What now for beleaguered Venezuela?

Friday, January 11, 2019

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It is painful to watch the current developments in Venezuela, especially given the fact that Kingston and Caracas have enjoyed fruitful and friendly relations for decades.

Indeed, tangible symbols of the vibrant friendship between the two countries exist in the Sim n Bol var Cultural Centre, adjacent to Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston, and the monument honouring the Venezuelan Liberator opposite National Heroes' Park.

We recall that in 2015 Jamaica commemorated the 200th anniversary of Seor Bol var's famous 'Jamaica Letter' or 'Carta de Jamaica', which he wrote on September 6, 1815 and addressed to “an English Gentleman”.

In it, Mr Bol var expounded on the political characteristics and culture of the Americas, calling for liberation from Spanish rule, independence, and the integration and unity of Latin America and Caribbean countries.

Historians tell us that this letter served as a strong link between Jamaica and Venezuela, pre-dating and laying a solid foundation of sympathy and goodwill for official diplomatic relations starting in March 1965.

While Venezuela has had a chequered history with democracy, it is notable that during the years when Mr Rmulo Betancourt served as president (1945 to 1948 and 1959 to 1964), the country became home to many Latin Americans seeking freedom. In fact, President Betancourt is regarded as the 'founding father' of modern democratic Venezuela.

However, the slow erosion of democracy began after Mr Hugo Ch vez took office as president in February 1999. Significantly, in 2002, almost one million people marched on the presidential palace demanding his resignation after he drafted a new constitution giving him control over the three branches of Government, demonstrating his intolerance for dissent.

Eventually, his Government started arresting opponents, closed media houses that were critical of the Administration, as he tightened his grip on power.

Unfortunately, when Mr Ch vez died in March 2013, his policies were continued by his successor, Mr Nicol s Maduro, who yesterday began a second term as president under heavy international allegations of fraud in his re-election last May.

In fact, his inauguration was shunned by a number of regional leaders and, according to wire service reports, was attended only by a handful of South American leftist leaders, hundreds of his supporters, and the military top brass.

The Lima Group — made up of 14 mostly Latin American countries, the United States, European Union, and the Organization of American States — have all branded his re-election illegitimate as the polls were boycotted by the majority of the Opposition.

Yesterday, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Mr Maduro's second term in office marked Venezuela's transformation into a “fully entrenched dictatorship” and that the regime had lost “any remaining appearance of legitimacy”.

Mr Maduro has remained defiant, vowing to act firmly against those who “refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Venezuela's institutions”.

He will, however, be forced to deal with the drastic economic decline in his country which saw inflation spiral to 1.35 million per cent in 2018 and led to an exodus of at least 2.3 million people.

As it now stands, things are not looking good for the Venezuelan people. They have our deepest sympathy.


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