In its simplest sense, sovereignty is the principle of independent and autonomous power within a state, specifically as it relates to other states. Some pundits have advanced the belief that globalization has weakened and perhaps even destroyed the distinction between “the domestic” and “the foreign”, leading to what some have argued, is the emergence of a “Global Village”, or more simply put, a world society.

This could largely be attributed to, as US Sociologist Daniel Bell stated, the stock of political ideas having been exhausted, which saw the emergence of a broad ideological consensus. This is further corroborated by Francis Fukuyama, who stated in his essay “The End of History”, that a single ideology, liberal democracy (or neo-liberalism), had triumphed over its rivals, and as such has been normalized and accepted as the standard of governing.

Venezuela is a sovereign state. Irrespective of ones admonishment or support of the current regime, it remains a sovereign state, with the right to determine and choose its own ideology, policies and leadership. Therefore, any attempt to influence, alter or interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs must be met with disdain globally.

Recent attempts by the United States and its allies to institute regime-change in Venezuela, has been met with fierce opposition from China and Russia respectively. This position was echoed by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, who stated that “South Africa’s position is that we recognize the duly-elected, democratically-elected president of Venezuela, until such a time he steps down, or until there is an election”. This position was further advanced by South Africa’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Jerry Matjila, who stated at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Venezuela, that “ South Africa is firmly against any attempts at undue or unconstitutional change of government in Venezuela. The Security Council should never be an instrument that validates unconstitutional changes of any government.”

Bolivia, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua and Turkey have also been vehement in their bid not to recognize the opposition US-backed government in Venezuela.

Regime Change norm in Latin America

Venezuela has been in this position before. The failed coup in 2002 was reportedly closely tied to senior officials in the Bush administration. A prominent name which emerged at that time was Elliott Abrams.

He is widely remembered for his time during the Reagan administration, when he attempted to whitewash a massacre of a thousand men, women and children by US-funded military units in El Salvador. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights at the time.

Abrams also helped organize covert financing for contra rebels in Nicaragua. This was done without the knowledge of the United States Congress. He subsequently lied to Congress about his role – twice. He later pleaded guilty to both counts, but was pardoned by George H. Bush.

A decade later, Abrams was back, this time as Deputy National Security Advisor to US President George W. Bush. According to the Observer, officials at the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other diplomatic sources, assert that the US administration was not only aware that the 2002 coup was about to take place, but that it sanctioned it, presuming it would be a success. The Observer, and some other outlets, places Abrams as a central figure within the attempted coup.

Signaling an escalation, the dramatic return of Elliot Abrams to the State Department, as special envoy for Venezuela under the Trump administration, is proof, based on Abrams’ own colourful past, of the United States’ more aggressive and interventionist stance against Venezuela.

The Rise of the Bolivarian Revolution

Prior to Hugo Chavez ‘s rise to power, the Oil-industry in Venezuela was dominated by western-backed oil companies, and a few connected political elite who benefited exclusively from the country’s Oil-wealth.

Chavez’s rise to power in 1998 was viewed with contempt and alarm by the United States and its allies, as he was deeply hostile towards neo-liberalism. He emphasized the need to radically transform Venezuela’s social, economic and political landscape.

The failure of the 2002 coup in Venezuela, weakened the role of the United States and its allies in the domestic affairs of Venezuela, granting President Chavez, the opportunity to deepen governmental reform, which seeked to return Venezuela’s Oil-wealth to its people.

At the core of his domestic programme was a determination to provide the two-thirds of the population then living below the UN official poverty line with access to health care, education and the prospect of a dignified life. Revenues from oil, during a period of high oil prices, furnished the necessary funds and, as a UN Human Development Reports show, the programme achieved some of its initial objectives.

This political programme was called the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ in honour of Simón Bolívar, the 19th century leader of South America’s independence from Spain. This served as a permanent reminder that independence – the right of a nation to choose its own destiny – lay at the heart of the chavista project.

Following Chavez’s death in 2013, Nicolás Maduro became Venezuela’s President. He came to power during an economic downturn caused by a dramatic fall in the price of oil.

