Australia must recognise the Maduro government in Venezuela

April 16, 2023
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese (left) and Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro (right). Photos: Wikipedia

Australia's policy towards Venezuela is in a state of confusion.

The Coalition government in January 2019 recognised the "government" of self-proclaimed "interim president" Juan Guaido, who had never been elected as president of Venezuela.

Last December, this supposed government was dissolved yet the government has not, up to now, announced any change of policy. It has not recognised the government of the elected Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro was a supporter of former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, and was his vice-president from October, 2012 to March, 2013.

Chavez was elected president in 1998 and re-elected three times, but died in March, 2013. Maduro won a special presidential election in April 2013, and was re-elected in 2018.

Chavez used Venezuela's oil revenue to fund social programs. He brought free health care to poor areas, along with literacy and education programs. Unused land held by big landowners was distributed to poor peasants.

A house-building program, begun by Chavez, has continued under Maduro, and has now built more than 4 million homes.

The government encouraged the formation of communes: organisations of local self-government. Community assemblies are held to discuss local problems and ideas for solutions.

Many communes have set up enterprises, owned by the commune, such as clothing workshops and bakeries. In some cases they have taken over enterprises shut down by private owners.

US economic blockade

However, the achievements of the Venezuelan people have come under sustained attack.

The United States has tried to overthrow both Chavez and Maduro. A military coup in April 2002 was defeated.

Since then the US has imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela, which amount to an economic blockade. The US has also pressured other countries to join it in imposing sanctions.

The blockade has damaged the Venezuelan economy. For example, the oil industry is unable to get spare parts for machinery made in the US or its allies. This has reduced Venezuela's oil production and revenue.

Similarly, electricity and water supply have been affected by sanctions.

The blockade has caused severe hardship. There are shortages of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment.

The blockade was aimed at creating an economic crisis that would weaken the government and enable it to be overthrown. The US hoped that the hardship would undermine support.

This policy has been partially successful. Electoral support for the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela — the party of Chavez and Maduro) has declined in recent years from its high point in the early 2000s.


Venezuela has held many elections since Chavez was first elected, including elections for president, national assembly, regional and local governments. Most elections have been won by the PSUV.

But in 2015, the opposition won the National Assembly elections. This was largely due to economic problems, mainly caused by a combination of falling oil prices and US sanctions, though mistakes by the government also played a role.

Maduro was re-elected president in 2018, but many of his opponents refused to accept the result. Such refusal to accept electoral defeat was standard practice for some sectors, a little like Donald Trump and much of the Republican Party refused to accept that Joe Biden had been elected in the US.

Guaido's attempted coup

Guaido was president of the national assembly — the equivalent to the speaker in an Australian parliament. But he proclaimed himself "interim president" in January 2019. The US immediately recognised him as president.

Then Foreign Minister Marise Payne recognised Guaido. Then-Labor leader Bill Shorten and shadow foreign minister Penny Wong supported this position.

Guaido tried to overthrow the Maduro government, but failed. The PSUV won the national assembly elections in December 2020 and most of the regional and local elections in November 2021.

However, some members of the former national assembly, elected in 2015, claimed that the 2020 elections were invalid, and that those elected in 2015 were still the true representatives of the Venezuelan people.

(The Australian equivalent would be if the Coalition had claimed that the 2022 elections were invalid and the MPs elected in 2019 were the true representatives.)

These people continued to support Guaido until last December, when they decided to dissolve his "interim government". Guaido is now discredited. Even those Venezuelan opposition parties that initially supported him have abandoned him, accusing him of corruption.

The dissolution of Guaido's "government" should mean Australia once again recognises the government of President Maduro. Labor should also call for an end to the US blockade.

[Chris Slee is a member of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in Melbourne.]

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