Let’s let Venezuela pick its own leaders

Protesters in Venezuela supporting Nicolas Maduro and against US intervention.

In 1996, when I was working in Nicaragua, I attended a conference in El Salvador and met a charismatic former army officer from Venezuela called Hugo Chávez. 

In a long discussion, Chávez explained how he was building an alliance between patriotic military officers and working people. They were seeking to win the next elections and use the country’s oil wealth to improve the quality of life for the poor.

Within 18 months of our conversation, Chávez was elected Venezuela’s president. 

His government didn’t just promise, it delivered communes, land reform, health clinics, literacy and schools, and won majority support in successive elections. 

The United States never liked this situation, either under Chávez or Nicolas Maduro, who was elected as president to implement Chavez’s vision after his death from cancer in 2013.

US backing of self-appointed president Juan Guaidó is just the latest attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s government.

This time it is occurring during an economic recession caused by mistakes by the Maduro government, a fall in oil prices and crippling US sanctions.

Maduro’s government lost its National Assembly majority in the 2015 elections.

In the 2018 presidential election the opposition was divided and, under US pressure to boycott, Maduro won overwhelmingly with 6.2 million votes or 68%, from a turnout of 46%.

The Venezuelan government retains significant internal support and has the backing of the armed forces.

It has also worked to engage moderate sections of the opposition in dialogue.

Guaidó, however, has consistently rejected dialogue and is linked to groups who condone fascist-type violence against government institutions and supporters. Guaidó is more about returning the pro-US oligarchy to power than democracy.

Maduro’s call for constructive national dialogue surely offers a better chance for a peaceful solution. 

Australia’s major parties need to withdraw their recognition of Guaidó and support for the Trump administration’s aggression against a sovereign state. 

New Zealand has not endorsed him, nor have the majority of states in Latin America and the world. 

Australian leaders need to heed the lessons of recent history that it is reckless and dangerous to ignore international law by seeking to replace democratically-elected presidents with non-elected, self-appointed ones. 

Labor’s support for the government endorsement of Guaidó begs the question: would a Labor government’s foreign policy be shaped by Donald Trump’s tweets?

[First published in the Newcastle Herald.]

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