US: Venezuela Great Game endgame

Spotlight By Eric Walberg*

US: Venezuela Great Game endgame

The great game is not for the faint-hearted. Venezuela’s state-run energy giant PDVSA is relocating its European office to the Russian capital because of high risks of potential confiscation of oil revenues amid US sanctions against the country’s energy sector if the coup plans succeed.

The current standoff in Venezuela is a classic case of the great game, the maneuvering of the great powers. My writing uses the great game analogy in three parts, three distinct phases during the past two centuries. First, the classic great game between imperial rivals, then the great game of imperialism vs the Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet game – the US one-armed bandit against the world. (The US is the only ‘great’ power at present, but we can suppose China is becoming one). To use another comparison pertinent today, it is like a reality game show.

India key player

The political turmoil in Venezuela has significance for India, which imports 11.4 percent of its crude oil from the South American nation, its third largest supplier after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. When US production of domestic shale oil increased, it cut its oil imports from Venezuela by 49 percent, providing an opportunity for India to step in.

These market-driven factors are the primary reason for India’s increasing oil imports from Venezuela. They are unlikely to change in the long or medium-term, regardless of any change in government or policies in Venezuela. Venezuela is still a significant global oil player, with the world’s largest proven reserves of oil – 299 billion barrels. Oil accounted for 95 percent of the country’s exports in 2014.

ONGC Videsh, Indian Oil Corporation and Oil India have invested in Venezuela’s Carabobo and San Cristobal oil fields, where oil is already being produced and exported to India and other markets. Reliance Industries has also signed a 15-year contract with PDVSA, Venezuelan’s State Oil Company, to import 400,000 barrels of oil per day.

Indian pharmaceutical companies are also present in Venezuela. India’s contribution to the “Mission Barrio Adentro” (Mission Inside the Neighbourhood) – launched with Cuban help – has helped reduced infant mortality by 30 percent.

But due to the economic crisis (the US refuses to pay for oil it imported, Britain refused to repatriate Venezuelan gold worth $550m), Indian pharma, which exported more than $140 million to Venezuela in 2014-15, has been unable to repatriate funds from their Venezuelan subsidiaries for about two years now. Indian pharma, which exported more than $140 million to Venezuela in 2014-15, has been unable to repatriate funds from their Venezuelan subsidiaries since 2012, when US sanctions against Venezuela increased.

When the Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez died in 2013, multiple problems emerged to greet his successor, Nicolas Maduro, with a US-imposed political and an economic crisis. Falling global oil prices (from $100 per barrel in 2011-13 to $30 per barrel in 2015), and the US boycott and sanctions forced Venezuela, whose main source of income was oil exports, to reduce imports by 81 percent from 2012 to 2017, and led to an acute shortage of daily commodities.

Venezuela has already agreed to accept Indian rupees. Such a payment-mechanism would allow the Indian government to reduce its external deficit without drawing down on foreign-exchange reserves. Venezuela can also use rupees to purchase food and medicines from India and pay its debts to Indian pharma. India is thus helping usher in a new regime of international economic relations, skirting the need for US dollars.

US machinations exposed

At the moment, the chess board activity is in Venezuela, though there are equally risky games going on in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and other unfortunately players. Venezuela is enduring what we may call the latest ‘colour revolution’. For instance, Ukraine’s colour revolution was dubbed orange, though no one has thought to give Venezuela a special colour.

Colour revolutions have a poor reputation, identified with US ‘soft power’ manipulation to align countries with US needs. Massive street protests following disputed elections overturned governments in Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian. The National Endowment for Democracyi (created by Reagan to do publicly what in Cold War days the CIA did covertly) is a key funder, trainer, supplier in each case.

The western media rallies against the legitimate government in Venezuela, claiming his election wasrigged and that the world is against Maduro. Both claims are untrue. Maduro was elected in an open election with 67 percent of the vote. The former imperial powers – Britain, France, Germany, Japan – all fell into line behind the US to dismiss them and demand the overthrow of Maduro. Switzerland and Italy, like India and most of the world (Asia, Africa, the sensible European and Latin American countries) refused to buy into this flagrant violation of international law.

We can do a quick calculation. I would estimate that of the world’s 7.5b people, governments representing 85 percent support, recognizing the legitimate government (China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Africa, Asia) – some insisting on mediation and possibly new elections. Despite the distorted media coverage of Venezuela in the West, probably half of the citizens in the other 15 percent (US, Canada, western Europe) agree. So maybe 10 percent of the world wants to see Maduro overthrown.

