 2013 did not enable the opposition to triumph electorally over his successor Maduro, the US stepped up its policy of destabilisation, with president Obama declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security in 2015.
Trump intensified sanctions against Venezuela into a commercial and financial blockade, with Britain slavishly following suit.
The results have been far-reaching, with the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research calculating they led to more than 40,000 deaths in 2017-2018 alone. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the pressures on the country, especially for its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Faced with these pressures, the Maduro government has been trying to reclaim its gold reserves from the Bank for some time now, without success. The Bank has consistently refused to transfer the deposited gold back to BCV in Caracas, claiming this would infringe the US government’s sanctions against Venezuela.
Guaido’s claim to the reserves, as well as a whole swathe of Venezuelan state assets, took off after he declared himself “interim president” in a coup against President Maduro in January 2019.
Urged on by the United States, who led on recognising Guaido despite there being no merit to his claim, a number of other countries followed suit.
Eager as ever to fall into line with the US, this included Britain. Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt declared on February 4 2019 that Britain recognised Guaido “as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela, until credible presidential elections can be held.”
That recognition, together with supportive Foreign Office documentation, underpinned the Supreme Court’s ruling that Guaido is the head of the Venezuelan state and therefore legally entitled to appoint the board of the BCV.
But Guaido is not in control of the gold deposits yet. After Guaido appointed his BCV board through a “transition statute,” the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice declared the statute null and void, making the board appointments unconstitutional.
The current case has therefore been sent back to the Commercial Court to determine whether the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal’s ruling must be respected in Britain, giving Guaido’s board no legal standing, or not.
Irrespective of the Commercial Court’s decision, Guaido’s own standing is now very weak. As a result of not contesting the December 2020 elections to the Venezuelan National Assembly, he lost his position as president of the outgoing assembly, resulting in the EU’s 27 states saying in January 2021 that they could no longer legally recognise him.
This withdrawal of recognition was accelerated in December 2021 when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to confirm the credentials of Venezuelan diplomats representing the government of President Maduro. While more than 170 countries voted in favour of the confirmation or abstained, only the US and 15 other countries, including Britain, voted against.
This withering of support mirrors the steep decline in his standing in Venezuela over the past year or so. Revelations of involvement in corruption, association with drug traffickers, incompetence in legal matters and failed coup plots have all weakened his position amongst the right-wing opposition and their supporters.
This became most obvious around the regional elections in 2021, in which Maduro’s party, the PSUV, won the vast majority of elected positions. Although the right-wing opposition took part — a significant departure from Guaido’s usual tack of electoral boycotts — its fragmentation into two distinct groupings underlined his deteriorating standing.
It remains to be seen how much longer the US will continue to support him as an agent of “regime change.”
In the meantime, the task for solidarity is to maintain the pressure behind the demand that the gold is returned to Venezuela and that the US’s illegal sanctions — supported by Britain — are lifted.
End British Theft of Venezuela’s Gold — online event, Thursday January 20, 6.30pm: Speakers Felix Plasencia, Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Francisco Dominguez (Venezuela Solidarity Campaign), Teri Mattson (Codepink Latin America Campaign Coordinator), Luke Daniels (Caribbean Labour Solidarity). Baroness Christine Blower (Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America) and Morning Star editor Ben Chacko. Register at bit.ly/givebackthegold — organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and supported by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.
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