Ahead of a secretive OAS foreign ministers meeting in Washington next week, Venezuela’s friends are hoping for the best, but fearing the worst!
Some keen observers of Venezuelan politics today have described the current situation there as “The Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” I cannot agree more.
Russian nuclear bombs aren’t on the way to Caracas. But, observing Venezuela since the death of Hugo Chavez, one can see the progressive growth of violence and scorched-earth tactics being applied by the opposition – from coups to attempted coups yesteryear, to violent demonstrations today.
Under Chavez, the opposition was visibly less openly bold and brazen. But as if his death opened a sure possibility of reversing the ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ he espoused and was being pursued by his successor Nicolas Maduro, since 2014 the onslaught against the current Caracas administration has been relentless.
Caribbean journalists visiting Venezuela today are able to see and hear much that isn’t being told in the Caribbean by CNN, BBC and the traditional mainstream media.
April 2017 saw a qualitative change in the tactics used by the Venezuelan opposition, always with the tacit support of their external backers – especially in Washington, where the wife of a jailed Venezuelan opposition leader was serenaded at the White House with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Lilian Tintori returned to Venezuela with the blessings of the US president, who called on Maduro to not only release her husband (jailed for 14 years on charges related to the deaths of over 40 persons in a violent opposition demonstration) but to also stand down.
An April 19 opposition demonstration in Caracas saw police and national guards attacked mercilessly by violent protesters. Then on May 1, Tintori led a march of women calling for her very-much-alive husband’s release (after earlier tweeting he was dead).
The May 1 demonstration also offered more evidence of the creeping, slow-motion opposition coup against Maduro, who they simply want to force out of office way ahead of the end of his term in 2018.
This time around, the new features included masked attackers, armed with self-made armaments, not only accused of using snipers and incendiary devices but also organized throwing of excreta at police and national guards.
Here too, the demonstrations are being organized in well-to-do municipalities with opposition mayors.
The slow-motion coup has also seen a steady increase in the number of persons dying at demonstrations with increasing evidence of possible assassinations by paid anarchists, many of whom have been arrested – as have been the few police officers who harmed or killed persons while defending themselves.
The plotters are going out of their way to confront the police and national guards, who have been expressly forbidden by Maduro from using anything but teargas, even if attacked.
All of this isn’t to say that things aren’t bad anywhere in Venezuela. But what’s happening there is not as much Maduro’s doing as it is the legacy of many decades of mismanagement of the profits from the sale of oil in the country with the largest deposits in the entire world.
Successive regimes since 1908 have failed to put the nation’s oil wealth to work for its people. Instead, it’s been frittered away into foreign Big Oil company accounts, mainly in the USA.
Chavez was the first Venezuelan president to decide that the nation’s oil wealth must also go towards first addressing its social and economic ills, so his wider redistribution of wealth that used to go to private interest attracted the opposition of those who stood to most lose.
Inflation is in the triple-digit figures because the private sector partly engages in hoarding and essential supplies are also illegally spirited across the border to Colombia, where they attract multiplied profits.
Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have been able to meet the opposition head-to-head and all efforts to force them out of office have been resisted at home with fair measures of success.
Never mind the selected images being portrayed by the international mainstream media, credible polls in Venezuela show people do not support the violent opposition and would much prefer a peaceful solution to the political problems that take the state of the national economy into consideration before everything else.
But it is the external intervention that’s on everyone’s mind – and in this case, particularly the use of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), by powerful nations within, to promote and pursue an openly anti-Maduro political agenda.
Caribbean and Latin American nations are increasingly expressing alarm about the use of the OAS against Venezuela, which is a founding member-state.
The presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have openly stated their disgust with the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s role in steering the OAS into confrontation with Caracas, while openly and publicly supporting the violent opposition and calling for regime change in Venezuela.
Caribbean countries are also becoming increasingly concerned about the way the current Venezuela standoff at the OAS is already dividing Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member-state within the wider hemispheric grouping.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the (OAS), Sir Ronald Sanders, recently warned OAS member countries against “the politics of exclusion”; and minority meetings hastily arranged by powerful nations, which then seek to impose their decisions on the membership as a whole.
Speaking at the OAS Permanent Council on a proposal to convene a special ministerial meeting on Venezuela, including a proposal to change the rules governing such meetings, Sanders warned about “a troubling development” involving “the politics of exclusion in the OAS”.
Sanders cautioned against this “emerging practice”, stating that “each member state is entitled to a voice and to be consulted; not to have the self-interest of a few imposed upon them”. He also argued against the “unexplained haste” with which some powerful countries were trying to convene the ministerial meeting on Venezuela.
The meeting was proposed for May 22, but as Sanders said, many delegations “remain unaware of the intended outcome of the meeting and its purpose”. “Yet”, he said, “We are asked to blindly support its convocation and a date on which to hold it.”
Sanders urged that the date for the meeting be deferred “to facilitate a thorough review of its outcome statement by all delegations in an inclusive and transparent process”.
Indeed, the statement of the Antigua and Barbuda representative was supported by several delegations from the Caribbean and Latin America.
Already, five CARICOM member-states – The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Lucia – voted in support of the mysterious no-agenda ministerial meeting on Venezuela.