Just having to make this calculation, as if the world can elect the government of Venezuela, is an affront to the people of Venezuela.

The 1823 Monroe Doctrine is the American version of international law. Then-president Monroe warned European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization or puppet monarchs, that the American hemisphere was the backyard of the US.

Once upon a time, the US could just move into any American country (Canada, the British-controlled exception) and wipe out any pesky caudillo. Nicaragua and Cuba were given especially harsh treatment in the 1930s. After Cuba held on to its revolution, the tide started to turn. But with Trump’s latest threat to invade Venezuela, it seems the empire is hell-bent on removing Monroe.

Venezuela - Afghan redux

Closer to India geopolitically is Afghanistan, which suffered its own colour revolution (black?) in 2001, giving a crystal ball look at what Venezuela has in store if the US invades.

A cultural clash with the empire, an ambitious attempt to create a socialist state (Islamic state for Afghanistan - neither of which the US can abide), a plan by the US to extend its geopolitical and economic control over a strategic spot on the chessboard, the plan including boycott, economic against a starving population, thus resulting in total subversion.

Photo Demonstration

As I told Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on February 18 during her Family Day reception (she is my MP), what happened in Afghanistan in 2001, and what is in slow motion now in Venezuela, is a replay of the US conspiracy to overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. ‘Is this what you want?’ I asked. She dismissed these comparisons as ‘apples vs oranges’ and turned and walked away, calling me a Putinist.

Freeland told Masha, a young Ukrainian immigrant, “The situation is like Maidan (Kiev).” She was referring to the 2014 coup against the legitimate Ukrainian government (second Orange colour revolution). This is absolutely true.

Masha agreed and told her how Ukrainians were unhappy, not only with the current post-coup, pro-US government there, but also regret the collapse of the Soviet Union, when they could travel freely in the Soviet Union, and their lives were secure, their general living standard far better.

Of course, Freeland likes the mess Ukraine is now in thanks to our meddling. She and western politicians in general are blind to what the common folk think. I ask you to imagine what Venezuela would look like after a US invasion or just a US-backed insurgency. But then you can tell me what hell Afghanistan has been through after a similar invasion, or Chile in 1973, or Ukraine since the 2014 coup. Zealous promoters of US-style democracy like Freeland couldn’t care less.

By forfeiting Canada’s time-honoured reputation as a mediator in world affairs, our foreign minister deserves sanction. Freeland has left it up to Canadian citizens to pursue the truly diplomatic course.

The great game is not for the faint-hearted. Venezuela’s state-run energy giant PDVSA is relocating its European office to the Russian capital because of high risks of potential confiscation of oil revenues amid US sanctions against the country’s energy sector if the coup plans succeed.

The Venezuelans can see their future – if the US gets its way – in the travail of the Taliban and the Afghan people – the prospect of two decades of civil war and tragedy. That can only make them more determined to keep the gringo at bay, and to look for dependable allies, including India. In contrast to the US fake humanitarian aid on offer, Russia is providing genuine no-strings-attached humanitarian goods to Venezuela in exchange for crude, according to Anton Pokatovich, chief analyst at investment bank BKS Premier.

India’s challenge and opportunity

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Foreign Minister Swaran Singh condemned the 1973 coup and the erosion of democracy in Chile which the US precipitated. Gandhi even warned of “big external forces” combining with “internal vested interests” to produce a similar coup in India.

India has suffered for centuries from imperialist intrigues and should not be fooled by the current imperial power, the US, with its ongoing intrigues. India traditionally sought for peace and noninterference in Afghanistan’s affairs, preferring a stable secular regime, as happened before the US-backed mujahideen uprising in the 1980s.

India wisely refused to support that plan, which resulted in the rise of radical Islam around the world, a nightmare we all still live with. Similarly, Prime Minister Modi’s refusal to kowtow to the US over Venezuela shows its principled policy in international affairs, based on peace and respect for other nations.

In sum, Venezuela’s tragedy is being addressed responsibly by India. By innovating in trade using barter, filling the gap in Venezuelan exports by buying its oil, by focusing on India’s high tech nongeneric pharmaceutical industry as a vital import for Venezuela, India is playing a responsible role in overcoming a burning international problem.

The US tried to checkmate Venezuela and overturn two decades of building a society based on social justice in the face of US intrigues. How will this game end? A draw, a perpetual check, a checkmate? It is a perilous moment for Venezuela and indeed the world, but India is supporting the underdog fighting the bully. It is on the right side of history.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.