Politics 07 June 2019
As a Venezuelan reading articles in the U.S. about what's happening in my country; they don't ever get close to what is really going on there. It's important to remember that Venezuela doesn't have freedom of press; all channels and radio stations are controlled by Maduro, so through social media, the citizens have become the real reporters. Some international journalists have even been detained, including the American reporter, Jorge Ramos of Telemundo. This worries me, as both a Venezuelan and an American, because what's going on over there can immensely affect us here as well.
So, what is really going on in Venezuela?
But first, a quick history lesson to give you context. For the past 20 years Venezuela's "democracy" has been masking a dictatorship controlled by the Castro brothers and Cuba's communist government. This Venezuelan socialist regime controlled every government branch, skewing election results in favor of the regime. Eventually, the people's discontent mounted and the opposition grew to a point where the regime could no longer ignore it. In 2015, for the first time in years, the regime recognized that the opposition had won majority in the National Assembly during parliamentary elections, weakening Maduro's power to legislate and control the country.
By 2017, the National Assembly was the only branch of the government elected democratically by the people. Maduro's response was then to create a new, illegitimate National Assembly that he could control. In May 2018, this new unlawful parallel assembly called for elections, in which none of the candidates from the opposition were allowed to run. Opposition leaders encouraged the citizens of Venezuela to not attend to the unofficial elections, and as a result only 20% of the population voted. A majority of the voters only did so because they were threatened by Maduro's regime and once again, he declared himself the winner of an illegitimate election. Countries all over the world chose not to recognize this unauthorized election. However, despite the international disapproval, on January 10th of 2019 the illegitimate National Assembly unlawfully proclaimed Maduro president. Following these events, the Venezuelan people set out to defend the constitution and get rid of the dictatorship.
Who is Juan Guaidó? And how did he become the interim President?
Contrary to the media headlines, Juan Guaidó did not just declare himself president. On January 23rd, Guaidó - an industrial engineer and one-term lawmaker for the Popular Will party - was elected by the Venezuelan people as the leader of the National Assembly; and the Venezuelan constitution states that when the presidency is vacant or found illegitimate, the head of the National Assembly becomes interim president until fair democratic elections are held. This act was not a coup; it was done in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. On January 23rd, Venezuelans gathered in the capital city of Caracas to watch Juan Guaidó take an oath to become the interim president of Venezuela; he took this oath in front of millions, legally, because as the head of the National Assembly it was his duty to do so. Since then, more than 60 countries in the world, including countries from Latin America, Europe and Asia, have recognized Guaidó as the new President of Venezuela.
So, what happened next?
After Guaidó began taking on his duties as Interim President, Maduro refused to step down, knowing that if he does he would most likely go to jail. Therefore, he declared himself remaining president and was backed up by the Venezuelan military.
Amidst this presidential crisis, a charity event was being organized in response to the humanitarian crisis that Maduro had caused over the years. The event would open the Venezuelan borders to welcome humanitarian aid. Richard Branson, alongside 40 other celebrities, created the Venezuelan Aid Live event. However, Maduro's regime refused the aid saying the Venezuelan people did not need it. Instead he created a counter concert called "Hands Off Venezuela." The following day, when aid trucks were set to enter Venezuela carrying 200 tons of food and medicine, violence erupted. The first three trucks that crossed the bridge between the Colombia-Venezuela border were set on fire by Maduro's military.
That day became a massacre; over 300 people died not just along that border but also on the border of Venezuela and Brazil. Several members of the National Guard assigned to the bridge that connects Venezuela and Colombia have joined the opposition and taken a stand on the side of the people. President Guaidó had attended the humanitarian event along with the Presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay, but was unable to return to Venezuela after the massacre. He used this time to embark on a South American tour meeting the Presidents of Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador, along with United States Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the current state of Venezuela while ignoring the travel ban imposed on him by the Supreme Court. Fortunately, he was able to return into the country despite arrest and death threats from the Maduro Regime. Maduro had no choice but to let him in because he knows Guaidó is backed by the U.S. government. In fact, upon his return, US National Security Adviser John Bolton, tweeted that any threat to Guaido's return "will be met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the international community."
