Venezuela – No to UK Government support for illegal ‘regime change’

By Tim Young, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

Last month the UK government published its integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, outlining three fundamental UK national interests of sovereignty, security and prosperity, alongside a commitment to universal human rights, democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and faith, and equality.

But its application of these guiding principles is currently going woefully astray in its relations with the elected government of Venezuela, towards which it is being unremittingly hostile – a stance it shares with the US.

US hostility to Venezuela dates from the earliest days of Hugo Chavez’s presidency. Hostile to Chávez’s radical programme and opposition to overbearing US influence in the region, the US supported a failed coup in April 2002 and subsequent efforts by local elites to oust Chavez.

When even his death of Chavez in 2013 did not give the opposition electoral victory over his successor, Nicolas Maduro, the US policy of destabilising was stepped up, with President Obama declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security in 2015.

Trump’s presidency saw sanctions against Venezuela widened and intensified into a blockade of its commercial and financial business dealings. The UK government, inside and outside the EU, has been party to sanctions with its own set, as has Canada.

Sanctions have had far-reaching effects, with the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research calculating they led to more than 40,000 deaths in 2017-18 alone.

As Trump ratcheted up sanctions, the impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, particularly the poor, the sick and the elderly, became devastating, attracting United Nations’ attention.

In January 2019, Idriss Jazairy,the UN’s special rapporteur on coercive measures’ impact on human rights, voiced his major concerns about US sanctions: “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state.”

Two years later, UN Human Rights Rapporteur Alena Douhan concluded from meetings with various Venezuelan sectors that “the sanctions and unilateral coercive measures applied by the United States and the European Union, as a deliberate tool to achieve regime change in Venezuela, flagrantly violate international law and all universal and regional human rights instruments.”

These reports have given weight to Venezuela’s attempt to stop the US’s aggression by taking its case to international courts and bodies.

In February 2020, the Venezuelan government asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed by the US’s unilateral adoption of unlawful coercive measures against Venezuela. In March 2021 Venezuela submitted new documents to the ICC with details about the economic, social and epidemiological effects caused by the US sanctions.

In the same month, Venezuela requested the World Trade Organisation to investigate whether a series of US sanctions restricting Venezuela’s access to financial markets violated its rights under global trade agreements.

Further pressure on the US and other countries applying sanctions came in March this year when the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution urging all states to stop adopting unilateral sanctions as “tools of political and economic pressure.”

The UN body crucially reaffirmed “the right of all peoples to self-determination” – Venezuela’s key demand of respect for its sovereignty– and urging perpetrators to put “an immediate end” to the measures which are not in accordance with international law and the UN Charter.

Despite this set of indictments of the sanctions regime against Venezuela and despite its concern for its own sovereignty, the UK chose to vote against the resolution.

But the UK’s position with regard to Venezuela worsens when judged against the commitment to the rule of the law.

In addition to its sanctions against Venezuela, the UK government has also been working with the Venezuelan opposition leader, the self-declared ‘interim president’ Juan Guaidό, who is increasingly tainted by involvement in corruption (exposed in 2019 by Panampost and 2021 by the Washington Post), association with drug traffickers, coup plots against the elected government and even plans to assassinate President Maduro.

The UK government is also starting to look out of step with its European neighbours. While it still recognises Guaidό as ‘interim president’, the EU after the December 2020 National Assembly elections referred to Guaidό as a representative of the outgoing National Assembly, effectively no longer recognising him as “interim president.”

The EU has recently gone further, with Josep Borrell, its High Representative for Foreign Affairs, saying there could be a political agreement between the Maduro government and opposition factions regarding the next regional and municipal elections in Venezuela.

The British position may be further undermined when the Supreme Court rules on who rightfully controls the Venezuelan gold worth more than $1bn held by the Bank of England – the Venezuelan government or Guaidό.

A Supreme Court decision in favour of the Venezuelan government would challenge the UK’s support for Guaidó, while at the same time releasing the funds to Venezuela to help pay for the costs of tackling the pandemic.

As Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, said at the time of the lower court judgement that endorsed the government’s recognition of Guaidό, effectively granting him the rights to the gold: “This decision on Venezuela’s gold is about slavishly following Trump’s illegal ‘regime change’ agenda and nothing else”, adding: “the decision not to let Venezuela use its gold resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic lacks any sense of humanitarianism at this time of global crisis.”

This sordid episode of piracy (in stealing Venezuela’s gold) clearly lowers Britain’s standing internationally. So too do the revelations that a secret Venezuela Reconstruction Unit within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Venezuela to clandestinely pursue opportunities for British businesses in the event of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela.  

What is needed is for the UK government to abandon its adherence to the US’s ‘regime change’ agenda and fulfil its new foreign policy commitments by embarking on a policy of dialogue and constructive engagement with Venezuela.

This article originally appeared in Labour Outlook