Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2019. 5:37 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: As the fight for power in the South American country of Venezuela continues, Breaking Belize News is examining the arguments over who is to blame for Venezuela’s problems – its elected president Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded charismatic strongman Hugo Chavez following his death from cancer in 2009, or Venezuela’s primary enemy, the United States and its regional and international allies? We will also be providing commentary on aspects that are relevant to Belize as well as Belize’s view on the matter.
On February 22nd, independent investigative journalist Abby Martin published online a near 40-minute interview with United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas. Martin’s has been reporting on conditions in Venezuela and says her reports was ignored to promote a “coup” to oust incumbent President Nicolas Maduro.
Martin’s online series, The Empire Files, was sponsored by Venezuela-based TeleSur English network until 2018. She was previously a correspondent and host for RT America, a Russian based news agency based in Washington DC.
Martin’s did an extensive interview with Alfred de Zayas after he became the first U.N. representative to visit Venezuela in 21 years. In the interview, de Zayas says “At no point when I was walking the streets in Venezuela did I feel threatened; or did I see violence; or did I consider that this country was undergoing a humanitarian crisis. But I see human rights, more and more, being instrumentalized to destroy human rights – there is a weaponization of human rights. I see the rule of law being instrumentalized to destroy the rule of law, and unfortunately the complicity of the mainstream media.”
He adds that well-known media organizations from the BBC to the New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist and the Financial Times have not approached him to question or interview him about his report.
De Zayas suggests that the U.S. has “caused” and is responsible for the ongoing financial and economic crisis in Venezuela through its punishing sanctions. An in typical US style, coming afterwards offering humanitarian aid to counter the same problems caused by the sanctions. And in its attempt to topple an elected President, the US has used trained liberal, Juan Guaidó as a stalking horse. He added that the banks, scared by the penalties attached to dealing with Venezuelan officials, have closed the accounts of Venezuelan businesses and made their efforts to buy food and medicine more difficult. As a result, Venezuelan companies in the U.S. have been unable to transfer and use funds to the tune of US$10 billion and these funds just continues to sit in the banks, unable to address the growing needs of the Venezuelan people. In De Zayas mind, there is “personal criminal liability” in these matters.
Martin states that the reason for this is “regime change” and to remove the last vestiges of socialism from Latin America. While the U.S. is in an off-and-on relationship with Russia, it has continued to freeze out Cuba and more recently Nicaragua which has been undergoing its own problems, and top officials like current U.S. National Security Advisor and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton have preached the ill effects of associating with the trio of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
And where does Belize stand in all this? From the $35 million in Alba Petrocaribe Belize Limited (APBEL) funds sitting at the Heritage Bank, over $28 million belongs to the Government and people of Venezuela, via its state-owned company PDVESA, but this money cannot be sent to Venezuela or be used to purchase much needed supplies for the Venezuelan people due to the US Sanctions. In fact, according to both PM Barrow and John Mencias, Manager of APBEL in Belize, even the directors of APBEL are now subjected to US sanctions and as such APBEL has to move quickly to close down its offices as of the end of February 2019.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow told reporters on February 21st that the decision to close APBEL was made despite our Venezuelan counterparts wanting to keep it open for ‘optics’ purposes. He also noted that the U.S. had questioned the operations of the office. Since the company was not doing any business but still had the office open and paying its workers to do nothing, keeping the office open could not be justified.
Belize is currently on the hook for close to $500 million classified as the ‘Petrocaribe loan’, and this loan earns a modest one percent interest rate. Principal payments against the ‘Petrocaribe loan’ are stretched over the next 15 to 20 years, providing critical cash flow relief to the Government of Belize. BBN, however, has not determined how principal and interest payments for the Petrocaribe loan would be made to Venezuela after the closure of the APBEL office and accounts, and how these repayments will be affected by the US sanctions.
As for the ongoing situation, Belize, according to Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, generally supports Venezuela’s right to self-determination as contained in a CARICOM statement released a few weeks ago. Only Haiti and the Bahamas have openly supported Guaidó from the CARICOM region.
But Belize’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Daniel Gutierrez, bluntly told his colleagues in Washington in January, “Under any definition of good governance there is something [amiss]; the way that life has change for the worse for many Venezuelans. It is the ultimately the responsible of the state to take care of its people. In this regard, the failure of the government of Venezuela is unquestionable.” He went on to call for the O.A.S. to take its role as mediator, however cautiously. Venezuela has taken a step back from the organization after its condemnation of issues in the country in recent years.
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