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Give Venezuela back its gold

KEN LIVINGSTONE writes on new revelations about previously denied collusion between the Bank of England and the Tory government to steal Venezuela's gold in support of US-backed regime change

SHOCKING new evidence has emerged that the British government conspired with the Bank of England to deny Venezuela access to 31 tonnes of gold worth more than $1bn (over £800m) it had deposited with the bank.

The British government has always maintained that the Bank of England makes its own independent decisions about Venezuela’s gold deposits.

In March 2019, Robert Jenrick, then a Treasury minister, said: “Ultimately, the Bank is responsible for dealing with requests from its customers should they wish to repatriate their gold.”

But a new book, The World for Sale, by investigative journalists Javier Blas and Jack Farchy has revealed collusion between the former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, and Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, to withhold Venezuela’s gold from its elected government.

This helped to deliver the aim of Jeremy Hunt, then foreign secretary, to freeze the gold deposits and deny them to the Venezuelan government, as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, has recounted.

Duncan’s contribution, the book alleges, was to provide the Bank of England with a legal rationale to deny the Venezuelan government’s rightful ownership of the gold by recognising Juan Guaido, the self-declared “interim president” of Venezuela, as holding the legitimate title to the assets.

Hunt formalised this in February 2019, saying: “The United Kingdom now recognises Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela, until credible presidential elections can be held.”

Business news outlet Bloomberg reported at the time that top US officials, including Pompeo and Bolton, had lobbied their British counterparts to deprive the Venezuelan government of its assets, to help advance the US policy of regime change in Venezuela, spearheaded by sanctions.

The US’s illegal sanctions had been ratcheted up by Trump to amount to a full-on Cuba-style blockade of Venezuela’s trade and financial dealings. Since 2019, the US government had also frozen a range of US-based Venezuelan assets including $342 million held by the Venezuelan Central Bank, handing over control of some of these resources to Guaido.

All told, sanctions have cost Venezuela’s economy upwards of $116 billion (£84.8bn), with the poorest and most vulnerable citizens hurt the most. The effect has been to severely restrict Venezuela’s access to food and other essential goods but also medicines, while robbing Venezuela of the income to pay for them. This has become even more acute with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Faced with the Bank of England’s refusal to return the gold, Venezuela tried to reclaim control through the British courts. At first it lost its case in the Commercial Court, which endorsed the government’s recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s leader rather than elected president Nicholas Maduro.

But the Appeal Court overturned this verdict. This reopened the argument that whatever Guaido claims about being “interim president,” the British government is currently recognising President Maduro as exercising some or all of the powers of the Venezuela presidency and has legitimate claim to the gold. The Supreme Court will now decide on the case.

Since the Appeal Court ruling in October 2020, though, elections to Venezuela’s National Assembly have taken place. Although some opposition parties stood candidates, Guaido boycotted the elections, thereby losing his seat and any semblance of claim to be “interim president,” based as it was on his presidency of the previous National Assembly.

After these elections it is significant that the EU referred to Guaido as a representative of the outgoing National Assembly, effectively no longer recognising him as “interim president.”

But the new Biden administration is sticking with the Trump policy of supporting Guaido and using sanctions to achieve regime change, despite UN human rights rapporteur Alena Douhan reporting that US and EU sanctions to achieve regime change “flagrantly violate international law and all universal and regional human rights instruments.”

Britain’s government is still in thrall to the US, slavishly following this illegal regime-change agenda. It continues to recognise Guaido despite a string of scandals and crimes involving corruption, association with drug traffickers, coup plots and even plans to assassinate President Maduro.

PM Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab welcomed Guaido at Downing Street in January 2020. They clearly have their eye on the business opportunities that regime change could provide for British companies.

Last year it was revealed that a Venezuela Reconstruction Unit inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had had contact with Guaido and his representative in London, Vanessa Neumann, whose pitch throughout 2019 was a promise that a meeting with Guaido would assist British businesses in Venezuela’s reconstruction.

The secret unit had also visited Venezuela and met other Venezuelans, concealing the true purpose of their so-called diplomatic trip, outraging the Venezuelan government.

The Westminster government’s “special relationship” with the US provides an unbroken line between the machinations of Hunt and Duncan in 2019 and Johnson and Raab’s support for the US agenda today.

What is needed is for Britain to abandon its adherence to the US’s regime-change agenda and engage constructively in dialogue with the Venezuelan government. For our part, it is essential to step up international solidarity with Venezuela and support its struggle against illegal sanctions and the withholding of assets.

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