Feeling peckish, Botswana takes a bite out of Venezuela

06 Aug 2017

In its latest misadventure into international politics, the Botswana government has pivoted away from the Dalai Lama to the political crisis in Venezuela.

Last Thursday, the government issued a press statement in which it noted its “grave concern” about political developments in Venezuela, particularly the recent arrests of opposition members.

“The arrests, as well as, the decision by the country’s leadership to nullify the existing democratically elected National Assembly and replace it with a Constituent Assembly, are a clear determination by President [Nicolás] Maduro’s government to suppress the voice of opposition,” said the statement adding that “these untoward actions have far-reaching consequences on the democratic dispensation in Venezuela.”

Western nations have condemned the Venezuelan government for its handling of and hand in the current crisis. In its statement, Botswana also condemns “the continuing deterioration of democracy, governance as well as the rule of law in Venezuela” and urges Maduro “to respect the will of the people and avoid any further action that will escalate the current crisis.”

The Venezuelan situation is actually a bit more complex than the mainstream western media has led the Botswana government to believe. The government statement doesn’t reveal that the opposition leaders, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, were arrested on orders of the Supreme Court after they had violated conditions of their house arrest. Wikileaks quotes United States State Department officials describing López as “arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry” and evidence of that abounds. While mayor of Venezuela’s richest district, Lopez was part of a plot to overthrow late President Hugo Chavez. Last month, Lopez called on the army to rebel against Maduro. Ledezma also played a key role in the failed coup against Chavez. As federal district governor in 1989, he ordered state troops to violently put down an uprising in Caracazo. The result was the killing of some 4000 civilians. These are the choirboys whose arrest the Botswana government is gravely concerned about.

What the statement by the Botswana government also doesn’t say is that the United States has been accused of trying to effect regime change in Venezuela and towards that end, fomented the current crisis. Until Chavez came along, the US had a good thing going on as it looted Venezuelan resources with the aid of local oligarchs. With the largest oil reserves in the world and the world’s second largest gold reserves, Venezuela is potentially one of the richest countries in the world. Chavez, who was wildly popular with Venezuelan masses, upset the apple cart when he started redistributing the national wealth. The new economic order cut very deep into the profits of the local oligarchs and their western allies.

Maduro has made himself a target by continuing Chavez’s economic programme. In 2015, Ledezma was arrested for his role in a coup plot against Maduro. Venezuela intelligence discovered that he had made three telephone calls to a New York number belonging to the financier of the coup plot, Carlos Manuel Osuna Saraco.

Present-day Venezuela also happens to be on the wrong of the ideological fence. The country is not only a socialist state but one with very close political and economic ties to Russia. If the country’s wealth redistribution programme works, Venezuela will become a socialist success and the US would have lost the Cold War on one important front. The nature of the economic relationship between the two socialist states is such that Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft, has a large stake in Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. The latter has a subsidiary in the US, Citgo Petroleum, a refining unit which controls critical energy infrastructure in 19 states. The current economic turmoil in Venezuela has resulted in PDVSA defaulting on its $1.015 billion loan from Rosneft. On such basis, there is a real possibility of PDVSA, and alongside it Citgo, coming into the control of Rosneft.

Taking down a socialist government in Latin America is something that the US government has plenty of experience in. Declassified CIA documents show that President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, orchestrated the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende, the Socialist president of Chile. Nixon ordered US intelligence to “make (Chile’s) economy scream.” That the CIA accomplished by using both US financial weapons and a powerful business elite inside Chile.

The Venezuelan economy is currently screaming and on the eve of the December 2015 elections, economist and former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, Julio Escalona explained how that happened.

“The majority of Venezuela’s imports and distribution networks are in the hands of the elite … Many of the goods needed for Venezuelan consumption are diverted to Brazil and Colombia. We are experiencing manufactured scarcity, a crisis deliberately induced as a means of destabilization against the government … This is psychological war waged against the people of Venezuela in an attempt to intimidate them into abandoning the government and the socialist project entirely,” Escalona said.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin has suggested that the fall in oil prices has been manipulated by the US in order to cause the economies of Russia and Venezuela to collapse. That may not be so but it is something that one cannot put past the US.

Four months ago, a high-powered African National Congress delegation was in Gaborone to warn the Botswana Democratic Party about a CIA/MI5 to bring about regime change in Botswana and South Africa. Supposing that allegation is true, one of the things that the two intelligence agencies would likely do is commandeer the import and distribution networks in both countries in order to manufacture scarcity and provoke the masses into a rebellion.

The government’s statement also fails to put the curtailment of democratic rights by the Venezuelan government in the right context. Historically, countries suspend democratic processes when they are under attack. That is what Britain did in World War II when it was under attack from Germany and what President George Bush did after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda.

If the press statement was meant to adorn Botswana with any measure of respectability, locally it is being met with sarcasm and rancour by people whose views it purportedly represents. On the government own Facebook page, Goddy Kaisara responded with: “The citizens of Botswana note with grave concern our government’s love of parroting western narratives and agenda whilst failing to come up with innovative programmes that could stimulate the economy and create jobs for its people.” Nenguba Fatigue Fati asked: “How can you have the audacity to point fingers at others for suppressing the voice of the opposition when you are doing the same thing crushing dissent by jailing journalists and forcing others to flee the country to seek asylum in other countries simply because they challenged your authority?”