Americas Articles Politics & Governance

Venezuela: The Next Stage for Great Power Rivalry

Donald Trump in May 2018 at the White House (Jim Watson / AFP) and Nicolas Maduro (Source: Wikipedia)
Venezuela, US, Russia

If history were to ever set in stone a literary reference to the evolution of thought and policy, Francis Fukuyama’s account in ‘The End of History’ would definitely make it to every library across the ages. For it is a work prescient indeed, in the interplay of ideas though not so much in establishing a narrative that would fit political and economic developments of the modern day. His is a work riddled in irony; a sort of irony that history affords to those thinkers who dare venture into virgin intellectual discourse. The irony in reference is Fukuyama’s dalliance with the ‘National Interest’, a neoconservative publication for policy discourse; a policy discourse that would towards the end of the previous century hold Fukuyama’s narrative hostage, fitting it into an interventionist narrative to American foreign policy, contrary to how Fukuyama had envisioned it. While it is true that events in and following September 2001 legitimised neoconservatism more effectively than a piece of literature ever could, the neoconservatives, a lot more different to how Irving Kristol thought the narrative would play out, had the last laugh.

Today, neoconservative elements in American foreign policy shaping, calling for a more aggressive approach to conflict resolution aimed at the restoration of ‘liberal ideas’ are an integral part of a government that promised to do the very opposite; limit America’s international presence. The most recognizable hawkish presence in the Trump administration currently is that of John Bolton, the National Security Advisor who is making headlines as America contemplates its approach to the Venezuelan crisis; the most recent in a series of international entanglements.

The Venezuelan crisis has escalated to a point wherein the involvement of foreign powers is no longer inconspicuous. America, the European Union including most notably France, Germany and Britain in addition to the Lima Group of countries, a group of countries in the Americas calling for a ‘peaceful resolution’ to the Venezuelan crisis have made no secret of their recognition of Juan Guaido, President of the National Assembly and the self-declared Interim President of Venezuela.

More than two decades into the publication of ‘The End of History’, America continues its fight for influence, legitimacy and democracy in Latin America; termed geopolitically as its own ‘backyard’. Reminiscent of the Cold War and in a rather swift rebuttal of Fukuyama’s initial work, America has dived head first into a proxy war aimed at a regime change. The diegetic bells of imperialism, rung by those at the opposing end of America’s ambitions in Venezuela have begun to take shape as the official counter narrative; a counter narrative more prominently including Russia, China, Iran, Turkey.

The pattern is not all too dissimilar to regional conflicts played out among global actors through the course of the previous decade in the Middle East. The dynamics of the Venezuelan conflict though are unique, owing much to its proximity to America in addition to Venezuela’s role in the global oil trade network.

The Venezuelan crisis has escalated to a point wherein the involvement of foreign powers is no longer inconspicuous. America, the European Union including most notably France, Germany and Britain in addition to the Lima Group of countries, a group of countries in the Americas calling for a ‘peaceful resolution’ to the Venezuelan crisis have made no secret of their recognition of Juan Guaido, President of the National Assembly and the self-declared Interim President of Venezuela. Guaido calls for free and fair elections in Venezuela and the removal of Nicolas Maduro by default. Citing last year’s elections, which amidst a drastically low voter turnout and allegations of corruption lead to a Maduro victory as defunct, Guaido claims a legitimate takeover of power from Maduro. On the contrary, Russia, China and Iran call for Nicolas Maduro to remain at the head of the government discrediting Guaido’s ascendancy in the process.

For all the claims of American imperialism and interference in politics of foreign countries, Russia is no stranger to the concept itself. It finds itself, yet again, propping up a regime that America wishes to see toppled.

Venezuela is undergoing the most troubled period in its history. A hyperinflation rate of ‘1.7m’ % and the subsequent depreciation of the Bolivar has meant that Maduro’s government lacks the capital to feed its people or sustain any semblance of an economic cycle and the foreign reserves to keep its currency afloat. In addition, three million people have already fled across borders to neighbouring countries who are suffering the brunt of mass migration into their territories. America’s immigration policy, which has come under intense scrutiny and debate under Donald Trump, has its own concerns over an influx of migrants making perilous journeys from Venezuela looking to enter North America. Venezuela, for the strong economy that it once was, is undergoing an economic crisis, the likes of which has not been since the Great Depression in the earlier part of the last century.

For its part, America, though not yet having stated unambiguously if it harbours military ambitions to topple Maduro, has burdened the Venezuelan economy under sanctions. According to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, oil exports account for 98 % of Venezuela’s export earnings. The PDVSA, Venezuela’s premier state managed oil and gas company, has been targeted by the Trump administration. Being Venezuela’s primary trading partner, it plans to redirect the revenue of future oil purchases to an account that will be accessible to the interim regime after new elections are called and Maduro removed. That alone will cost Venezuela $11 billion in oil revenue. Maduro, despite under immense pressure continues to hold ground as Venezuela’s oil revenues and production drops significantly.

The government has lost both the capacity and ability to provide for its citizens even the most basic necessities for life while those campaigning against Maduro have been imprisoned depriving them of basic human rights as well.

For all the claims of American imperialism and interference in politics of foreign countries, Russia is no stranger to the concept itself. It finds itself, yet again, propping up a regime that America wishes to see toppled. Venezuela currently owes Russia approximately $3 billion and China $20 billion in addition to oil payments, which is the primary measure of payment flowing out of Venezuela. If, for consideration, Maduro is removed as President and an International Monetary Fund proposed economic reform package is introduced in addition to the resumption of revenue from oil exports to America, China and Russia will have to consider a financial compromise to allow the Venezuelan economy space to grow and stabilise. Such a compromise has not yet been talked about. In fact a significant loss in revenue is only going to worsen the country’s debt making it yet another centre for a global conflict until Maduro is removed.

Guaido has declared his intention to honour Venezuela’s debt to China but his ascendancy to power will mark a policy win for America and by proxy, a victory over Russian foreign policy. An American supported government in Venezuela will limit Chinese and Russian influence in Latin America, traditionally a region of great geopolitical importance given its proximity to America. While Maduro locks horns with Guaido amidst a great power conflict over supremacy in the region, the people of Venezuela continue to suffer drastically. The government has lost both the capacity and ability to provide for its citizens even the most basic necessities for life while those campaigning against Maduro have been imprisoned depriving them of basic human rights as well.

The Cold War might have ended but conflict will most definitely remain as permanent a feature of human life as the sun that shines upon the planet.

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