By Raffique Shah
January 30, 2019
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has adopted a correct response to the political crisis in the neighbouring Republic of Venezuela. In conforming with the United Nations charter that member-states will not intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley explained, T&T has opted instead to join with CARICOM countries to try to persuade the UN to mediate between the warring factions and hopefully diffuse the tension and bring a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
It would have been madness for the PM to bow to the populist position that is being promoted by the USA, by declaring T&T’s support for the opposition candidate, Juan Guaido, as president, be it interim, putative, or Washington’s boy in Caracas. Sovereign states conduct business with the duly elected or appointed Head of Government of every country. Legally, and constitutionally, Nicolas Maduro is the President of Venezuela. He occupies the Mira Flores presidential palace and up to now, enjoys the support of the armed forces and other arms of the state.
Of course, this status quo can change tomorrow, or sometime between my writing this column and it being published. Or it might remain intact for another year or more—we don’t know. Until such time as it changes, however, the Government of this country, or any other state that respects the sovereignty of nations regardless of their size, importance or ideology, must, or ought to conduct affairs and business with the incumbent.
Adopting this universally recognised position on sovereignty does not imply that one is supporting Maduro the man, what he stands for, or his deeds or misdeeds. If these latter are vile, outrageous or unacceptable, then the alternative response would be to sever diplomatic relations with his regime.
I have watched and listened to seemingly sensible people criticise or condemn the PM and the Government for not going along with the USA and other countries that have resurrected and revised the colonial and imperialistic precept of regime change by any means necessary. We’ve seen it in several Middle East countries where popular uprisings against unpopular leaders have been manipulated by the global superpowers to remove the targets from power—then leave the re-conquered realms in utter chaos: Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan.
I ask a question to those who believe Maduro was fraudulently re-elected, hence T&T and other nations should formally recognise Juan Guaido as president. Was China president Xi Jinping elected to office in “free and fair” elections as defined by the West? Clearly not. Yet, the same powerful and small nations that are hell-bent on driving Maduro from office genuflect to Xi, trade with China, borrow billions of yuans from Beijing—and dare not bark when opposition forces are jailed or executed.
Talk about double and triple standards!
In Venezuela, clearly Hugo Chavez and Maduro have made some monumental and very costly mistakes in governance of that resource-rich country. It’s not that they invented poverty: that was always there—I saw miles and miles of slums virtually encircling Caracas when I visited in the 1970s, and that was only in and around the capital city. I saw opulence that indicated untold wealth enjoyed by a minority—the typical rich-poor gap that has widened to a chasm over the years, most of all in that exemplar of democracy, the USA.
In Venezuela, Hugo and Maduro were supposed to halt the slide, reverse the country’s oil dependency, revive food production on its vast fertile landholdings, eradicate poverty, and more. Instead, the economy crashed and living standards for the middle-to-poorer classes plummeted.
The wave of discontent triggered by shortages of food and other basic supplies, led to mass street demonstrations against Maduro, who, although he won two presidential elections (2013, 2018), was accused of repression of the opposition and electoral fraud.
The protest marches failed to dislodge Maduro from office thus far because he retains substantial support among the poor and in the military. This latest thrust against him has escalated into global proportions with the USA leading the regime-change charge, backed by some recently-elected right-wing regimes in the Americas (notably Brazil and Argentina). The EU has now entered the fray cowboy-style, giving Maduro “eight days to call fresh elections”, a near-impossible deadline.
In his corner, Maduro has Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and a few other countries. The ideological lines have been drawn.
This is where the CARICOM initiative, which calls for mediation among the combatants, possibly with fresh elections overseen by UN observers to be held before the end of this year, might be the best solution. That’s why I support Rowley’s non-interference stand, since it might yield the only peaceful, or least-violent, resolution to the crisis.
For all the drums of war that Trump and Putin may beat over Venezuela, I do not envisage open war. In the remote event armed conflict erupts, T&T will be the most vulnerable neighbouring nation, and this grim prospect underscores the importance of what CARICOM is doing.
In the final analysis, the 30 million Venezuelans must be responsible for their own destiny. If the vast majority believe that Maduro must go, then drive him out of office by shutting down the country, all its vital operations, until he demits office and makes way for a new president. In similar vein, if Maduro’s supporters believe he can rebuild the Bolivarian republic to new heights, then they must be prepared to fight to keep him in Mira Flores.
Venezuelans cannot expect other people to liberate them from oppression: only they can free themselves. Little T&T has done more for them, from a humanitarian standpoint, than most other countries that are far bigger than ours. They should be thankful that we share our limited space and resources with them.
Most of all, they should thank PM Rowley for his efforts to have the crisis resolved by peaceful negotiations, not bloody war.