The UK Government has been caught up in the years-long tug-of-war between Venezuelan presidents Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó as it has been taken to court to decide who has the authority to receive roughly $1bn in Venezuelan gold. Maduro, who was elected to the presidency in a rigged 2018 election, has claimed that the money will go towards funding COVID-19 response efforts and bolstering a healthcare system that has been crippled by six years of economic crisis. However, lawyers representing Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly before he assumed the presidency after the 2018 election, have doubled down on their movement against the corruption and fraud within Maduro’s leadership, aiming to keep the money out of the hands of Maduro and the Central Bank.
The UK Government has released an unequivocal statement of support for Guaidó, saying that “Juan Guaidó has been recognised by Her Majesty’s Government since February 2019 as the only legitimate President of Venezuela … [it has] the right to decide who to recognise as the legitimate head of a foreign state.”
In response, Queen’s Counsel barrister Nick Vineall, representing the Maduro-backed central bank, has claimed that this statement has only reinforced the argument for Maduro, saying that “traditional recognition statements have been recognition statements in relation to governments. There is no recognition statement, in this case, in relation to governments … that means that the position remains that Mr. Maduro is in effective control in Venezuela.”
However, the decision of who does hold legitimate control in Venezuela is highly contentious. Maduro’s leadership has been characterized by human rights abuses and although he has been deemed illegitimate by more than 50 countries, Maduro is still backed by major world powers including China, Russia, and Iran. According to OWP writer Caleb Loughrin, “Nicolás Maduro remains in control of the nation’s security forces and still resides in the presidential palace. His rule has become increasingly authoritarian, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). For years, HRW has been reporting on arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, attacks on free speech, and the harassment of human rights activists and humanitarian workers in Venezuela.” Meanwhile, as the negotiations over who holds legitimate power drag on, the crisis continues to escalate.
Many plans have been proposed as to how to alleviate some of the economic and social strain caused by the crisis in Venezuela amid this tense struggle for power. Dozens of countries have offered aid over the past decade, including the United States. According to USAID, “the United States has provided more than $1.4 billion in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable people in Venezuela and for Venezuelan migrants and their host communities across the region,” including millions of dollars worth of COVID-19 response, such as “primary health services, access to basic medical supplies and medicines, [and] trained health care workers.”
Diplomatic proposals have also been put forward. The most common response has been a call for a return to democracy and “free and fair elections” alongside an increase in robust humanitarian efforts in the area. Many in Maduro’s leadership have expressed agreement with this sentiment as well, with Henrique Capriles, a key leader who lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential vote, saying, “there are people on Maduro’s side who have noticed that the existential conflict isn’t good for their positions, because there’s no way the country is going to recover economically otherwise.” Guaidó’s Plan Pais has been touted as an admirable response to rehabilitation after negotiations have been made towards a more democratically-run country, with aims to “stabilize the economy, attend to the humanitarian emergency immediately, rescue public services and overcome poverty.”
All of this, of course, hinges on removing Nicolás Maduro from office and the universal international recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate acting president of Venezuela. As the negotiations over Venezuela’s gold escalate in the UK, the humanitarian crisis needs to remain the main focus as discussions continue to arise around Venezuela.
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