Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2019. 6:53 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 Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded charismatic strongman Hugo Chavez following his death from cancer in 2013, or Venezuela’s primary enemy, the United States and its regional and international allies?
On Thursday, March 7th 2019 BBN presented Part 1 of a series of 2 articles, where the blame was placed squarely on the United States and its allies.
Part 2 puts the blame on Nicolás Maduro and the corruption and incompetence that has prevailed in management of the affairs and resources of this oil rich South American nation. We will also be providing commentary on aspects that are relevant to Belize as well as Belize’s view on the matter.
Maduro was anointed by Chavez to succeed him as Venezuela’s President and was first elected in a special election that occurred after Chavez’s death in 2013. Since his election, violence and hunger have become major problems, inflation has skyrocketed, and the migration of Venezuelans out of the country has reached unprecedented levels.
In fact, Maduro has presided over the collapse of what was once Latin America’s wealthiest nation, and one that is still blessed with massive oil reserves. However, the country’s economy continues to crumble at an alarming rate, and much of the free fall of the economy occurred long before US sanctions were implemented and/or intensified.
Critics claim that Maduro’s re-election in May 2018 was full of fraud, election rigging, and suppression of the opposition. The electoral authorities banned the largest opposition parties from taking part in the election, and key opposition politicians were not allowed to run. Anti-government protests were suppressed, at times brutally, and opposition members were arrested and jailed. Opposition leaders boycotted the election resulting in disillusionment of the process, resulting in extremely low voter turnout. Representatives of Maduro’s party were also accused of tracking those who voted, and using ‘promised aid’ to the growing numbers of the country’s poor to secure a re-election. Despite this, Maduro secured a second term that is expected to keep him in power until 2025. Recent political events however has Juan Guaidó, leader of the national assembly challenging Maduro’s reign and gaining international support for his declaration as the new President of Venezuela.
Belize’s charge d’affaires ad interim at the United States Embassy in Belmopan, Keith Gilges, recently presented what he calls “The Truth About Venezuela” in a four-minute video released online. The US and Gilges’ main thesis is that Venezuela, and more particularly its president Nicolás Maduro, is responsible for the current state of affairs in that country.
Countering the suggestion that there is no real crisis in the South American country, Gilges states: “The number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status worldwide has increased four thousand percent since 2014, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Inflation in Venezuela passed one million percent in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund and ninety-percent of the Venezuelans are unable to purchase enough food on a daily basis to feed their families.”
He argues that the United States, as recently as February twenty-fifth, announced it would be providing “nearly fifty-six million dollars in additional humanitarian assistance to support the Venezuelans who have fled the country due to the political and economic crisis caused by Nicolás Maduro.” Aid from the U.S. and other countries passing through Colombia and Brazil has been stuck at the border, as Maduro has refused entry while accusing the U.S. of conspiracy to remove him from power.
Gilges states that it is Maduro’s policies rather than the international sanctions imposed that are responsible for Venezuela’s economic collapse. Those sanctions, he continues, are specifically targeted at Maduro and his “cronies” and more recently state-run oil company PDVSA, ensuring that they cannot continue to “plunder” the country. Politically, Gilges notes, “Maduro lost his legitimacy by staging sham elections in May 2018. He jailed opposition leaders, suppressed the media and rigged the electoral process.”
According to Gilges, the current president of the Venezuelan national assembly, Juan Guaidó, who has been rallying support across the region, is recognized both in Venezuela and by a majority of countries as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. “He represents the will of the people, and offers hope to all Venezuelans,” he states. As for Maduro’s support, the fact that 54 countries including some of the most powerful in the world support Guaidó severely undermines Maduro’s credibility; he does continue to hold the support of Russia, Cuba and other socialist nations.
As to any idea that Maduro is part of Venezuela’s future, Gilges says not so. “The time for dialogue with Maduro is long past. Every day he stays in power is a day when political prisoners stay in jail; detainees are abused; and Venezuelans go without food and medicine.” He accuses Maduro of “betraying” and “stealing” from Venezuelans by not allowing international aid to come in and sending “private armed gangs” against his fellow citizens.
The incompetence of the Maduro’s government is very evident in the import/export relationship between Belize and Venezuela. Belize has been very open to export food, particularly blackeye peas, red kidney bean and corn, to Venezuela. In fact, BelCar Import/Export company in Spanish Lookout has had experience shipping blackeye peas to Venezuela and other South American countries prior to the Chavez’s rise to power. If Venezuela had taken advantage of this opportunity to receive exports from Belize, other food items such as chicken, beef and other meat products, potato, onion, etc. could have been shipped to Venezuela. Payments could have been made from the moneys owed to Venezuela by Belize, and this would have also brought massive benefits for Belize, including improving income to farmers and saving Belize much needed foreign exchange.
However, since the launch of the Petrocaribe initiative between Venezuela and Belize in 2005, Belize has not been able to export any food or feed products to Venezuela under this initiative, primarily due to the incompetence of the decision making process within Maduro’s socialist government. The Petrocaribe agreement was actually designed to allow Belize to export food and other products to Venezuela as payment for the oil imported by Belize. US sanctions did not affect the possibility of this occurring until the sanctions were intensified in mid 2018 and early 2019.
The majority of Caribbean countries condemns the US intervention in Venezuela. Only Haiti and the Bahamas from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have openly supported Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim President. And by calling on countries to respect the sovereignty of Venezuela, CARICOM member countries, including Belize, are tactfully supporting Maduro’s government, and silently rejecting Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela. According to Deputy Prime Minister, Patrick Faber, Belize generally supports Venezuela’s right to self-determination.
In January 2019, however, Belize’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Daniel Gutierrez, bluntly told his colleagues in Washington, that “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.”
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