America is at it again

The Tribune

By MK Bhadrakumar 

With its massive oil and gold reserves, Venezuela is now on US radar

The South Block has issued a wishy-washy statement, counselling that ‘it is for the people of Venezuela to find a political solution to resolve their differences through constructive dialogue and discussion without resorting to violence’. The statement went on to state an obvious fact, namely, ‘We believe democracy, peace and security in Venezuela are of paramount importance for the progress and prosperity of the people of Venezuela.’ Pray, who are we propitiating with such pious homilies? 

This waffly statement fudges the real issues involved in the crisis brewing in Venezuela. India may very soon have no option but to pop its head above the parapet and stare at what is so patently obvious to most countries on the planet — that a slow motion US-sponsored coup attempt is under way to grab power in Caracas and make Venezuela a vassal state. Of course, ‘America First’ is the motivation — Venezuela has the biggest known oil reserves and gold deposits. Like watching a black-and-white talkie, the mind wanders back restlessly to the era of gunboat diplomacy and Jallianwala Bagh. 

It is exactly four years since PM Modi and then US President Barack Obama issued on the margins of Republic Day celebrations in 2015 the infamous Joint Strategic Vision Statement on the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region. Among other things, Modi and Obama called on ‘all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’ and sought ‘to work together to promote the shared values that have made our countries great’. What the US is doing in Venezuela is the exact opposite of what Obama and Modi agreed to do.

It is patently obvious that a US plot to undermine and overthrow the present government led by President Nicolas Maduro has been afoot for quite a while. The US has lately gone to the extraordinary extent of inciting an opposition politician to usurp power. What it is doing is in direct contravention of international law and the UN Charter. Indeed, such unilateralism has become a characteristic of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era starting with the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia. The US went on to invade Afghanistan and landed troops at the Bagram air base, ignoring the feeble protest of then Foreign Minister in Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah. Two years later, it invaded Iraq on the basis of what turned out to be a pack of lies and destroyed that country, committing war crimes of horrific proportions. Today, it is in occupation of a third of Syrian territory and has grabbed that country’s oil fields and principal water resources. 

India would know that a leopard cannot change its spots. But the new mantra is that the US-India relationship has gone from being a bilateral relationship to a global partnership. Venezuela shows the grotesqueness of any pretensions of India having global partnership with the US. Actually, by consorting with the US, the Modi government may also have acquired some of the leopard’s spots. India, too, has begun selectively preaching democracy in its neighbourhood. Curiously, the US and India also collaborate in such ventures — be it Sri Lanka or the Maldives — and, ironically, even choose to pardon the one South Asian country where there has been a glaring retrogression of democratic values, Bangladesh. 

Who is the jury and the judge to pass verdict on democratic practices? Democracy is a many-splendoured thing. Its Indian mutation has hardly anything in common with Germany’s. At any rate, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev asked a very pertinent question: ‘How would the American people respond, for example, to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives declaring herself the new President against the backdrop of the government shutdown?’ Arguably, President Trump should not even be holding office, having failed to secure majority in popular votes. Our own government has ruled on the basis of a mandate from less than one-third of votes cast in the 2014 poll. Yet, Maduro won with over two-thirds votes in an election last May, where despite the opposition’s decision to boycott it, 48 per cent of the electorate had cast votes. 

Indeed, some big issues are arising. The US diplomats have incited the Venezuelan military to revolt. A flashpoint is reaching because the US embassy in Caracas is now notionally accredited to the illegal government led by the opposition figure Juan Guaido (who declared himself President following a call from US Vice President Mike Pence), whom Trump promptly gave diplomatic recognition. Washington has threatened to punish Caracas if it expelled US diplomats. Meanwhile, all assets of the state of Venezuela in the US are being frozen. True to British history, Bank of England leads the pack of predators by refusing to hand back gold bars worth $1.2 billion, which belong to Venezuela. According to Bloomberg, the Bank of England’s decision to deny Maduro officials’ withdrawal request comes after top US officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, ‘lobbied their UK counterparts to help cut off the regime from its overseas assets’. 

Are things any different from the era of the East India Company? That is precisely what makes the Modi government’s supine statement on Venezuela humiliating. There are times when a proud nation must be able to remember its own cruel colonial past.