CARICOM member-states all belong to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) grouping, which funds project associated with the PetroCaribe initiative heralded by Chavez and Fidel Castro and later spawned other organizations such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
The likes of ALBA, PetroCaribe and CELAC also grew out of the increasing uneasiness within the OAS, over the years, about its continued use as an agency driven by US foreign policy. That’s widely seen as one of the reasons why the US and Canada aren’t members of any of the new groupings.
What’s happening to Venezuela within the OAS is also a replay of what Cuba faced – as a founding member too – after the 1959 Revolution.
Two years later, after the failure of the US-backed April 19, 1961, Bay of Pigs invasion and Washington’s ceaseless efforts to get enough Latin American support for its military plans for the island, Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962.
Maduro, sensing the increasing success of Caracas’ opponents in dividing the membership within the Latin American and Caribbean, citing the role of the US, Canada and Mexico in leading the onslaught from within and unable to predict what would come out of the hastily-planned ministerial meeting-without-agenda, last month announced Venezuela’s withdrawal from the OAS.
The anti-Venezuela lobby at the OAS has planned the secretive ministerial meeting on Venezuela for next Monday (May 22) and the OAS Permanent Council was to have decided yesterday on some of the arrangements, including telling member-states more of what the meeting will be about.
The Maduro administration is pressing full-speed-ahead with its plan for establishment of a popular-based Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution Chavez left. But the opposition MUD alliance, the private sector and the Catholic Church have refused to participate.
The opposition continues to flex its muscles as if assured its creeping coup against Maduro will continue to get external support, come what may.
Unable to amass the verifiable support to back their demands for fast-tracking elections, the MUD alliance, which won the 2015 National Assembly poll, is not interested in talks.
They are only interested in seeing Maduro’s back – and with him, the PSUV and all that’s left of Chavez’s Bolivarian Socialist legacy.
The die is long cast in certain targeted parts of the capital Caracas, where the opposition has concentrated its violent conflagrations and confrontations.
But working class neighborhoods and in Caracas and the rest of this large nation remained quiet and unaffected while the foreign press cameras zeroed-in on the results of violent actions arranged for them by the anarchists coordinating the strong-arm opposition response.
The collective ills caused by the low price of fuel on the world market and the failure by successive governments over time to develop Venezuela’s productive capacity to reduce total dependence on oil earnings have clearly contributed, in a big way, to the current situation.
But it’s clear that the major US-based oil companies, especially Exxon-Mobil, continue to have their eyes on the rich oil deposits in both Venezuela and neighboring Guyana.
Soon after Rex Tillerson took over as the Exxon-Mobil CEO, Chavez nationalized the company’s assets, leading to Tillerson saying (in an interview) that Chavez would live to regret.
Exxon-Mobil had been long involved, under Tillerson, in negotiations regarding drilling for oil in rich deposits it has traced in Guyana, including in the disputed area claimed by both countries in the past hundred years.
Tillerson was in fact on his way to Guyana to sign-up agreements to take Exxon-Mobil’s plans for and in Venezuela’s neighboring territory, when his appointment as US Secretary of State was announced by President Trump.
Guyana is the current rotating chairman of CARICOM and Venezuela is the current chairman of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and it was expected the two regional bodies, under the respective leaders, would have found ways to commune and agree on the issues that have divided them, in particular the territorial dispute involving Venezuela’s historical claim of two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.
The territorial dispute has up to now been dealt with peacefully, especially under the aegis of the United Nations.
But with the generals once again in charge in Washington and the military industrial complex gunning for new wars to sell arms to all sides, there is growing concern (if not fear) in regional circles that the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute can be used to help add pressure on Caracas from outside and inflame nationalist sentiments from within, as well as further divide CARICOM (and the OECS) in terms of their historical support for Venezuela.
A Caribbean example
The Caribbean set an example for the rest of the world in 1973 when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago together defied the US-dictated isolation of Cuba by its neighbours and jointly announced they had established diplomatic relations with Havana.
More than four decades later, the question is: Will CARICOM (and the OECS) leaders today demonstrate the testicular fortitude exhibited by the four giant Caribbean leaders (Errol Barrow, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley and Eric Williams)?
The chinks and early cracks in the Caribbean’s armour have been noted by both Caracas and Washington and the coming week will most likely see the emergence of the plans hatched by the powerful anti-Venezuela forces within the OAS.
Like with the US positions on North Korea and Russia, the proposed OAS ministerial meeting in Washington next week will require clarification of where Washington stands on OAS plans to punish Venezuela, despite its decision to ‘Vexit’ from the regional grouping.
It is widely expected that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may attend in Washington what Caracas rightfully fears may be an ill-fated meeting that could possibly have dire consequences for the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean, both as a hemispheric body and within the neighboring regions.
What the US secretary of state will say and do at next week’s OAS ministerial meeting on Venezuela is unpredictable.
But with Tillerson’s historic and recent Exxon-Mobil ties with Venezuela and Guyana, respectively, those promoting regional political and diplomatic unity in South America and the Caribbean have all reason to hope for the best, but also fear for the worst.
Earl Bousquet is Editor-at-Large of The Diplomatic Courier and author of the regional newspaper column entitled Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler.