Venezuela: Is the Demand for Self-Determination so Hard?
After the Supreme Court of Venezuela took over the National Assembly, protestors have taken to the streets all over the country, creating an environment that has led to sanctions from neighbouring countries and possibilities of an intervention from the US
When Venezuela’s National Assembly opposed a joint venture between the Venezuelan and Russian Oil Companies, the country’s Supreme Court intervened and ruled that the Assembly was operating illegally in contravention to the constitution. On March 29, the Latin American country’s apex court, in a controversial ruling took over the powers of the assembly and transferred them to President Nicolas Maduro. The decision came after repeated requests to remove three members belonging the Mesa De La Democratica Unidad (MUD), the right-wing party with a majority in the National Assembly, who were elected as representatives from the far-flung Amazon region. These representatives had been charged with voter fraud in the December 2015 elections. As a result any decisions made by the legislature with these three members present, was in contravention of the constitution. The Supreme Court had no choice but to take over the powers of parliament till the members were expelled.
The actions of the court, are facing a serious backlash from the international press, sections of the population and the Organisation of American States (OAS). The regional organisation of 34 countries, has condemned the ruling and called it undemocratic and accused it of siding with the President, who is moving towards a ‘self-coup’, despite it being consistent with article 336.2 of constitution of the country. Moreover the precarious peace in the country has given way to anti-government protests in many major cities.
“The mission that has been undertaken by the government of Venezuela is foremost a commitment to democracy. Unlike other countries, we have five areas of the separation of power in the country: the legislative, executive, the judiciary, the electoral council and the citizen’s power (ombudsman and comptrollers). When the Attorney General red flagged this order, the Supreme Court went back and reordered the judgment. We have a vibrant democracy, one that we are committed to, one that has left our citizens with a better lot,” said Augusto Monteil, the Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to India, in a conversation with Hardnews. He vehemently opposes the allegations made by the OAS and the international media that seems to have gone on a witch hunt against President Nicolas Maduro. According to him these reports could not be further from the truth, “There is a climate to make our country look like a failed state. The international corporate media provides an endless stream of information, viewpoints and opinions, that paint an image contrary to what is the truth and do not represent what is really happening on the ground.”
The Venezualan embassy, is housed in one of the large residential buildings in Anand Niketan, New Delhi. The ambassador greets us with a warm embrace which sets the tone for the informal, meandering conversation which unfolds over the afternoon. Ambassador Monteil is well-built, bespectacled and loquacious. Leading us out to the garden behind the embassy, he talks passionately about the situation in his country, “the protesters in Venezuela are unlike elsewhere”,he pulls out his phone and shows a meme of young protestors clicking selfies with the police, “there are few elements in the country that are pushing us towards where we have gotten, but most importantly it is the growing involvement of the North American government and the training and funding they provide to the groups in the country that is responsible for the current state.” The police in the country is facing an onslaught from a force very similar to a paramilitary force, who use aggression against the police as their primary tactic.
“There is a climate to make our country look like a failed state. The international corporate media provides an endless stream of information, viewpoints and opinions, that paint an image contrary to what is the truth and do not represent what is really happening on the ground.”
The protests that have engulfed the country in late March and early April according to him are a direct outcome of several interest groups (corporate and oligopolies) in the country that have not benefited under the current regime. There is a pattern he alludes to, “There are many in our country who don’t want our citizens to succeed, get educated, and have rights. They feel that if people do, then their own growth and expansion will be stopped and that is why there have been clashes, protesting and violence. We have a leadership that believes that peace is the way forward and they are getting support from other countries.”
Admiral Kurt Tidd, the Chief of the Southern Command of the United States of America, submitted a report urging the US Senate to think about ‘a regional response to the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Experts have warned of growing Chinese, Russian and Iranian influence in Latin America. “All forms of intervention are violent, we are trying to convey to the world that Venezuela’s sovereignty and its ability to deal with its own problems should be respected,” says the Ambassador, and adds that “there is a state of aggression against our country, there are states who believe that our geography and resources belong to them.”