Without the oil revenues that had financed Chávez’s social policies, Venezuela’s economy, with its heavy dependence on oil, came under immense pressure.

Obama critical in Venezuelan crisis.

As of 2014, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been subject to a series of sanctions unilaterally imposed by several countries in North America and Europe. It is pertinent to highlight that 113-278 Act entitled, “Public Law for the defense of Human Rights and Civil Society”, which was approved by the United States Congress, provided the legal instrument for the United States to cripple the Venezuelan economy.

Subsequent to the approval of 113-278 Act, sanctions were placed on the following key entities in Venezuela:

The Central Bank of Venezuela, the highest authority in the monetary policy of the state

– Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the main state-owned oil and gas company, that generates more than 90% of the income in foreign currency in the country.

– Other entities of the State relating to monetary, financial and exchange control policy.

A few months after the adoption of 113-278 Act, in March 2015, the administration of US President Barack Obama, declared Venezuela, through an Executive Order, as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

In order to overcome the economic crisis as a result of low oil prices and the US-EU imposed  economic blockade, Venezuela developed a digital cryptocurrency called Petra. During 2017 and 2018, the Trump administration imposed an array of additional sanctions, including against Petra.

The financial embargo against Venezuela escalated to such an extent that Bitfinex, the largest private platform for the digital exchange of Bitcoins whose headquarters is in Hong Kong, publicly announced that it would not trade with Petra, to avoid getting sanctions from the US and its allies.

In August 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order, emulating the language used by his predecessor, by stating that Venezuela is, “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

This along with 113-278 Act, and subsequent economic and commercial sanctions, placed a strangle-hold on the Venezuela economy, with the aim of influencing the outcome of the May 2018 Presidential elections.

Regime change and justifications

35 year-old President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, has asserted that because the Presidential elections held in May 2018 was not “fair”, the position of President of Venezuela is vacant. He has cited articles 233 and 333 of Venezuela’s constitution, which indicates that if the position of President is vacant, the President of the National Assembly takes over as acting President.

However, irrespective of Guaido’s assertion, proof of irregularities have not been presented. As such his assertion is a mere accusation, and would need to be tested in a court of law. It is not the prerogative of an individual, even if he is the President of the National Assembly, to declare whether the elections has been free and fair. Moreover, this assertion nearly 8 months after the election, is evidently opportunistic.

Moreover, the immediate support of US President Donald Trump, the European Union and right-wing administrations in Latin America, for Juan Guaido as President of Venezuela, is deeply problematic. The goal of continually discrediting the Venezuelan Government under Nicolas Maduro, has been escalated to the United Nations Security Council, with the European Union asserting that Maduro needs to call an election in eight days, or they will endorse Juan Guaido as President.

The justification given for the flagrant disregard of Venezuela’s sovereignty, centers around the legitimacy of current President Nicolas Maduro, and the dire economic situation in the country. However, the true motive of the interference is two fold – oil and ideology.

It is ironic that the US invasion in Iraq – an oil-rich country – in 2003, and the attempted US backed coup d’etat in Venezuela – another oil-rich country – in 2002, took place less than a year apart, especially because neither country was willing to bend to the will of the United States.

However, they were not successful in 2002, largely because the geo-political landscape of Latin America was radically different. In 2019, the US administration is emboldened to undertake more overt action in Venezuela, because their exists a number of neighbouring countries with right-wing governments in place, who are aligned with the Trump administration.

A more capitalist – less socialist Venezuela, would give the United States access to Venezuela’s Oil. Not simply the end product, but throughout the entire value-chain.

Venezuela’s rejection of this ideology has resulted in economic sanctions, which has crippled the Venezuelan economy.

The return of Elliot Abrams, the support of Juan Guaido, and the attempts to de-legitimize President Nicolas Maduro in the United Nations Security Council, is evident that a dramatic shift has taken place, perhaps laying the foundation for military intervention by the United States and its allies.

Fazlin Fransman, Senior Researcher at Moja Research Institute