By Philip Afaha
I wish to convey the warm compliments of the Department of History and Diplomatic Studies, University of Abuja, first to Your Excellency, Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz of Venezuela, and to this wonderful gathering. I understand your Excellency is in Nigeria as a guest of the Federal Government for our Democracy Day Celebration which was staged yesterday. I`m sure your Excellency witnessed and savoured what the western media will never admit about Nigeria; that our warmth and hospitality are second to none. May I also thank the Venezuelan Ambassador Extra-plenipotentiary to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Your Excellency, Amb. David Caraballo for inviting me to speak in this important gathering.
I want to say that Venezuela has been on the burner of polemics at almost every international parley in recent days. We are aware of your enviable history; a country in the heart of America blessed with a quantum of oil reserve not found anywhere in the world. When I read about the blessings of Venezuela in my days as a student, I was livid with envy. I would have wished my country had oil in such quantity, or a little more than what we are blessed with. Maybe we would have been more prudent if we had more. As a historian i don’t always banter conspiracy theories, but I’m increasingly disturbed that within the past two decades almost all the oil producing countries are embroiled in crisis, and these crisis all have international dimensions. What the heck is going on?. Could there be hidden hands deliberately orchestrating these conflicts in resource-rich countries just to maintain the global status quo?, should we continue to dismiss these plagues with the normal euphemism of resource curse?. Let`s start thinking.
The first time I wrote on Venezuela, at the commencement of the current crisis, I had laid blames on the successive administrations in Venezuela for the depression plaguing the country. Today, I shall attempt to look beyond the Maduro regime as a scapegoat, to the issues of international politics and sabotage. The crisis in Venezuela is already known to us; from food shortages, lack of Medicare, refugee issues, post-election constitutional crisis, breakdown of law and order, famine and general insecurity. Indeed, the problems of Venezuela, just like Nigeria`s, are numerous. You are not alone. The only difference with the Nigerian experience is that Venezuela is a victim of cold war – being one of the enduring communist vestiges found not only in the “Hemisphere” of capitalism but one that has the almighty United States of America as her next-door neighbour. For students of history, the cold war was, and is still about territorial influence, thus any semblance of the opponent agent or manoeuvrings in ones territory is often treated with suspicion and hostility. Those who follow world history will recall that similar confrontations and even attempts at regime change occurred during the Cuban crisis and recently the Russian invasion of Crimea.
Like I said before the world is already aware of the shortcomings of the Venezuelan regime. What the world needs to know also is that the gory story oozing out of that country is also occasioned by western sanctions and blockades. In 2014, The united states of America, under Act 113-278 of the US Congress prohibits, under severe sanctions, any person or company to carry out transactions and business with the Venezuelan state and its agencies. This was followed by an executive order 13,629 which demanded Venezuela to be treated as a threat to the US foreign policy and national security. The Trump administration had followed through the policy by re enforcing the blockades and even threatening regime change in Venezuela blaming the later for sliding towards dictatorship. Whoever doubt that western sanctions can actually cause disaffection and cripple a country should read the history of Mugabe`s Zimbabwe. It is an undeniable fact that Washington had meted crippling sanctions and blockades against Venezuela. The altercations between the US and her American neighbours have been on since the era of Hugo Chavez but it is reaching a crescendo during the current Trump administration.
My take here is that the sanctions on Venezuela appear to be causing more starvation, migration and insecurity in the region than any other factor. The US threat on regime change is pushing the government in Caracas to double in by inviting her equally very powerful ally, Russia to shore-up her capacity for self defence. The desperation to survive may push the Maduro regime to adopt unconventional methods to survive such as recourse to trade in hard drugs and illicit arms sells to rogue elements. The continuous pouring of distressed Venezuelans to neighbouring countries will, at the long run hurt the economies and security of those countries. The current political impasse where the Madoru and Guaido are being buoyed by local and international supporters may provoke a civil war and instability in the region. My paramount fear is that Venezuela may become another theatre for the super powers to test weapons and military prowess after Syria. The greatest victims of this power play will not be any of the known actors in the saga, but the hapless Venezuelan people.
I have always maintained that the current UN system is not adequately responsive to the concerns of the third world countries in the manner they handle interests of the super powers. The need to reform the UN Security Council to allow for a more inclusion cannot be over emphasized. The UN should rise up to their responsibilities by reining in on President Maduro, Guaido, the US and Russia to fashion out a political solution to usher in peace in Venezuela instead of this dangerous game of threats and subterfuges. The current pace at which the UN is attending to the Venezuelan crisis is creating room for more death and destruction. As altruistic as the current sanctions arguments are, Washington should show more leadership by approaching the Venezuelan issue with a corrective disposition rather than the punitive style it is currently adopting. A cursory look at the US relations the Americas appears not to be improving since the 20th century. From Cuba, Mexico and now Venezuela, it is still the head teacher-pupil relationship. The whip`em-to-line diplomacy is rather opening up the `hemisphere` to other influences. One of the costliest and indeed deadliest options in international politics is to attempt a regime change. It always comes with unforgivable blood-spilling and destruction – especially when the regime is not caught unawares as is the case with Venezuela. Methinks the US should also learn from Nigeria how a big country accommodates smaller and sometimes errant neighbours. That`s the essence of history. The time to drop sanctions and threats and pursue a political solution for Venezuela is now. The actors in the current brouhaha should have the Venezuelan people at the back of their minds. They deserve peace to enjoy the wealth God deposited in their land. Once again I thank Ambassador Carrabalo for also inviting my students to this parley, and I thank most especially, Your Excellency Aristobulo Isturiz, Vice President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for your inspiring presence.
* A speech by Dr. Philip Afaha, Head, Department of History and Diplomatic Studies, Unversity of Abuja, during the reception for the Vice President of Venezuela, Aristobulo Isturiz, at the Labour House, Abuja recently