Maduro's response and what is happening right now?
Thursday, March 7th of 2019 the national crisis blew up as the nation faced a massive country-wide power outage, the largest electrical outage in the country's history. While Maduro blamed it (with no evidence) on "American Imperialism", the state-owned electricity company Corpoelec blamed it on an act of "sabotage" at the Guri Dam, which is the hydroelectric station feeding into Venezuela's electrical grid. As a result the country has experienced over 90 hours under the following conditions:
- No electricity.
- No running water; people have become so desperate for water that they are turning to the contaminated Guaire river putting them at a high risk of infection.
- No internet; 74% of the internet is out and 96% of the country is offline.
- No gasoline; despite Venezuela having the largest oil reserves in the world , people are being forced to wait in long lines just to get a bit of gas to charge their phones in their cars.
- Food rotting in people's inoperable fridges, thus people are running out of food to eat.
- Hospital patients, in particular newborns, dying due to lack of working equipment; over 80 newborns died in just one hospital over the weekend.
- Mass airport closures and operational difficulties.
- Power station explosions causing fires to spread nearby.
- Military operatives taking over hospitals; they have restricted patient treatment, militarized the morgues to hide the genocidal death toll and blocked access to these services.
Hundreds of people have been dying every day and even more are suffering as they wait for international help. Meanwhile, Maduro and his right hand Diosdado Cabello (the head of El Cartel de los Soles, former Vice President of Venezuela and one of the worst narco traffickers) blame the power outage on a sabotage by some people that they claimed have already detained.
Why is this important to the U.S?
There are at least two main reasons the U.S. needs to be informed about the current situation in Venezuela:
Number one -and most importantly- is the oil. As previously stated, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world (a little over 300 billion barrels). In fact, Venezuela's economy is based on the petroleum sector and their biggest exporter is the U.S. Many people argue that the U.S's reasoning for wanting to help Venezuela comes down to oil, but at least the U.S. is rightfully paying for the oil.
Comparatively, Cuba and a few other Latin American countries allied with the Maduro regime have been receiving free oil. And, if you are wondering where all this oil money is going, well it certainly is not going to the Venezuelan economy, which has the highest inflation rate in the world at one million percent. The economy in Venezuela has been suffering because all the money goes straight to Maduro and his administration, making Venezuela the twelfth most corrupt country in the world according to the corruption index. The relationship between our two countries is crucial because the export of Venezuelan oil to the U.S. is so much cheaper than Saudi Arabian, meaning disruptions in trade could deeply impact gas prices.
Another major reason that these issues should be important to the U.S. is because Maduro's main allies are Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia and Iran. Some of these countries believe in communism, which would put our national security at risk. It is in the U.S.'s best interest to be an ally with Venezuela because of their important trade relationship and because of how geographically close they are. Venezuela is in a perfect location for a country like Russia, which may be why in December of 2018, Russia sent two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela.
This act underscored Russia's noncompliance with the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces), which caused the U.S. to withdraw from this treaty until Russie resolves these noncompliance issues. The INF was established by Ronald Reagan (representing the U.S.) and Mikhail Gorbachev (representing the Soviet Union) after the Cold War to put an end to nuclear weaponry.
This is a matter between Russia and The U.S. that Venezuela just happens to be in the middle of, due to its location and oil. Both countries now want to be allies of Venezuela, and this will come down to negotiations involving a peaceful transition for Guaido to take full control of the country and Venezuela establishing and maintaining a democracy. As each day goes and Venezuelans continue to protest, Maduro is being increasingly pressured to give up his position, though he maintains his power with the safety of Russia's support. The coming weeks will be critical as power continues to shift in Venezuela. We can only hope that the path taken is one of democracy so that once and for all we can begin rebuilding our country.
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