Beware Maduro’s machinations

In the wake of the Argyle Declaration, we emphasised that Venezuela’s Maduro government cannot be trusted, since it consistently ignores international law and norms and behaves as a rogue state towards us. Usually, governments reflect rationally on future outcomes when they make decisions in the present, taking cognisance of international institutions that uphold what one expert called the ‘Three Rs’ thesis on states acting in the international order – reputation, reciprocity and retaliation. But from our experience, we can see that, based on Maduro’s cavalier effective dismissal of the Geneva Agreement with its procedural operations leading to their border controversy being settled judicially, he cynically regards multilateral institutions as toothless poodles.
If we needed further proof of Maduro’s mala fides, we can look at the fate of the “Barbados Agreement” which his government signed last October with Venezuela’s Opposition parties’ Unitary Platform. They agreed to “recognize and respect the right of each political actor to select its candidate for the presidential elections in a free manner.” María Corina Machado had garnered over 90% of the opposition votes in primary elections held in the same month. The US Government, committed to ensuring democratic governance in the Western Hemisphere via free and fair elections, lifted the sanctions they had imposed on Venezuela after Maduro had massively rigged the 2018 presidential elections. US oil giant Chevron was granted a six-month license to resume operations in association with the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.
But within days of Machado winning the opposition primary, Maduro used a frequently deployed ploy against opposition candidates by banning her from participating in any election, because of “anti-national” activities. She had supported the US post-2018 measures that sanctioned his rigging. Machado appealed to the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice, but last week it upheld the ban without allowing her the right to defend herself. This, of course, violates her rights to due process and defence by international human rights standards. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) emphasised that candidates could only be disqualified by conviction by a judge, within the framework of a criminal process. Consistent with its position on democracy in the region, the US immediately announced the reinstatement of sanctions on Venezuelan gold exports, and said the same would apply to the oil and gas sector once the licences expire on April 18.
But Maduro’s reaction to the US’ statement confirms his outlaw outlook, which should serve as a cautionary tale to our policy makers as we react to his manoeuvres to annex our Essequibo. Last Wednesday, he bombastically declared that “a new world has already been born” which no longer accepts “imperial tutelage” from the United States, and asserted that many allied nations “want to come and invest in Venezuela… We do not depend on the Yankees to invest, prosper and grow.” Significantly, he made these statements at the 2024 opening judicial ceremony of the Supreme Court in Caracas. Maduro also resorted to populism, as he had done with his December referendum to “authorize” his annexation of Essequibo, when he announced his government would “go to the people” to set a date for elections. This contravenes the Barbados Agreement, which states elections would be held in the second half of this year.
In light of Maduro’s recalcitrance in observing international law and agreements, we must intensify our efforts to tighten our security. There is wisdom in the folk observation: “When blind man seh he guh pelt yuh, he already gat brick ah he haan.” To warn Maduro not to cross Brazilian territory in any invasion of southern Essequibo, President Lula – no enemy of Maduro, but obviously a realist – moved troops once again into Roraima State, next to our border. In the meantime, following the visits of US SouthCom Commander Laura Richardson last July and August, the US Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) arrived in September to conduct joint exercises with the GDF, and to improve our cyber capabilities. At that time, we proposed that to counter the hybrid war being waged by Venezuela in the grey zone, we establish a military base in Essequibo to which the US forces would have access.
While some have claimed this would be “provocative”, what do they say about the US$30 billion worth of advanced weapons Venezuela acquired from Russia, and their tutelage by Cuban military personnel? We welcome the GDF acquiring drones and aircraft to augment our air domain awareness, and the visit of the U.S. Air Force Major General.