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Venezuela, the next Iraq?

Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro greets supporters. Photograph: (Reuters)

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 16, 2016, 10.36 AM (IST) Ramesh Ramachandran
"Yes," exclaims a visibly agitated Augusto Montiel, Venezuela's ambassador to India. After Iraq and Libya, the United States is trying to create or foment conditions in another oil-rich country for an intervention and regime change, he tells me on a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi. This time of the year Caracas is cooler than the furnace that is Delhi but one can't say the same for the political temperature there, which is only hotting up.

Venezuela, the Western media outlets will tell you, is in the midst of a crisis. Essential commodities are in short supply; long queues are reported outside shops and supermarkets selling bread, butter, baby food, medicines and toilet paper. Electricity is rationed. Inflation is among, if not, the highest in the world. The value of Bolivar, Venezuela's currency, is tumbling. And, as Reuters reports, oil output in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, dropped to 2.37 million barrels per day in May, further worsening its economy.

That is not all. Venezuela's economic crisis is compounded by the political wrangling over the future of its president, Nicolas Maduro. The 53-year-old was elected the country's 65th president in the 14 April 2013 election which was necessitated by the demise of Hugo Chavez. Maduro was the vice president at the time. His troubles began soon thereafter; 2014 saw a series of protests over the rising crime graph in the country, shortages of basic goods and inflation. Things came to a head when an opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was detained for allegedly instigating the protests and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

In the 6 December 2015 parliamentary election, the opposition succeeded in wresting control of the National Assembly for the first time since 1999, when the Constituent Assembly elections were held to draft a new Constitution. The opposition is pushing for the recall of Maduro, which is allowed under the Constitution. For Maduro's government and the opposition, time is of the essence, and quite literally at that. If the recall vote is held before January 2017 and the opposition wins it, new presidential elections will be called, which is what the opposition wants. If it is held after that date but the opposition still wins it, then Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz will succeed Maduro as the president and continue in office till 2019 when the next presidential elections are due.

Montiel asserts that the economic and political crises are not of Venezuela's own making though. "What you are seeing is an economic war," he says. "There is an economic and financial blockade against Venezuela by the US and its allies; how can we not have an economic crisis?" The US, a combative Montiel continues, has no moral right to preach or teach Venezuela about democracy

what with the US itself reeling under sporadic attacks on minorities and gun violence and which is accused of torture in Guantanamo, not to forget dropping nuclear bombs on Japan and using napalm in Vietnam. A former US president Jimmy Carter had given a thumbs up to the Venezuelan electoral practices, he adds for good measure.

While Montiel worries about Venezuela becoming the next Iraq, there is a sliver of hope that the US will be inspired to pursue rapprochement or detente with Venezuela just as it did with Iran and Cuba. US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced talks with the Venezuelan government after he waltzed through meetings with his South American counterparts, Delcy Rodriguez of Venezuela included, on the margins of an Organisation of American States conference in the Dominican Republic. With patience and perseverance, both sides can hopefully work towards durable peace and not let the talks degenerate into mutual recrimination. According to reports, Kerry has indicated that the talks led by his aide Thomas Shannon could start immediately in Caracas. For his part, Maduro has iterated that the two countries should resume diplomatic relations by posting ambassadors in each other's capitals.

Hopefully, the road to US-Venezuela rapprochement will pass through Tehran and Havana, not Baghdad!
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