Monday, February 19, 2018

US hand in Venezuela crisis?

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Mark Fraser

 IT WAS inevitable that as the political  crisis worsened in Venezuela the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which feels threatened  by external interference, would have pointed a finger at the United States. At the time of writing, the US State Department was yet to respond to Maduro’s plea late last week for “high level dialogue”.   

The Caribbean Community has commendably led the way in denouncing the spreading political violence in Venezuela,  urging all parties to return the country to “peace and calm”.

Significantly, this call by Caricom on February 18 came amid growing concerns over foreign intervention and with defence ministers of the 12-nation Union of South American States warning against any such a development. 

The political turmoil, now in its third week and primarily located  within the ranks of the opposition party of Leopoldo Lopez, centres around a desire to see the back of the socialist-oriented government of Maduro who is successor to the late Hugo Chavez. 

Last year Maduro’s party won the presidential elections. Then his party convincingly won the local government elections. Yet, a promise, signalled in 2013 by Kerry—after Maduro’s presidential triumph—for improved Venezuela-US relations remains unfulfilled.

Worse, Maduro’s administration has openly linked the US to the escalating protests and ejected three US embassy officials for what it says are subversive activities. That development drew a sharp response from Kerry who called on Maduro’s administration to “step back from its efforts to stifle dissent through force and to respect basic human rights…” 

Already there have been reports of several deaths and scores of injured during protests between thousands of anti- and pro-government demonstrators.          

The BBC’s Latin America and Caribbean Service  has reported Maduro as urging US President Barack Obama to engage in “high-level dialogue” at which, he said, “the truth will be put on the table….” He also stressed that the  dialogue “will be difficult and complex until the US government accepted the full autonomy and independence of  Latin America…”

Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in analysing the bloody confrontations, has questioned whether the US “is turning a blind eye to chaos in Venezuela…”

Caricom leaders, diplomats and top officials familiar with US involvement under then president George W Bush in orchestrating a 2004 coup against the democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, would appreciate Caricom’s principled stand in denouncing the spreading turmoil in Venezuela.

Those not suffering from expedient amnesia would recall Caricom’s strenuous efforts to dissuade foreign political elements from fomenting violence, including murder, designed to oust Aristide.                        

The former prime minister of Jamaica, P J Patterson,  as well as then Caricom secretary general Edwin Carrington, can hardly forget how their efforts were frustrated by foreign governments—those of the US and France in particular—that were determined to remove Aristide.

Documentation of  complicity in the coup against Aristide would include how he was influenced into signing the “letter of resignation” prior to being placed on a military aircraft and flown into exile via, ironically, Jamaica and, ultimately, to South Africa.

But to return to the present dangerous political scenario in Venezuela where—as happened in Haiti to Aristide’s government that the Bush administration strongly disliked—Maduro now faces a serious survival threat involving foreign interference.

While awaiting on other hemispheric bodies and governments to speak up in support of political sovereignty and respect for democratically-elected administrations, let it be noted that Caricom, our comparatively small regional economic integration movement, has done what’s politically correct in taking a principled stand on the current situation in Venezuela.

This early stand by Caricom should not be construed as being motivated by the financial benefits member states derive from the concessions provided by Venezuela under the Petro Caribe project that’s currently being endangered  by the prevailing domestic political problems. 

Objectively it could well be  viewed as a small but very principled stand by Caricom in favour of preservation of political and territorial sovereignty as well as democratic governance. There should be no repeat in Venezuela of what happened in 2004 to the  government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.