Almost three million Venezuelans have fled a country that they passionately love. This alone is a testament to the ordeal of present day Venezuela. Those who remain are living not only in devastating economic conditions but also in the midst of a political turmoil seemingly without any end in sight.
The crisis in Venezuela can be laid entirely at the door of president Maduro, who has savaged the human rights of Venezuelans, destroyed the freedom of the press, undermined the rule of law, and made a mockery of democracy. Indeed, much like Trump would like to do to the United States, except that American institutions have been resilient enough to resist those attempts.
Can we trust Guaido, the leader of the Opposition-controlled National Assembly, who has made a claim, backed by some 50 countries, to be the legitimate president of Venezuela, based on a rarely used article of the Constitution?
No. And not just because of the recent bungled coup that backfired on him. A year ago, I would have said ‘yes’, but Guaido appears to have sold his soul to Trump. I can understand and even sympathize with that. Guaido and the vast majority of the people of Venezuela are desperate, and when you are desperate, my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
So what does Trump, who normally loves, and I mean really loves, authoritarian leaders like Kim Il Jong of North Korea and Vladimir Putin of Russia, want from Guaido in return for American support? Three things: oil, oil and oil. Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil.
And Trump has enlisted his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, popularly known as Dr Strangelove, after the bomb-loving mad scientist from the film of that name, because he loves, and I mean really loves war, and wants to re-impose the Monroe Doctrine on the Western Hemisphere. To those of you born after 1823, this doctrine, announced by President James Monroe way back then, says in essence that all the countries in this hemisphere must genuflect to the might of the US or else be invaded.
So what will happen in Venezuela? The present situation cannot continue much longer.
What position should CARICOM countries take? Right now, they are hopelessly divided. Some support Maduro, some Guaido, and some sit on the fence by arguing that what happens in Venezuela is a matter entirely for the people of Venezuela to decide on their own. The latter position, while on the face of it a reasonable one, is an abdication of humanitarian responsibility towards the people of Venezuela.
The ethical and sensible position is: (a) to condemn the well-documented abuses of power by Maduro; (b) refuse to recognize Guaido, since, apart from the debatable nature of his legal claim, his position is clearly compromised by his sucking up to Trump; and (c) to call for free and fair elections to be held by a specified date with the free participation of all political parties and under the supervision of the international community. Failure of the Maduro government to respond to this call would result in international sanctions.
This is unlikely to happen since the international community, including the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, are diplomatically all over the place. You have the Montevideo Mechanism championed by Mexico and Uruguay with some CARICOM participation; the Lima Group, comprising most of Latin America along with Canada, Guyana and St Lucia; and the International Contact Group made up of mainly European Union countries along with Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay. To add to the confusion, some countries are members of more than one group. To top it all, you have the US trampling all over the place threatening military intervention. And of course, both Russia and China have a major interest in the outcome of the conflict in Venezuela.
In such murky circumstances, the more likely scenario is that a section of the Venezuelan military stages a coup against their leadership and overthrows Maduro, or that the current military leaders, seeing no bright future for themselves, present Maduro with a demand to step down and leave.
Meanwhile, the suffering of the Venezuelan people continues unabated.
(Dr Peter Laurie is a retired permanent secretary and head of the Foreign Service who once served as Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States)