The Cooler War: Lines being drawn by Venezuelan president’s allies and detractors

Russia’s geopolitical interests in having Venezuela as an ally in the Americas are pretty clear. Yuri Kadobnov/AP Photo

By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
[email protected]

NEW YORK, USA — The Trump administration, Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro’s main detractor, last week presented a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) calling for international aid deliveries to increase unabated and for new presidential elections to be held in Venezuela.

The US has been vocal about its support for the Venezuelan National Assembly president, Juan Guaido, who announced himself as interim president earlier this year, which has caused Maduro’s supporters and allies to claim interference from the USA and have gone as far as to warn against a US military invasion and further US unilateral action against the Maduro regime, a regime that Washington claims to be illegitimate.

The US draft resolution, along with strong language expressing support for the Venezuelan National Assembly, which the US claims is the only democratically elected institution in Venezuela, also expresses the US’s deep concern over the brutality of the Venezuelan armed forces on peaceful protestors and also “stresses the need to prevent a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and to facilitate access and delivery of assistance to all in need in the entirety of the territory of Venezuela.”

The US has reportedly sent humanitarian aid through Colombia via the border city of Cucuta to head into Venezuela, but Maduro reportedly has blocked the shipments from entering into Venezuela.

The US also directly called for the “immediate start of a political process leading to free and fair presidential elections, with international electoral observation, in line with Venezuela’s constitution; and for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to “utilize his good offices” to ensure that elections do happen in a free and fair manner in Venezuela.

The US Draft Resolution was anticipated to be met with a counter-proposal by one of Maduro’s main allies, the Russian Federation, a veto-wielding member of the UNSC already delivering its counter-proposal to the UNSC on Friday of last week.

The Russian Draft Resolution states that they have concerns over the threats to use force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Venezuela; and that Russia’s aim is to see a peaceful resolution of the stalemate in Venezuela, and that Russia “supports all initiatives aimed at reaching a political solution amongst Venezuelans to the current situation … through a genuine and inclusive process of national dialogue.”

This raises an interesting scenario about what may be possible with regard to support for tough measures against Maduro and those who favour more leniency or non-intervention.

The Russian Federation is a permanent member of the UNSC and has veto-power over any resolution brought forward in that body. As it stands now, some diplomats think it will be near impossible for Russia to secure the 9 votes out of 15 total at the UNSC to ensure that their resolution passes without another veto-power member of the core five UNSC Permanent Members blocking it, with the other permanent members of the UNSC being the United States, the United Kingdom and France who have all pledged support for Juan Guaido and the other being another Maduro ally, China.

Russia has also promised to block any council resolutions to suspend Venezuela from the United Nations.

The Russian Federation, along with China and to a lesser degree Cuba, have driven their stakes in the ground for the Maduro regime and have sent support in various ways to the Maduro regime.

Some security analysts estimate that, if support from Russia, China and Cuba were to be choked off or disappear, the Maduro regime will be neutered and will dissolve.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations Russia has been one of Venezuela’s closest allies since 2006, when President Hugo Chavez, a socialist strongman and fierce critic of the United States, signed a $2.9 billion arms deal in exchange for Russian fighter aircraft. The relationship allowed Russia access to Venezuelan oil assets at below-market prices.

Russia is Venezuela’s largest supplier of weapons, having sold the country more than $10 billion in hardware since the mid-2000s, including assault rifles, jet fighters, tanks, and missile systems. The two nations also conduct joint military exercises, and Russian jets and warships make regular stopovers. In a recent show of force, two Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons visited Venezuela.

Russia also has been a lender of last resort. In late 2017, Moscow bailed Venezuela out by restructuring more than $3 billion in sovereign debt, which allowed the Maduro government to meet its obligations to other creditors. Meanwhile, Russia’s state-backed oil giant, Rosneft, is one of Venezuela’s largest foreign backers, loaning it roughly $2.5 billion in recent years in exchange for future energy shipments. Rosneft also co-owns several oil and gas projects with PDVSA, Venezuela’s state energy company — which was just sanctioned by the United States — and it has a 49 percent stake in Citgo, PDVSA’s US refining arm.

China on the other hand has been Venezuela’s other major financial crutch. It views the socialist regime in Venezuela as a geopolitical ally and an important trading partner. Over the past decade, Beijing has lent Caracas some $70 billion, mostly for development projects, in exchange for future oil shipments. Analysts estimate the Maduro regime owes China about $13 billion. China is behind only the United States and India as an importer of Venezuelan crude. However, President Xi Jinping has thus far refused to restructure Venezuela’s outstanding loans, and some experts suggest China could shift its support to Guaido if he were to guarantee full repayment of Chinese loans.

While support for the Maduro regime has been steady over the last several years, some suggest that this may be shifting, as China has also reached out to opposition forces in Venezuela, including directly to Guaido. While this may signal China is looking beyond a Maduro-run Venezuela and may support his ouster, but China’s political approach to the Latin American and Caribbean region has always been to support both sides of the political divide under their “Party to Party” consultative process.

Cuba has been Venezuela’s main political supporter in Latin America, and it reportedly supplies the Maduro regime with large numbers of security and military advisors to spy on the military ranks, as well as to provide other intelligence.

Cuba has been providing Venezuela with hundreds of doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, and other professionals since 2000, when Chavez agreed to supply Cuba with discounted oil. In 2017, there were as many as 15,000 Cubans living in Venezuela. But as Cuba begins to open up and attempt to adopt more market-liberalization policies in addition to allowing more trade, travel and dialogue between it and the USA and, with the Castro brothers being off the political scene in Cuba, it is unsure how long Cuba will keep this support ongoing as a matter of practicality for the island nation.