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THE US-sponsored bid by Venezuelan pretender Juan Guaido to summarily declare himself president and take over the government seems a damp squib. Immediate recognition from Washington and rapid copycat action by the EU and some right-wing governments in Latin America now looks like a mistake.
Foreign ministries in the – by global standards – small minority of countries whose governments decided to bet on Guaido now have to go through the motions of dealing with a “government” without a territory or mandate, while for pragmatic reasons continuing to work with the authorities that actually exist. Venezuela’s elected President Nicolas Maduro has been able to mobilise greater street support than Guaido, whose April attempt at a military takeover had no more success than his optimistic self-coronation on TV had a few months earlier.
Venezuela might be standing firm in the face of an unusually pathetic attempted coup. But the United States is not backing down. Last month saw a further tightening of sanctions that the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research estimated had already caused tens of thousands of deaths. Venezuela’s ambassador to Britain Rocio Maneiro says the stranglehold on the Venezuelan economy now amounts to a blockade.
“The US will say this is not a blockade, these are just sanctions against individuals,” she tells us at the country’s London embassy. “That is not true. There is a blockade, and it is directed at the Venezuelan people.
“This has been escalating since 2014. It’s not only a Donald Trump strategy, it comes from Barack Obama and even before – it is part of Washington’s strategy to undermine progressive tendencies and governments in Latin America since the turn of the millennium.
“They are hurting us. They are attacking our main source of income – oil revenues. That has seen the amount we are able to spend on social programmes” (the famous Bolivarian Missions, improving access to housing, healthcare, education and much more) “by 60 per cent. Still, even in these circumstances, 70 per cent of the national budget is assigned to social spending. Our difficulty in investing is affecting the functioning of productive infrastructure.
“We don’t only import food and medicines. We import elements needed for the production process, so our ability to produce is being affected.
“The US has frozen our international assets, around $30 billion worth. They have broken the links between our financial system and the global financial system, making it dangerous for banks to handle our transactions. We cannot borrow money. We cannot use our own money.
“Nothing can justify an attack on a whole people like this.”
Maneiro warns that it is not only Venezuelans or those sympathetic to the Bolivarian Revolution who should be worried by Washington’s behaviour.
“The international laws that govern relations between UN states are being ignored. This is a precedent for the rest of the international community.
“There are basic rules to the way states relate to other states, and these rest on all states being equal before international law and for states to respect the rights of other states.”
Of course, this is not the first or only instance of the US ignoring those norms.
“They think they can do whatever they want. By the Monroe Doctrine they see Latin America as their backyard.
“They are targeting us for two reasons. One, Venezuela is rich. You know we have the biggest oil reserves in the world. But we have more. We have huge gold reserves – and huge fresh water reserves, our fresh water resources are incredible.
“To understand the second reason we need to go back to that executive order of Obama’s from 2014. It declared Venezuela an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat to the national interests of the United States.’
“Many say it’s stupid. How could we be a threat? And it is true we have never threatened the United States.
“But there’s a sense in which we are a threat. Because we think differently. We are looking forward to a different world. We want a different economic system, a different social model.
“And we have been part of something bigger than Venezuela, a movement including Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, creating a new model of international co-operation – complementary, non-competitive co-operation. That was a big risk for the United States.”
With significant input from the US, the right has hit back hard, reversing many of the gains of the left in Ecuador (where Rafael Correa’s successor Lenin Moreno has betrayed the revolution), Argentina (though the left there is now gaining ground again) and Brazil (where it took a constitutional coup against president Dilma Rousseff and jailing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to defeat the Workers Party and install far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in power). But Venezuela is still standing.
“The miracle amid all this is the Venezuelan people, who have stood up to it all. The people will continue fighting. Even by the use of disproportionate force they will never destroy us.
“They think that if they can destroy the Bolivarian Revolution and all progressive movements in Latin America things will go back to the way they were. I don’t think so. The people in Latin America have grown, they have new ideas. And we are not alone.”
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