Venezuelan protests: devastated economy, starvation, discredited leader - COMMENT

Venezuelan protests: devastation, starvation, discredited leader
But what is happening in Venezuela indeed? To clarify this, it is enough to look closely at the recent past

Baku. 24 January. REPORT.AZ/ Turmoil in Venezuela has almost overshadowed the latest developments in other parts of the world. At present, all eyes are on the situation in Caracas.

Protests in the Latin American country, an oil-rich state in the Caribbean, continue. By the recent reports, 16 protesters were killed and over 200 were detained in clashes between the police and security officers, on the one hand, and the rally participants, on the other.

But what is really going on in Venezuela? To make it clear, it would be enough to take a virtual trip into the recent past.

Hugo Chavez Frias, who was twice elected President of Venezuela in 1999-2013 and died of illness, described the relations with US saying: “If the United States embarks on the military intervention against Venezuela from Colombia, it will thus unleash a 100-year war, which will engulf the entire continent.” In one of his addresses he said: “Let's save the human race – let's finish off the empire”.

Over the past 20 years, the political power in the country was guided by Chavez’s thesis in this direction.

56-year-old Nikolas Maduro, who served as Foreign Minister during Chavez’s presidency and has been the President of Venezuela since 2013, has faced numerous protests. The assassination attempt against him, impeachment by the opposition, sanctions from the United States can be considered an integral part of these processes. Maduro has been able to put down all the protests staged in the past six years. However, this time the protest actions are taking place amid severe economic conditions in the country.

Some military of the National Guard in San Jose, Caracas, capital of the capital city, rebelled against the president but a special brigade of the National Police suppressed the protest.

Last year Venezuela saw the presidential election on May 20 with Maduro garnering 68 percent of all votes. He swore in at the Supreme Court on January 1, 2019 and is to lead the country until 2025.

Venezuelan 35-year-old opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself interim president in a defiant speech before masses of anti-government demonstrators who took to the streets Wednesday to demand President Nicolas Maduro's resignation. He immediately drew recognition from the Trump administration, which said it would use the "full weight" of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela's democracy.

Foreign ministers from the 14-member Lima Group said they will not recognize Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s president when he takes office for a new six-year term on January 10. Most members of the Lima Group regional bloc of the Americas, which is pushing for democratic reforms in Venezuela, said on Wednesday they supported opposition leader Juan Guaido after he declared himself interim president.

EU's Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogerini said that the presidential election in Venezuela was unfair, which is why they did not show confidence in Maduro.

In a statement made on January 10, she emphasized: “Maduro is starting performance of duties after being reelected in undemocratic elections."

Mogherini urged the Venezuelan president to recognize the independent parliament, respect it, release political prisoners, support the rule of law, respect human rights and meet the demands of the people. She stated readiness to extend a helping hand to the Venezuelan people in humanitarian and migration issues.

On January 21, US President Donald Tramp ordered sanctions on Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday declared the “unwavering support” of the United States for planned mass protests in Venezuela against President Nicolás Maduro

Maduro responded by swiftly cutting off diplomatic relations with the United States, the biggest importer of Venezuelan oil, and said American diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country. However, the U.S. State Department said in a statement that it would not remove American diplomats because it did not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela.

One of the reasons for the protests in Venezuela is the devastated economy. Experts call the country's economy "deadly". They predict that Maduro will remain the president before the collapse of the economy. By the way, the army still support Maduro.

The 2016 report shows Venezuela’s exports to the United States ($10.3 bln), China ($4.9 bln), Brazil ($1.28 bln), Argentina ($706 mln), and Colombia ($ 613 mln). The desperate situation in the country's economy leads to political self-destruction. While in 2012 Venezuela exported products worth $ 100 bn, in 2018 the figure dropped to $17 bn. The major investment funds have dropped 8 times, and the economy has dropped to the level of 1960-1970. Inflation is numbered by millions. By some indicators, the economy dropped by 35-40 % in 2018.

The country’s banks do not issue loans because they have no financial resources. Foreign banks closed the limit for Venezuela in 2016. The black market keeps on rising in the country, triggering the surge in prices.

Companies go bankrupt. Unemployment rate exceeds 50 %.

Criminogenic situation in Venezuela is also bad with the country witnessing an increase in the number of facts of robbery, economic and social anarchy.

95% of the country's economy is dependent on crude oil. While it was possible to keep oil production stable in 2017, last year marked a start of collapse in this sphere. Production at the end of 2018 decreased to one million barrels, while previously it was close to 2.5 million barrels. 1.5 million barrels were exported and the rest amount was supplied to the domestic market. Now oil exports have been completely stopped, and this industry has collapsed.

As a result, over 90 percent of the country's population lives below the poverty line.

Maduro is also accused of destroying democratic values in the country. Two years ago, he announced that he would hold a referendum to form a Constitutional Assembly to replace the parliament. The new legislative body to be established on its basis would have the authority to make changes to the constitution of the country. Opposition believes that Maduro wants to concentrate power in one man. Therefore, they opposed Maduro's reform. 125 people died as a result of clashes between police and rally participants protesting against the referendum.

The situation in this country is close to that in Syria for a number of factors. After the death of Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafiz Assad, West had been waiting for reforms from those who came to power in Syria. This did not happen. With the support of Russia and Iran Bashar al-Assad managed to stay in power but the country is devastated, with no economy or single power. Almost half of the population has left the country. As a result of the ongoing military operations in March 2011, 353,935 people were killed. Of them 19,811 are children, 12,513 women, 106,390 civilians. 63,820 servicemen of the Bashar al-Assad regime and 58,130 people serving the Syrian army have been killed. The future of Syria is still obscure.

Peaceful protesters are killed in Maduro’s country. Neighboring states do not recognize the legitimacy of his power. Remote supporters are unable to normalize the situation. Moreover, they don’t act as a main trade partner of Venezuela.  Official Beijing has said that it is impartial toward the recent developments and supports the peaceful settlement of the situation in the country without external interference.

True, Venezuela has advantages over Syria. Unfortunately, instead of using these advantages, Maduro takes steps leading to anger and fury. However, there are chances that military may support protesters or at least remain neutral. Those who defend Maduro do not want the Cuban period in Venezuela because that would mean sharing responsibilities with Maduro.

It can be assumed that there will be a serious change in Venezuela - either Maduro will resign, or a martial law will be imposed, though that would not save the country’s economy.

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