This week, “a kid playing at politics” attempted a Goliathan gamble, setting in motion a chain of events that may have further accelerated the destabilisation of Venezuela, and the rearranging of the global power equation in a manner reminiscent of the Cold War days.
The “kid” in question is Juan Guaidó who this week declared himself the interim president of Venezuela. In so doing, he challenged the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro — two weeks after Maduro, who has referred to Guaidó as a kid in the past too, was sworn in for his second presidential term.
Maduro assumed the presidency following the death of his mentor, Hugo Chávez, in 2013. Ever since, he has seen the economic fortunes of the oil-rich nation slide further. There was corruption and mismanagement, intense centralisation of power and a severe clampdown on dissent.
In 2017, Maduro shunted the Opposition-controlled legislature, the National Assembly, by ordering the development of a new legislative body — the Constituent Assembly. In May 2018, Maduro won a re-election in the midst of economic and humanitarian crises that have increasingly buffeted the country: The IMF expects Venezuela’s inflation rate to touch 10 million per cent in 2019 — one of the worst cases of hyperinflation in recent history.
According to the United Nations migration agency, upwards of three million people have left the nation since 2014. It is against this fraught political backdrop that Guaidó, a staunch critic of Maduro and Chavez, was elected president of the National Assembly this month.
The US was the first to recognise Guaidó as president minutes after his declaration. A slew of Latin American nations with conservative regimes have also supported Guaidó, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica. Canada, too, is on the side of Big Brother.
The line-up on the opposite side features Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Cuba. One doesn’t need to travel too far back in time to remember how Latin America in general, and Venezuela in particular, served as proxy war grounds in the 1940s between the US and Soviet Russia.
That Venezuela is home to the world’s largest oil reserves also assumes significance with the US in the frame. The US must be careful — in 2002, a failed coup in Venezuela was traced to senior officials in the then US government. Given the volatility of Venezuela right now and its checkered past, the US must act with responsibility.