“The problem for Venezeula begins because we have oil, which we want to use for cooperation rather than domination, we want relationships to be built around trade, even with India, we want our relationship to be built on oil for cooperation, but there are forces who don’t want things to be like this, they want to dominate.” Monteil asks, “When there is a crisis in Italy, Spain or even the United States, how many NGOs go and say that you are doing this incorrectly or correctly? If there were such protests in countries like Norway, England or Germany the protestors would be put in jail for many years, they would face violence.” According to him the governments in North America, have no respect for the international law laid down by the United Nations. They [the US] have been known to organise nearly 70 coups d’etats in the last hundred years in the country. There has now emerged footage that there is growing pressure to isolate Venezuela in the region through the OAS.
Under Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the OAS, there has been a growing chorus for Venezuela to get its house in order or face the repercussions. Reports have been submitted by Almagro on the precarious situation in the country and about the lack of ‘democracy’, the human rights violations and the arrest of opposition leaders. “The OAS is now fulfilling the purpose of one country, it is housed in Washington and gets 60 percent of its funding from the United States. On March 30, they organised an ‘illegal’ meeting to make an example and condemn Venezuela, they forced governments to vote against us, and they have been unsuccessful. Bolivia has supported us, even Uruguay’s vice-president and president have shown discomfort towards the way the OAS meeting was held. This meeting of the OAS has violated the balance of power. We are members of several other international bodies such as LAC and the CELAC, which are bodies of peace and we have not violated anything, we have a commitment to peace and international law.”
“When we are called a failed state it doesn’t take into account how our track record with Millennium Development Goals, our excellent track record at the UN Council for Human Rights has been. We fare better than all our neighbours on the Human Development Index, our population is one of the most literate in the region, in comparison to Columbia, Argentina or Brazil we have better developmental indicators that are proven time and time again by unbiased international agencies.” Venezuela, according to Monteil has a rich history of democracy, “Our constitution was brought into force with an overwhelming 94 percent approval in a country wide referendum eighteen years ago. The 6 percent who rejected it, has been out to hurt our vibrant democracy,”
“There are many in our country who don’t want our citizens to succeed, get educated, and have rights. They feel that if people do, then their own growth and expansion will be stopped and that is why there have been clashes, protesting and violence. We have a leadership that believes that peace is the way forward and they are getting support from other countries.”
“There is a method that is used to create an atmosphere to warrant an intervention. There is a reduction in the sovereign rights, the right to self determination and nonintervention. We have seen in it all over the world in, whether it be in Iraq (where are the weapons of mass destruction?), in Libya and in several other countries all over the world. Now it is happening in Venezuela. It has been in the process for many years: first with the crisis in Venezuela which was a result of the economic blockade by the oligopolies, and the presence of the North American government.”
“What the opposition is doing, according to the rule of law of Venezuela is illegal, our constitution is a vibrant, deeply democratic document that gives people not only economic freedom, but every other type of freedom. It does so on the very first page.”
Venezuela has been ravaged by a severe economic crisis since 2014, which in the subsequent years, has led to a shortage of food, medical supplies and even basic essential goods such as toilet paper. Recession, and inflation have left the Bolivar, the currency of the country, devalued with hundreds of bolivars equivalent to the dollar. CNN Money has dubbed the Venezuelan economy as ‘the world’s worst’. In December 2015, a year into the crisis, these factors culminated into the opposition party MUD, gaining control of the National Assembly with a thumping majority. The first agenda of the newly elected opposition wanted to recall Maduro as President, but the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council, both held-off the voting in 2016. Critics of the government began accusing the President of usurping power and building an ‘authoritarian’ state.
On April 11, 40 people were arrested all over the country as the movement to call for early elections which have been slated for 2018 have begun to gain greater momentum. Henry Capriles, one of the prime candidates from the opposition in the 2018 Presidential Elections, has been disbarred from holding public office for fifteen years. This move sparked off protests by the opposition, who have been claiming that Maduro is out to organise a self-coup. For Ambassador Monteil there is only one question, “If there was no democracy in Venezuela, how did the opposition gain such a majority in the National Assembly?” Whether constitutional or unconstitutional, ‘self-coup’ or not, peace in Venezuela hangs by a slender thread.