Venezuela, with its vast sources of oil, is probably one of the richest countries in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the picture that has emerged in the recent years out of Venezuela is one of poverty, hunger, crimes and associated deaths and a massive exodus of people out of Venezuela.
By Prof. Aparajita Gangopadhyay
Venezuela is amidst a severe political, social and economic crisis, the worst in many decades. A political struggle for power and control over the government is on between the sitting president Nicolas Maduro and the president in waiting, Juan Guaido. Venezuela, with its vast sources of oil, is probably one of the richest countries in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the picture that has emerged in the recent years out of Venezuela is one of poverty, hunger, crimes and associated deaths and a massive exodus of people out of Venezuela. The recent pictures, visible in worldwide media, of people looting, rioting for food, drinking and collecting water from the gutters, along with blackouts and the strong armed tactics of the military and police forces paints a very grim and distressing scenario. This is the end of “Chavesissmo”. President Hugo Chavez’s declaration of an ‘economic war’ in Venezuela as a result of shortages have taken on very grim and dangerous overtones. The economic situation in Venezuela is the worst in many decades.
A number of factors could be highlighted to explain the dismal and devastating situation in Venezuela. Probably, the most important could be that Venezuela’s chief economic commodity and the sources of all its foreign currency reserves, oil production has seen a massive dropout in the last decade. Venezuela’s oil revenues have steadily declined due to the inefficiency in maintaining the industry as well as a lack of steady investments. Moreover, the oil industry has not diversified beyond producing and shipping oil. Added to that the rising corruption levels, government inefficiency, lack of basic infrastructure for health care, medicines and other basic necessities in a resource rich but economically poor country like Venezuela. Other criticisms have been levied against the Maduro government includes repressing the voices of the opposition, using the military and other forces to suppress all criticisms against the government, the powerful business and economic elite control over all industries
and businesses, and finally the sanctions imposed against Venezuela has totally exacerbated an already worsened situation.
The current political situation in Venezuela is a stalemate. On one hand, the Maduro led government has the support of the military and the armed forces and is using them to keep opposition in a tight control. On the other, the opposition led by Guaido have led to street protests countrywide, and demanded that Maduro’s government leave office immediately. However, the opposition lack the support of the military forces who continue to stand by Maduro. The opposition has also accused the Maduro government of huge human rights violations and of forcing people to flee out of Venezuela into neighbouring countries like Colombia.
Consequently, the borders between the two neighbours remain close and tensions are high as Venezuela has accused Colombia of helping create unstable situations. Countries by and large remain divided between the two political sides. While, the
United States has not only imposed sanctions on Venezuela, it supports the Guaido claim to presidentship. Guaido currently enjoys the support of nearly sixty countries around the world including the European Union. The divide is global. Countries like
Russia and China have openly supported Maduro’s government. Russia has called for all outside interference in the country as “unacceptable”.
Russia is one of the main investors in Venezuela’s oil industry. Russia has close military ties with Venezuela. China too has heavily invested in Venezuela and opposes any sanctions, economic and military against Venezuela. Other countries like Turkey
have also supported the Maduro government. This divide is clearly dominating the countries of Latin America, where the divide is also along political lines with Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and Costa Rica all backing the US move. and siding with the demand to remove Maduro from power. While President Evo Morales of Bolivia stands by Maduro and has called for the right of ‘South America to democracy and self-determination’. He has stated that the United States have unleashed an imperialistic attack on Bolivia and joins Maduro is calling out “Yankee: Go Home’. This cal resonates well with the idea of ‘Yankee Imperialism’ which remains a popular notion among the countries of Latin America.
India is one of the countries which has a strong relationship with Venezuela based on oil. India has invested in the Venezuelan oil sector and is one of the largest importers of Venezuelan oil in the recent past. Venezuela has been a viable partner as India seeks new sources of energy to deal with its energy needs for development and also to diversify its importer bases so that its dependence on the Middle-East oil reduces. The crisis in the Middle East along with piracy in the Indian Ocean had made India seek new partners in the oil sector like Venezuela, Nigeria, Ecuador and is currently in talks with countries from Central Asia. India has been able to make payments for oil purchases in Rupees which suits both India and Venezuela. India has maintained a distance from the crisis in Venezuela.
Firstly, traditionally India desists from commenting on the internal affairs of another country and continues to do so. Secondly, India gains much from the large crude purchase from Venezuela and finally, India has good relations with the Maduro government
and by not commenting and keeping a distance from the crisis in Venezuela seems to be a prudent foreign policy move for now. In the past, India’s proactive stand on Iran had soured India-Iran relations for long over the much need gas pipeline and access to the Chabahar port. The ongoing elections in India moreover is not the appropriate time to cut off relations with Venezuela which would impact the oil prices in India. The current stalemate between Maduro and Guaido is also giving India an opportunity to re-assess its foreign economic policy vis-a-vis Venezuela and India will act at the opportune moment.
(The author is Director, UGC Centre for Latin American Studies and Head Department of International Relations at Goa University. View expressed are personal.)