Recent events in Venezuela are notable for what didn’t happen. Yes the legitimate interim President Juan Guaido tried to push the dictator Maduro to quit by asking the armed forces to support a transition to democracy. A few soldiers actively supported Guaido on his march through Caracas, but other than that, nothing much happened.
Despite Guaido being right outside the country’s largest air base, no-one came to arrest him, nor the unarmed protesters who broke into the base. The largest army base in Venezuela is about 10 minutes away, but again no forces emerged to confront Guaido. An armoured personnel carrier later ran over some protestors and others were wounded by shots from pro-Maduro gangs, but the army itself generally stayed on the side-lines.
Maduro himself didn’t get on a plane to Cuba, but later made a broadcast saying that he was still in charge.
What we may deduce from these events is that Maduro is in a considerably weaker position than most thought. While military leaders weren’t prepared to put their neck on the line by actively backing Guaido, nor were they prepared to attack him. The key remaining problem that is creating this stand-off is the Cuban control of military intelligence. Any military officer who steps out of line is arrested and tortured.
Maduro himself is guarded by several hundred Cuban soldiers. The Cubans are desperate to keep Maduro in power so they can continue to receive billions of Venezuelan subsidies, including 50,000 barrels per day of highly subsidised oil. It appears as if the Cubans – who have 20,000 troops in Venezuela according to the Government of Colombia – are actually directing the actions of the Maduro regime in some considerable detail, down to the level of drafting tweets. For example, on Tuesday the Cuban President and the Venezuelan Defence Minister actually tweeted the exact same message about Guaido. The Cuban officer who messed that up is probably paying for the mistake.
While the US Government is putting sanctions pressure on Cuba to back off, the EU is doing nothing to assist. Yesterday’s pro-Maduro statement by the Greek party of government, Syriza, speaks volumes as to why: “Syriza condemns every undemocratic interference against the elected Venezuelan Government.”With the Spanish Government also hobbled by the need to keep the support of the Chavista-aligned Podemos party, the prospect of coherent EU action against either Venezuela or Cuba is non-existent. This is how EU foreign policy works, or rather doesn’t.
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Britain could act on its own, as UK sanctions legislation is now in place, but don’t hold your breath. Mrs May’s Government is still psychologically tied to the EU so the likelihood of firm British action is extremely remote, to say the least. We can at least be thankful we don’t yet have a Corbyn government in power. Based on the pro-Maduro comments of Shadow International Development Secretary Dan Carden, a Corbyn-led UK would probably be busy supplying crowd control and torture equipment to Maduro.
Hopefully it won’t be long before the Chavista dictatorship does collapse and Maduro takes that final flight to Havana. But it’s a tragedy that neither the EU nor the UK’s Foreign Office are doing much to make that happen.
Brian Monteith is a candidate for the Brexit Party in the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom