The Irish Times view on Venezuela’s crisis: International powers must be careful

Venezuelans must determine their political future, based on their own democratic sovereignty

A banner reads ‘Pray for Venezuela’ as pilgrims wait for the arrival of Pope Francis  in Panama City. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

A banner reads ‘Pray for Venezuela’ as pilgrims wait for the arrival of Pope Francis in Panama City. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hyper-inflation, mass emigration and the collapse of food supplies. Add these to huge street demonstrations, dual political power plus the collapse of constitutional authority and you have a picture of Venezuela’s dramatic and rapidly developing crisis.

Its underlying causes and international ramifications are equally theatrical: to the huge oscillations in oil prices (Venezuela has one of world’s richest reserves) and radical shifts in regional politics (Jair Bolsonaro has just been sworn in as far right president of Brazil) there is now added a first class diplomatic stand-off as the US and Canada are joined by 11 Latin American states in recognising the opposition and parliamentary leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country rather than its elected president Nicolas Maduro.

The immediate crisis originates in Maduro’s assumption of power for his second term. He was sworn in this month as president after a strongly disputed election boycotted by the main opposition party led by Guaidó. Taking over presidential leadership after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, Maduro presided over a Venezuela suffering from steeply falling oil prices and disintegration of the social subsidies, price controls and state-dominated economy his predecessor had relied on. He and the regime proved quite incapable of adapting to the huge increase in US domestic energy capacity and slowdown in the Chinese economy underlying the falling oil prices.

Guaidó’s dramatic declarations raise the old spectre of Yankee intervention

Maduro’s efforts to compensate for this massive loss of revenue merely reinforced the regime’s weakness. He backed it up by giving the military a much greater economic role. His social base among poorer people contracted and he failed to reach out to more educated and middle class Venezuelans who have become disenchanted. Their frustrations were expressed politically in parliamentary voting which gave the opposition a majority in the congress and then in their rejection of its abolition and boycott of the presidential vote. Juan Guaidó’s audacious decision to declare himself the legitimate ruler promising to hold free and fair elections, form a transitional government and an amnesty for military officers deserting the regime is the culmination of these trends and has evident popular support.

As a politically strategic and wealthy country Venezuela is on the cusp of Latin America’s latest political oscillation between the left and right. Guaidó’s dramatic declarations appear to be coordinated with Washington. They raise the old spectre of Yankee intervention alongside the legal conumdrums of diplomatic recognition. Diplomacy is conducted on a state to state basis and that is much the better path. It should be up to Venezuelans to determine their political future, based on their democratic sovereignty. Given the depth and passion of this confrontation it will be difficult indeed to contain and resolve it peacefully.

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