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The Unfolding Crisis in Venezuela – Making Sense of an Information War

In an attempt to shed light upon the recent events and the current geopolitical situation in Venezuela, we will provide a basic chronology and will suggest some key questions to ask ourselves which the majority of mainstream news fails to answer.

The mainstream media takes a narrow-angle and one-sided perspective, narrating an oversimplified story in which the sole culprit of the current situation in Venezuela is a  socialist dictator, Nicolas Maduro, whose corrupt policies turned the country in a “failed state”.

According to the New York Times, “The Venezuelan economy has collapsed under the policies by Mr Maduro’s leftist, authoritarian government, and three million Venezuelans have fled their homeland”, thus it’s the US’ role to exert “economic and political pressure to support the restoration of democracy in Venezuela”.

The socialist president Nicolas Maduro, along with radical leftist voices, in contrast, put all the blame on neoliberal intervention in Latin America, in the form of structural adjustment programs and economic sanctions, and provided an explanation according to which the US is merely attempting to overthrow an authoritarian regime whose progressive stance would otherwise represent a threat for its resource interests in the continent. A so defined “humanitarian-crisis” justifies external intervention on the ground of principles of democracy and freedom whilst neglecting issues of national sovereignty and self-determination.

“In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States”, said Ms Russian, president of FUNDALATIN – one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela.

Key dates

1985 – Crash in oil prices.

1989 – IMF backed austerity measures trigger rioting and the imposition of martial law.

1998 – Oil prices crash once again with a huge impact on the oil-dependent Venezuelan economy.

1999 – Hugo Chavez took office.

●    A referendum gets approved which will extend the president’s term to six years and reduces Congress to a unicameral national assembly.

2002 – US-backed attempt to oust Chavez through a brief failed coup.

2006 – Increased oil nationalisation – foreign oil companies are asked to pay higher taxes, more than 1,000 companies are nationalised during Maduro’s office.

2012 – Chavez gets re-elected and dies of cancer shortly after. Maduro defeats Capriles and announces he will carry out Chavez’s socialist legacy for the 21st century.

2017 – Maduro calls for the rewriting of the constitution to reduce the powers of opposition-controlled National Assembly.

May 2018 – Maduro calls for early elections, wins another six-year term at opposition-boycotted presidential elections whose legitimacy is questioned by the United States as well as the Lima Group.

2018 – The number of Venezuelans leaving the country due to crime escalations, hyperinflation and food shortages reaches 3 million.

August 2018 – New York Times reports on secret meetings between US officials and Venezuelan military officials to organise a coup to overthrow Maduro.

January 2019 – Maduro is sworn in for a second term; the Organisation of American States does not recognize his legitimacy.

  • Juan Guaido’, leader of the National Assembly, declares himself interim president through an informal oath of office, Maduro accuses Guaido of staging a coup and orders his arrest.
  • The United States, along with over 50 states recognize the new leader who presents himself as temporary president with the main goal of ensuring free and fair elections will take place.
  • Venezuelan security forces and paramilitary groups along the borders with Brazil and Colombia obstruct the entry, promised by the opposition,  of US aid trucks. Tear gas and gunfire leave hundreds injured in clashes.

February 2019 – The US announces new sanctions on Venezuela as Lima Group opposes Military Intervention, it also calls on allies to freeze the assets of state-owned PDVSA after deadly violence blocked humanitarian aid from reaching the country last weekend.

Key Issues and Questions

What role does the military play?

Nicolas Maduro still relies on the loyalty of the military which runs the state oil company, PDVSA, and is involved in government-run drug-trafficking. Some military officers have also been appointed to high political offices, which is one reason why they have little interest in challenging the status quo.

Why does Maduro so firmly oppose humanitarian aid?

Maduro continues to deny the existence of a humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, letting the opposition distribute the aid would signify that Maduro is recognising the opposition’s credibility. Thirdly, Maduro accuses the US of smuggling weapons along with Humanitarian Aid to ultimately overthrow the regime.

What is behind US sanctions on state-owned PDVSA ?

US sanctions,  used to pressure Maduro to give up power,  are expected to block $7 billion in assets and result in $11 billion in export losses over the next year for Venezuela’s government. This will deny the regime its most important source of revenue and foreign currency. Sanctions, however, have exacerbated the already serious political and economic crisis.

Who is Elliot Abrahams?

Assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Reagan presidency, and current special envoy of the US to Venezuela. Elliot Abrahams’ controversial past, such as his leading role in US-backed repressive massacres in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and his recent statements make us think he will not hesitate to use violence to overthrow Maduro’s regime.

He has repeatedly and overtly lied about US propaganda and policies working towards the establishment of free and fair democratic elections, by any means necessary. He is therefore deemed to be the perfect fit for the role of restoring democracy in the country.

What about Russia and China?

Paraphrasing a statement released by Ma Zhaoxu, China’s permanent UN representative,  China, appealing to principles of international law, strongly opposes foreign interference as well as military intervention in Venezuela and argues that the so-called humanitarian assistance has been deeply politicised to create turbulence inside of the country and the whole region.

Along those lines, Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, insinuates that the humanitarian emergency has been used as a mere pretext for US intervention, considering that aid convoy was expected to provoke clashes well ahead.

Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China have vetoed US resolution at the UN Security Council calling for new free and fair elections paired with international observers.

What would Venezuela look like in a post-coup scenario?

Taking into account the record of US intervention in Latin America to overthrow Washington-declared dictators, most sceptical analysts can foresee the election of one of the so-called “puppets” of the United States, who would serve its interests above the stated intentions of installing a stable democracy.

Photo Caption: Some are questioning the intentions of US politicians (Credits: The Intercept)

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